“Empower”. I recently learned a bit more about what that word means.
A little over a year ago, I attended a national conference for Parish Nurses and viewed a poster session about the Days for Girls program. (DFG)
Days for Girls is a program that aims to enable teenage girls in third-world countries to attend school every day that classes are in session. Sadly, this is not usually the case. Teenage girls stay home during their monthly menstrual period due to lack of sanitary products that can provide them with a sense of security to go out in public without fear of accidents and embarrassment. The girls become, quite literally, prisoners to their bodily functions. They miss school on a regular basis, and thus become continually behind in their lessons, trying to catch up with and compete with the boys. Women beyond school age face similar problems in going about their daily lives. They too often have to stay home and “hide” during their monthly periods.
Days for Girls is an International Program where volunteers sew sanitary kits to be given to both teenage girls and women. Each kit contains washable and reusable “shields” and “liners” that attach around a pair of panties using a snap. Also included in the kits are panties, zip lock bags for storage and washing, a bar of soap, and a washcloth. All kit contents come inside a cloth drawstring bag.
The DFG program concepts continued to fester in my heart and mind long after I returned from my conference. I felt that perhaps this program would be useful in Malawi, but this is a subject that we often don’t think or talk about. I wasn’t sure. To implement such a program even on a small scale, would require a great deal of coordination and education. I decided to bounce the idea off MOCP’s primary female contact in Malawi, Yami Chikoti. Yami is a member of the Kanyenyeva Orphan Care Ministries (KOCM) Board and works directly with the villagers and village committee in the area of Kanyenyeva where MOCP has been working over the past 10 years.
Yami’s response was an overwhelming and enthusiastic “YES”!! The program would most definitely be welcomed!! Further discussions revealed the need for basic education about female anatomy and reproduction. We would also need to explain the basic usage of such things as panties and snaps! Could the local women be taught to sew additional liners? Would the required fabrics be available locally? How can we teach to sew products in a location without even a table to cut the fabric on? Would the treadle sewing machines even work?
My fears were taken away and replaced with a reverent joy as I watched the women and girls eagerly learn about the program and immediately want to start right in making more liners! My husband and his engineering students from North Central State College quickly built us a table with dual purpose benches serving as the supports. My sister, Debby Bonte, came along and helped with the sewing instruction. Our initial kits were sewn as a combined effort of Days for Girls programs in Phoenix, AZ, Yellow Springs, Ohio, and members of the First English Lutheran Church in Mansfield, OH.
The girls and women were most definitely EMPOWERED!! It was both humbling and heart warming to watch and listen as they immediately joined together in a song and dance of thanksgiving! One of the village elders also spoke with the girls reminding them what a precious gift had just been given to them. She spoke about how she, and many others before her, went their entire lives without such an opportunity to live their lives every day of the month.
Yami has asked that MOCP try to continue and grow the program to include all of Malawi! KOCM will work with us to find local representatives to help educate the women and distribute the products. God has more plans for us!
If you would like to get involved, either by forming a local sewing group, or by donating funds to purchase items such as the panties and soap, or to help pay for transportation costs, please contact me directly. I am also looking into grant and vendor funding to assist us as we carry this project forward.
Please keep the women and girls in Malawi in your prayers!
Contact: Penny Ekegren, MOCP Secretary
53 Park Ave West, Mansfield, Ohio 44902
Cell phone: 419-631-7151