As spoken to Emma Lodge | August 2017


 

No more missing class. Period.

Every month, millions of women and girls miss work and school because they lack something essential: feminine hygiene supplies. Days for Girls is giving back days of education and opportunity to thousands of women and girls in over 100 countries.

Emma: Can you give me a background on what Days for Girls is?

Janice: Days for Girls is a global organisation that provides sustainable feminine hygiene kits to over 640,000 women and girls in over 100 countries. There is a global network of over 800 volunteer chapters and teams.

Emma: What’s a chapter?

Janice: A chapter is a group of local people who undertake to sew and assemble the DfG kits.

Emma: Can you explain to me what’s in a kit?

Janice: Yes a kit comprises of washable pads, a washcloth, drawstring bag, panties, soap and zip lock bags for young women who are menstruating. Girls provided with these kits can then go to school and participate in their normal village life without being shunned or having to stay at home.

We’ve heard stories of villages where women have to segregate themselves; they can’t participate in the normal everyday village life because they’re menstruating. Apparently some tribes even have a hut that women have to sit in for the term of their menstrual cycle.

DfG kits provide freedom. It means that girls can participate in everyday village life and go to school, that’s the big thing, maintaining their education levels which otherwise would be lost for several days every month.

Emma: I read in one instance how girls were sitting on cardboard for several days each month, often going without food unless someone would bring it to them.

Janice: Yes that’s how Days for Girls began. Founder Celeste Mergens was working with a family foundation in Kenya, when she began assisting an orphanage in the outskirts of Nairobi which swelled from 400 children to 1400. Learning that the girls were sitting on cardboard for several days each month prompted Celeste to find a solution.

Emma: And I read there were a lot of trials with the kits and numerous versions created?

Janice: Yes through talking to thousands of women and girls around the globe, they’ve gone through 28 different iterations to ensure the design meets unique cultural and environmental conditions in communities. So you may notice that the kits don’t look like traditional pads and there’s a reason for that. The bright colours camouflage staining, and the absorbent liners unfold to look like a washcloth, which allows women to wash and dry them outside in the sun without causing embarrassment.

Emma: They all seem lovely and very bright!

Janice: Oh yes they’re fabulous! And the more mixed up the colours the better! But we also have to be careful as there’s a lot of restriction on the patterning and colours; you can’t have anything tribal patterned, emblems or symbols and so forth. The Days for Girls World Organisation provides templates and instructions that must be followed, regardless of the sewing location or destination. So it’s important that all DfG Kits are efficient and effective as they can last for up to 3 years if made correctly.

Emma: So explain to me about your chapter…

Janice: Well in 2013 the Townsville chapter was created. We get together regularly and are known as the Give Back Crew. Our first request was sewing and packing 40 DfG kits for Uganda. We put together everything we had; the whole kitchen table was covered with pads, bags, liners, soaps and undies. To see the work we had achieved and the kits all finished and laid out was an awesome feeling! Since then our chapter has grown to a wonderful network of people. I come home now and find soaps, undies and fabric that have been dropped off. We’ve never had to buy the cotton fabric that the shields are made from because we’ve had so much donated. People go on holidays and come back with bags full of little hotel soaps, even people on their grocery shop will now grab 2 or 3 packets of zip lock bags to drop off. It just blows me away, it’s amazing, people just give, I cannot believe how generous.

Emma: It’s the simple things that can be so fulfilling…

Janice: Yes a little thing like bringing back a dozen hotel soaps is a big thing to the girls. And then the distribution… it’s amazing where the connections come from. I met a lady who had been to Fiji after the cyclone, and she shared all about the destruction and how she visited an island that had been worst hit. There was not one thing left standing. No trees, no shelter, everyone was fully in the sun, fully in the rain, fully in the weather, so on her next trip we gave her 183 DfG kits. Just recently I dropped 93 DfG kits into the YWAM office. The lady I handed them to was on the medical ship that had directly distributed them to the PNG community. She said “if you could only bottle their smile and their happiness, it’s such a wonderful thing.”

Image: Days for Girls

Emma: Can anyone approach you and request some DfG kits to distribute overseas?

Janice: Absolutely. However there are protocols on how to distribute the kits. Health education is almost as important as the kits themselves, and if the girls don’t know how to use the DfG Kits properly it can cause all sorts of health problems, as well as drastically shorten the lifespan of the kits. So Days for Girls encourage educational sessions regarding the care and use of the DfG kits. They also provide a distribution handbook as well as online training for distributors.

Emma: Is there a broader message of empowerment for the women in these communities?

Janice: Well the Days for Girls organisation is now well formed, and the idea is that women can become sustainable through the DfG Micro- Enterprise model which creates local economic empowerment opportunities.  Women are provided with the tools and education to make the DfG Kits and sell them, generating income opportunities and awareness within their communities.

Emma: So can anyone get involved and volunteer for Days for Girls?

Janice: Yes anyone can be involved. Our Townsville chapter meets every Monday. You can also visit the DfG website to find a chapter in your local area. One of the main things about DfG is that you don’t need to know how to sew; even the smallest slightest help goes a long way. The fact that you can go grocery shopping and come back with a packet of 40 zip lock bags is wonderful, that’s 40 kits.

Emma: And don’t forget to steal the soaps from your hotel room!

Janice: Yes [laughs] steal your soaps. It’s no effort, nothing but thoughtfulness and that’s a whole pile of soaps we don’t have to buy.

Emma: Like you said its community and when you feel like you’re making a contribution and you’re amongst like-minded people doing the same thing, it’s uplifting and you get a lot from giving.

Janice: Yes and it doesn’t take much.