Humanitarian project gives
women ‘chance to love and serve’
By Suzanne Dean
Oct. 19, 2017
EPHRAIM—Shortly after 230 women and girls gathered at the Ephraim LDS Stake last Saturday, Oct. 14, to do a humanitarian project, some of the plugs in the Cultural Hall quit working.
It appeared that the 48 sewing machines and about a dozen irons they had brought along had tripped a breaker.
“We might have even blown a circuit, but all in a good cause,” one woman said cheerfully as the volunteers spread out to the foyer, Primary Room and Relief Society room. A maintenance man quickly showed up and got all the power in the Cultural Hall working again.
“There’s such goodness and power in women,” said Sue Young, stake relief society president. “My job is to give women a chance to love and serve. This project lets them do both.”
The women, ranging from 12-year-olds in Young Women to 90-year-old matriarchs of the Relief Society, were doing a project for Days for Girls, an organization headquartered in Bellingham, Wash., that distributes reusable feminine hygiene kits, or as the group’s website calls them, “sustainable feminine hygiene,” in the Third World.
Since 2008, Days for Girls has distributed 800,000 of the hand-made kits in Africa, India and South America. By doing so, according to the Days-for-Girls website, the group has increased, education, health, and thereby, opportunity for the recipients.
The Days-for-Girls story started in 2008 with Celeste Mergens, a U.S. engineer and graduate of BYU, who was in Kenya working on designing stoves. One day, an orphanage contacted her. The facility had not had any food for two days and wanted to know if Mergens could help.
That night, Young says, Mergens “awakened as if by revelation,” But the thought that came to her had nothing to do with food. The prompting she received was, “Ask them what the girls do for feminine hygiene. How do they take care of their periods?”
The answer was sad and almost shocking. When a girl had her period, she almost became an object of shame. She couldn’t go to school. She was consigned to sit on a piece of cardboard in her room all day, or on a pile of sand outside, until her period ended.
As a result, Young said, girls missed about one week of school per month, the equivalent of more than one month per year. That meant many of them failed exams and dropped out.
Attempts had been made to introduce disposable hygiene supplies like those used in the United States. But Third World girls and woman had no way to dispose of them. The items clogged latrines, ended up stuck through chain link fences and got carried around by dogs.
Mergens shifted her focus from stoves to engineering a reusable hygiene kit that could be made by volunteers. Making the kits is labor-intensive, Young noted. Each kit has 14 items in it. But that makes producing kits a perfect project for a large group of women. And once delivered to a woman or girl in a poor country, a kit takes care of her needs for about three years.
The Ephraim LDS Stake volunteers arrived at about 9:30 a.m. and worked until 12:30 p.m. with a goal of finishing 250 kits. The project was capped off with a luncheon.
Not only did the women iron, cut, sew and assemble. They donated all the supplies needed to create the kits, including mountains of fabric remnants, soaps, wash clothes, panties and zip-lock bags.
One woman helping to make kits was Becky Welch, who is a mother and the payroll administrator at Snow College. She has made two trips to Ghana to deliver kits. When volunteers deliver the kits, they teach the women and girls who receive them how to use them. They also provide some general health education about reproduction.
On her first trip, in October, 2016, she and nine other Utahns flew to Ghana. They checked 56 duffle bags containing 600 kits as baggage. (A volunteer paid the excess baggage fees.)
When they arrived, a van sent by the Days-for-Girls organization met them at the airport. “We rode several hours with the van packed to the gills,” Welch said. “In some cases we were sitting on the load.”
They delivered the kits to three public schools and two orphanages in Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana.
When Welch went again last May, she took her two daughters, Leah, 13, a student at Ephraim Middle School, and Tessa, 17, who was attending Manti High School and now is a student at Snow College.
The two girls got to participate in kit-making and delivery from start to finish. They made kits, vacuum sealed them, packed them into duffle bags, checked them at the airport, checked them through customs, drove with them in another van, and delivered them to the ultimate recipients.
On the May trip, Welch and her daughters delivered 175 kits to women and girls in two LDS wards in the Buduburam Refugee Camp, one of the largest refugee camps in Africa. The camp is in Accra, the capitol city of Ghana, where an LDS temple is also located.
Young said moves are afoot to make Days for Girls an ongoing project in Sanpete County. The idea would be to train several trainers in Manti and Ephraim. The trainers would be available to direct smaller groups of women working in homes or possibly at the Ephraim Co-op.