Billions of girls and women around the world lack safe and reliable access to something many Americans take for granted, or hardly ever think about.
In Tualatin, and many other communities across the United States and beyond, volunteers have set out to make at least a dent in the "period problem."
Menstrual products — pads, tampons and other devices that can allow girls and women on their periods to continue going to school, working and otherwise participating in society without shame or discomfort — are not commonplace in many parts of the developing world. Access is severely limited in many parts of Africa, as well as in Latin America, India, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. (The problem isn't even unique to the developing world — many homeless and deeply impoverished girls and women in countries like the United States struggle to afford feminine hygiene products as well, even though they are staple items at supermarkets and pharmacies.)
"If a family has a choice between food and sanitary supplies for a daughter, they're going to pick food every time," said Leslie Boyce. "They'll let the girl go without if it's a matter of feeding their family."
This weekend, the North Portland team of Days for Girls — a nonprofit group with hundreds of teams and chapters worldwide — is holding a "sew-a-thon" and kit assembly event at the Tualatin Stake Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After spending Friday, May 12, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. sewing moisture barrier shields, absorbent liners and bags and putting together kits, volunteers will meet again at the center from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 13.
Team leader Boyce and fellow organizer Peggy Stevens explained the meaning of the name of the group.
"It keeps them in school," Boyce said. "In one of the countries, when they started using the kits, the dropout rate for the girls went from 36 (percent) down to eight. And in another place, it went from 25 (percent) down to three. So it makes a huge difference in keeping girls in school, because they don't have to miss all those days and drop out and get married."
Stevens added, "And this is where the 'Days' came out, because it's more days in school for these kids."
"It gives the girls days back in their lives," Boyce said.
The shields, liners and bags are cut from colorful fabrics, many of them with bright patterns like flowers or anchors. The shields are reinforced with a layer of waterproof polyurethane to prevent leaking, while the liners are made from durable flannel.
Each kit includes eight liners, two shields, a washcloth, a small bar of soap and a little sheet with instructions for girls who might not know how to use them all. Those items are bundled into a gallon-size plastic Ziploc bag — along with a spare bag — and that bag is then placed inside a bright drawstring bag sewn by volunteers. Each girl is also given two pairs of underwear, Boyce and Stevens added.
Boyce is hoping to have 450 kits ready to go for girls in Tanzania, where a volunteer from Sherwood will be visiting in the coming weeks. Some 65 more will be distributed to girls in Honduras by another volunteer, Lisa Mitton.
"We already had planned on going to Honduras," Mitton said. "We're going with an organization called Hope for Honduran Children, and they actually focus on the boys, but when I called the lady and told her about this organization, she checked it out and she said, 'Yes, bring them.'"
Mitton also hopes to give the girls a lesson on reproductive biology, if school administrators allow it. Days for Girls has Spanish-language flip-books with diagrams and illustrations ready to go.
Whether this year or sometime in the future, the Days for Girls team hopes to teach girls in Honduras how to make their own feminine hygiene kits, or even start a micro-enterprise — a small local business — in the Central American country to supply girls and women there.
The shields and liners are fully reusable, according to Boyce and Stevens. After being worn, they can be washed and hung up to dry, or even serve as décor of sorts when they are not in use. The fabric is colored in dark hues — deep pinks and blues, for instance — that are meant to hide any bloodstains.
"We try to emphasize to our volunteers that are working that it's really important to do quality over quantity," Boyce said. "They really need to be made well so they last. That's important."
Organizers are hoping to bring in as many volunteers for this Friday and Saturday event in Tualatin as they can to help sew and put together kits. But they also accept donations online and by mail to Leslie Boyce at 15378 S.W. 82nd Pl., Tigard, OR 97224. Checks should be made payable to "North Portland OR Team."
As well as money, the team accepts good-quality fabric. Flannel is used for liners, cotton is used for shields and bags, and cotton polyester blends are also acceptable for bags. Fabric should come in medium or dark colors, preferably patterned, and should not feature faces, eyes, insects, snakes, words, flags, camouflage, guns or pop culture imagery (for cultural reasons).
The Tualatin LDS Stake Center is located at 22284 S.W. Grahams Ferry Road, in the Ibach neighborhood. Parking is available on-site. No advance registration is necessary to volunteer. All are welcome.
The work is rewarding, said Boyce, "to know that for something so simple, that it can totally change the trajectory of a girl's life."
She added, "This is (a) very tangible, easy, $10 way to make a huge difference. She stays in school for three years more, she gets an education, she can go on and bless her life, her family's life, her community's life, forever."
By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times