Last month, dozens of girls in Haiti received small colorful packages of cloth from South Whidbey designed to change their lives by addressing a basic fact of life — menstruation.
Called Days for Girls, the kits contain washable cotton pads and underwear, simple items often out of reach for millions of girls growing up in developing nations who often stay home, miss school or are shunned during their monthly cycle.
The Bellingham-based non-profit organization emphasizes health, education and dignity by providing sustainable feminine hygiene solutions and health education.
Former Freeland resident, Celeste Mergens, started it in 2008 after she worked at a Kenyan orphanage. The idea started after she posed a simple question about what the girls used for their periods and heard the reply, “Nothing. Most stay in their rooms and sit on cardboard.”
Janette Skaardal leads the Days for Girls South Whidbey Island chapter. They meet the first Wednesday every month at 525 S Freeland Avenue, Suite 1, across from the Island Athletic Center.
“Our first 100 kits went to Haiti with a mission group from Trinity Lutheran Church,” Skaardal said. “We are working on our next 100 kits and there is no specific destination.”
Skaardal said the kits aren’t difficult to learn how to make and people can easily be taught the sewing and/or serge skills needed.
“They don’t have to be at the meeting. We can arrange for them to do the sewing at home,” she said.
Volunteers are also needed to cut, dye material, string the bags, wash and iron all the material and pack the kits.
The international effort, with chapters worldwide, reached 640,000 women and girls in more than 100 countries, according to its website. It’s on track to deliver 1 million kits by the end of the year.
Without a solution to manage their monthly cycle, Days for Girls information states that 30 percent of girls from rural areas of Brazil will miss school. So will one in 10 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa and 113 million adolescent girls in India.
Its motto: Every Girl. Everywhere. Period.
“When it started I had no idea how global this issue is,” Celeste Mergens wrote in an email.
“I had never even thought to ask the question of what girls and women were doing for feminine hygiene. Who would have guessed it would be one of the keys to reversing cycles of poverty and violence against women?”
Mergens founded the Whidbey Islands Writers’ Association in the 1990s and still owns a home in Freeland.
While waiting in an airport on her way to Ghana and Uganda, Mergens reflected on her organization that’s grown far beyond her expectations. She travels frequently to Africa to train health ambassadors who educate girls on menstruation, still a taboo subject in some cultures.
“There are a whole lot of things that are hard to change in this world, but this is not one of them,” Mergens wrote. “This is something we can change.”
To learn more about Days for Girls, www.daysforgirls.org Donations to help pay for kits can be sent to: 2386 Soundview Drive Langley WA 98260. Email Southwhidbeywa@daysforgirls.org for more information.