Oct. 19 is “National Period Day,” and before you scoff at such a notion, let me explain the grave consequences of menstruation ignorance and shaming. In 140-plus countries, a girl faces many threats for lack of simple feminine hygiene resources. She may worry that her school uniform will be soiled, and that she will be laughed at. In these poor countries, girls who can’t afford sanitary pads choose to stay home from school during their menstrual period. Missing five days per month, every month for years, means they fall behind the boys and don’t graduate. Not graduating, women are systematically held back in society.
Going without basic sanitation threatens not only a girl’s education, but also her health, her safety, her confidence, her very future. Tragically, last month one young girl in Kenya, shocked to be having her first period that day, was shamed for bleeding through her school uniform. Told she was “dirty” and made to stand outside the classroom, she went home took her own life. Little did she know that, if women and girls do not have periods, no one would be born into this world. Period. No shame in that.
I’m stepping in to help change that outlook. Not alone, of course. From Oct. 23—Nov. 2, ten of us from High Point Church in Madison, are going to Malaga, Spain and North Africa. We’ll be serving with local workers that HPC supports to bless refugees from Africa, immigrants and trafficked individuals. The six women on our trip will teach women and girls about menstrual health. We do so on behalf of Days for Girls, an agency founded 11 years ago, that works in these 140-plus countries with a vision of reaching every girl, everywhere, period. Millions of girls and women worldwide—especially boat people crossing from Africa, and even refugees at our border—suffer for lack of sustainable feminine hygiene, ignorance of women’s health issues, and a reticence to choose safety.
We will be providing education to them and giving reusable menstrual pad kits made by “Days for Girls”—for as many women with as many kits as our funds allow. Distributing maybe 350 kits on this trip. Each hygiene kit cost us about $12 but are given away free to poor women; the DFG kits, with education and follow-up, help keep girls in school. These colorful kits are handmade, pinned and sewn by the “Days for Girls” circles of women (and men!) that met at High Point Church for the last six months.
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The four men on this trip hope to engage male refugees, immigrants and others who have been forced into hazardous, low-pay farming, plus any others we meet in the marketplace. We hope to connect these individuals—some of whom have been trafficked against their will—with basic resources, job-training, and English conversation. We will also engage men with sports and games, as we hope for conversations that lead to spiritual things.
In addition to working with men who are in forced labor, we will collaborate with ongoing work with women who have been assaulted or raped. Many continue to be traumatized and degraded in the sex trafficking trade. Those working with such trauma victims routinely suffer from “secondary trauma.” Hence, my wife Sue, a professional trauma-informed therapist, will be caring for local outreach workers, including our own team, with trauma care and self-care strategies. She’ll also give her testimony at one ecumenical church service for international refugees in North Africa.
You get the picture. This trip is hardly a vacation for us; rather this self-funded venture represents hard work to help improve lives and reverse cycles of poverty and violence against women. To “reach every girl everywhere” is beyond the scope of our 10-day venture, but we will help at least 350 girls end the epidemic of silence and the lack of quality, sustainable solutions to their menstrual health.
This is an issue for all of us to be concerned with. Thank you for reading this far and seeing that. For more info, watch the short TED Talk given by Celeste Mergens, Founder of Days for Girls International, here: youtube.com/watch?v=Aa_NyPa2qY4.m or here: daysforgirls.org/.
Rev. Dietrich Gruen is pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Columbus and Bethany Presbyterian of Randolph.