Saving lives. Period.

Days for Girls, empowering and educating women worldwide at Antioch

By Lisa Bennett

A crisis is affecting women around the globe. One so insidious, it causes one in four women in India to drop out of school—and affects the livelihoods, health and futures of millions more. In some places like Kenya, Africa, it forces young girls into horrific conditions for days without food and water and others into virtual economic poverty and, sometimes, even leads to death.

The crisis isn’t domestic violence. It isn’t oppressive laws or even the result of drugs or drug cartel control. The crisis we’re talking about is something that is so utterly simple and preventable that many who find out about it feel ashamed to learn it is even happening at all. What is this horrific crisis?

Menstruation.

Yep. You read that right.

Countless young girls and women in developing countries do not have access to something as simple as feminine hygiene. It doesn’t really sound like a big deal, right? Yet for those women and young girls, having access to feminine hygiene means the difference between being able to go to school or work and being sequestered in cramped, filthy rooms often for days on end without access to food, water or anything else they need. It means the difference between being financially independent or sexually exploited or forced into human slavery. For many young girls, not having access to feminine hygiene can mean up to two months of missed school and educational opportunities each year. In Kenya, nearly half of all school girls are still without access to feminine hygiene, and in India, almost 70 percent of girls didn’t even know what menstruation was prior to starting it. Countless girls have become permanently scarred and even killed trying to use things like rocks, tree bark, banana leaves, mattress stuffing and even cow dung to stop the bleeding so they can go to school or work. In Sindh, Pakistan, lack of feminine hygiene affects nearly 56 percent of working women.

Fortunately, in 2008, Celeste Mergens founded the Days For Girls program after learning of the girls’ plight at the Kenyan orphanage she was working at. Her concept was simple: provide washable, re-usable hygiene products and reproductive education to young girls and women, so they can gain back the days missed because of their periods.

Since its inception, Days for Girls has not only helped over 200,000 women take back their lives, but it has also provided tremendous community support through reproductive health education and advocacy. Today, Days for Girls has become an international nonprofit agency with chapters in over 85 countries on six continents—including a chapter right here in Ohio. Volunteers of Days for Girls of Yellow Springs meet monthly to make kits for the program.

“We’re a relatively new group,” organizer Chris Powell says. “I started this in August a year and half ago. Right now, we’re working on 100 regular kits and 50 postpartum kits to go to Peru. There’s also a big drive to get kits to the Syrian refugees who literally have nothing.”

The kits each contain enough supplies to provide 180 days of feminine protection for girls, which helps them pursue their education, their dreams and get them on track toward financial freedom.

According to Powell, volunteers don’t have to sew to help out. There are lots of things that need to happen to get the kits shipped out. For those interested in getting involved, there is no fee to join and most of the materials are already provided.

“If someone shows up that can sew or serge, if they can bring a sewing machine or serger, that would be great, but it’s not necessary,” Powell says. “A lot of fabric that we use is from people who’ve donated it.”

The race to help is catching on. So much so that the group has outgrown its old space and is moving into a bigger space at the Antioch School. And no wonder, in just three years, a single kit can help a girl reclaim her dignity, finish school and/or enable her to work for 36 months uninterrupted, making a significant, positive change in her life.

The Days for Girls workshops are held at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month at Antioch College, 1160 Corry St. in Yellow Springs. For more information, please email yellowspringsoh@daysforgirls.org or visit daysforgirls.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Lisa Bennett
Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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