Global female hygiene program gets support

On a recent morning at Hobby Lobby in Elmwood, half a dozen women were happily sewing inside a meeting room. They weren’t finishing a project for themselves but making cotton liners to go inside menstrual kits for the nonprofit “Days for Girls.”

“I thought it was a great idea, and I wanted to do something,” said Paula Hardin, a parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Belle Chasse, about first discovering Days for Girls in Oprah Magazine.

Hardin presented the idea to her 10-member “Le Createurs” homemakers’ club in Belle Chasse, and, for the past three years, members have been making washable, 8 1/2- inch cloth liners, one of three sewn parts inside a larger kit as their service project.

“Days for Girls is pretty specific in what they need,” Hardin said. “Over the years, they have figured out what works best.”

Hardin wanted to do more and recently rallied volunteers from her East and West Bank sewing classes. In three hours, three West Bank volunteers completed 125 liners, and her Elmwood sewers finished 286 liners.

“The fact that we are helping someone who really has no idea that they are disadvantaged is amazing,” said Marcy Moses, a parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Metairie who volunteered in Elmwood. “I can’t bring water to Africa, but I can do this.”

A graduate of St. Catherine and St. Mary’s Dominican High School, Moses said she learned early that life shouldn’t be self-centered.

“You are part of something bigger,” Moses said. “This is a group that needs your help and support. Not everybody has what you have, and Catholic schools teach you to have that giving spirit and core values.”

Hardin said the liners are donated to the New Orleans chapter of Days for Girls, which completes kits. There are eight liners in one kit to accommodate girls needing multiple liners on heavy days of their menstrual cycle, Hardin said.

“I feel like that time of the month for a woman is the worst, and to not have your basic needs taken care of is terrible,” volunteer Gwendolyn King said. “You hear all about the need for water, but you don’t hear about basic needs such as sanitary napkins. This is a universal thing for women.”

Impetus behind project

Days for Girls International began in 2008 when founder and CEO Celeste Mergens was working in Kenya through the Clay Foundation to promote sustainable opportunities in secondary education. She visited an orphanage and learned girls missed school during their monthly cycle, having to sit in a small hut on a piece of cardboard until it was over, due to lack of hygiene supplies.

“If they could stay in class and learn how to read and write, they could have a better education and future,” said Cassie Catalanotto, New Orleans Days for Girls chapter director.

Mergens knew the difference an education could mean in life due to her own experiences of overcoming a rough childhood and wanted to positively impact other girls’ lives.

Initially, she sent disposable sanitary supplies to the orphanage. But because the area was without regular garbage collection, she noticed the used supplies stuck in trees and holes when she returned to visit.

So, she devised a kit that has since been improved using feedback from those who would use it. The kit contains reusable, washable cotton shields with liners that fit inside a waterproof shield with snaps; a gallon-size freezer-weight Ziploc bag (serving as a hand washing machine); bar of soap; menstrual cycle and kit instructions; and underwear.

“Every girl and woman has inherent worth and dignity,” the Days for Girls website states. “Days for Girls celebrates this by providing sustainable feminine hygiene solutions and health education. When girls and women have health, education and opportunity, communities and our world are stronger.” Days for Girls hopes to provide every woman worldwide access to feminine hygiene by 2022.

Local chapters help

More than 1,000 local chapters have formed worldwide and are self-funded. The New Orleans Chapter began in 2013 and has 40 volunteers. It meets monthly and has two sewing sessions each month where volunteers of any sewing level make liners and compile kits, Catalanotto said. Kits are also given to those who are traveling for distribution.

“Everyone is welcomed; we have something to do for skilled and unskilled,” Catalanotto said. “You can do international relief work however it fits in your schedule. In 2016, we did 500 kits. In 2017, we’ve already put together 630 kits.”

Catalanotto met Mergens in New Orleans through a mutual friend while Mergens was here distributing kits to local schools without nurses on staff to teach girls about their menstrual cycle.

“Like a lot of the chapters, we make the menstrual kits, do the sewing and collection of items such as underwear and teach what periods are to girls locally and nationally,” Catalanotto said

“I love it that I am able to do this,” she said. “I am hearing that I am freeing girls from isolation, being stuck inside for a week and now they are able to come out.”
To contact the New Orleans chapter of Days for Girls, call Hardin at 884-9627. Catalanotto at 606-9076 or email nola@daysforgirls.org. For details, visit www.daysforgirls.org. Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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