Yesterday, I went with my friend Diana into the Soweto Township in Johannesburg. Diana works for an NGO called Days for Girls. This NGO has basically three purposes: one is to go into less privileged areas and teach teenage girls about their bodies, feminine hygiene, menstruation, sexuality and pregnancy. Another purpose is to provide these girls with menstruation kits that include discrete, washable, reusable hygiene pads. The third purpose of the NGO is to provide micro-enterprise opportunities for women around the world to make and sell the kits.
Check out their website here.
According to the Days For Girls website, 1 in 10 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa, 113 million adolescent girls in India, and 30% of girls in rural Brazil will miss school this year because of the inability to handle basic menstrual hygiene. And sadly, countless girls around the world drop out of school completely because of their inability to adequately handle their monthly cycles.
The purpose of our trip to Soweto was to teach a group of high school age girls, as well as hand out hygiene kits. I wanted my 13-year-old daughter Elizabeth to experience one of these meetings, so we brought her, along with Diana’s 12-year-old daughter Jenna.
We met at a high school, where around 30 girls were patiently waiting for us. Diana, a master teacher, spent about two hours in discussion with the girls. She spoke openly about bodies, menstruation and sexuality. And she allowed the girls to ask any questions, free from judgement or criticism.
I don’t know too many 16 and 17-year-old girls who would sit still for two hours listening to anything, but these girls were mesmerized!! They were so engaged in the discussion. They could obviously sense that the information they were receiving was important and this could help to improve their quality of life.
At one point, Diana had the girls close their eyes and hold up a green card if they knew someone who had missed school because of their periods. Another question was whether these girls had consistent access to feminine hygiene products. I was shocked at the number of girls who held up green cards.
Another important part of the discussion was rape. Tragically, rape is something many of these girls will or have faced in their lives. Before the presentation, one of the school administrators told us that many girls dropped out of school because of pregnancy, most of which are a result of rape. Diana lovingly told the girls that if this had happened to them that it was not their fault and that their only obligation in those situations was to stay alive. She forcefully told these girls that they were not to blame and they had no reason to feel ashamed.
After the presentation, each girl received a menstruation kit that should last about three years. These kits are cute, ingenious and discreet. The kits have been through 28 different versions, so the current version is an incredible product. Their first kits were given to the girls for free and additions to the kits can be purchased for 35 rand (about $2.60).
Check out these beautiful girls holding up their kits:
Days for Girls currently has over 1,200 teams and chapters around the world with over 50,000 volunteers in 113 countries. Over 800,000 kits have been distributed. They are currently running a campaign called #countHERin where they are hoping to reach 1 million kits before the end of 2017.
If you’re interested in donating or becoming involved in Days for Girls, please contact Diana at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the website linked above.
And finally, just because I know it will make you smile, check out this mom and baby from Soweto:
I told you it would make you smile.