Kibera, the biggest slum in Kenya, has an estimated Quarter of a million inhabitants. It is an endless sea of rusted corrugated metal roofs … rubbish … human refuse … and open sewer systems.
In 2008, Celeste Mergens was helping institutions in Kibera find sustainable ways to fuel their stoves, eat and feed children better. With her background in Global Sustainable Development, this was the obvious area for her to focus her attention. In October 2008, she went to bed worried about the children’s hunger and thinking of how to solve their problems. At 2:30am Celeste woke with a jolt. One question burned through her mind:
“Have you asked what the girls are doing for feminine hygiene?”
She flew from her bed to the computer, emailing the question. To her surprise, Celeste received an immediate response.
“Nothing. They wait. They wait in their rooms.”
The girls are given a sheet of cardboard and remain on their bed until the days have passed. The girls receive food and drink, only if someone remembers to bring them some. They certainly do not attend school. That’s a quarter of their days, spent confined to their bed.
In a desperate attempt to leave their isolation to go to school, girls use whatever they can find to absorb the flow: corn husks … newspaper … rags … leaves … items that frequently give them untreated infections. As for the usual disposable product; the girls have no money to buy it … and nowhere to discard it. There is no garbage collection service in the slums of Kibera.
Celeste Mergens founded Days for Girls to provide washable feminine hygiene kits to girls who would otherwise go without.
500 girls in one institution were the first to receive the reusable liners and shields; sewn by Celeste and a group of volunteers. As the 3 big duffle bags of kits were being distributed to the girls, many shed tears of gratitude saying:
“Thank you so much. Before you came, we had to let the teachers and principal use us, if we wanted to stay in class.”
To NOT be bound to a piece of cardboard, girls were exploited in exchange for feminine hygiene product. It was the choice they made. They wanted to stay in school. Not attending school meant failing out of school. Combine that with being a female orphan in a slum … your future almost always included being exploited.
Since 2008, over 100,000 girls in 61 countries have been given back their days, via a kit. This past year is the first year that Days for Girls has been in Queensland and we have placed 1000 kits into the hands of girls.
Thousands of volunteers extend throughout Australia … New Zealand … Canada … the United States … and Europe to sew and distribute kits into communities where the girls would otherwise go without. These kits pull females out of isolation … keep girls in school … and women in work.
Let me make it clear …– … this is not a sewing group with a kit distribution program. The kit is merely the start. The second step is helping the girls in the micro-community obtain the knowledge … skills … and tools to make their own kits. They are set up to be self-sufficient in sewing their own sustainable, feminine hygiene kits for every girl who hits puberty and postpartum women.
The biggest constraint in our Days for Girls network is sewing. It takes a few hours to sew one kit and the demand for kits far outstrips supply.
I urge you to talk. Talk within your circles about Days for Girls. Talk to Sewers. Talk to people with strong links to communities who need these kits.
I urge you to ask the One Question:
“What are the girls doing for feminine hygiene?”