From my Mali Journal:
Friday 29 November 2013, Mali, West Africa
Today was a highlight–our first Feminine Hygiene Kits were given to the beautiful girls here in Mali. It’s a Red Letter Day for the girls and women here. A couple of nights ago as we were eating by headlamp light around the table under the mango tree, someone asked about the hygiene kits. I went and got one and opened the bag, showing the contents to everyone in our group: Two shields, 8 pads, one wash rag, one small soap, 2 Ziploc bags and a pair of lovely new panties all in a fun drawstring bag. Many of our medical team had not seen them before. I always love seeing the first response of someone who has not seen a kit before. The thought of needing feminine hygiene supplies just doesn’t cross most people’s minds. They usually ask, “what do they use if they don’t have access to hygiene products?” I explain, “rags or corn husks, or tree bark, or whatever they can find.” Then an expression like horror usually crosses their faces as they think of their wives or daughters not having supplies, or using “whatever they can find.” And then I can see them considering what it is we are bringing. This is not just a one time fix or comfort. This is re-usable, month after month after month. This small kit will bless a girl’s life for years. It will keep her clean and safe and allow her to go to school and be social and retain her dignity.
I have never met anyone who is not thrilled along with me at the prospect of helping provide these kits. I passed the beautiful kit around the table so each could see the beautiful fabrics and see and feel the love that went into preparing it. Beauty. Comfort. Love. All in one little bag. Life-changing for the girl who will receive it.
This morning at 8:30 Teningnini, our local Health and Education Director, Ami, our translator, and a few of our team went to the Saint Francois Xavier Catholic school in Ouelessebougou over on the east side of the main road. We took 50 kits. Teningnini had arranged with the headmaster to have all the girls gather when we arrived. He sent all the boys out to play in the dirt field in the school compound. The compound was walled with an entry gate. The school was nice, several buildings and a few trees. I think about 3 classes of girls from ages 11 to 16 were called together. We had about 80-90 in the room, beautiful bright lovely girls, crowding onto the wooden desk/benches four to a desk. They were absolutely beautiful girls. I loved them immediately. We were told we had 30-40 minutes. The plan was for Teningnini to introduce us (in their local Bambara language) and tell them why we were there. Then she talked to them about being girls and having periods. She explained using the visual of what a womb looks like and she explained the process of menstruation. The girls were absolutely quiet–all listened intently with big bright black eyes. Not a whisper or giggle. They were fascinated and engaged with every word she said.
Then I showed them a kit and showed them each part of it, explaining how to use it. They started to smile and show excitement as they realized what this would mean in their lives. Then Ami explained how to take care of the kits and keep them clean and sanitary. She also talked about body hygiene and how to care for themselves. Washing from front to back seems to be a new concept here. Then Teningnini talked to them a bit more and there was good rapport with her and Ami and the girls. I handed the kits out. We had the girls arrange themselves from large to small and we handed the kits out from our largest sizes to the smallest. We had some underwear in small women’s sizes, which were a bit large for the girls. Sizes 10-12 are the most accurate for these girls. In the future we need to just use those sizes and then have a few packages of 14-16 and a few women’s sizes if they need to exchange for a bigger size.
We explained at the beginning that we would not have enough kits this time for every girl, but I will be back in February and will bring more to them then. We ran out of kits before we ran out of girls. Teningnini had them sign a list if they didn’t get one, and they were grateful to have their names on that list. One girl came up to Teningnini and told her she started her period yesterday. Another said she started last month. The younger smaller girls were the ones who will have to wait. I was sad there weren’t enough, but it was OK.
After all the girls had their kits, we told them to open them and check the underwear sizes and to trade if they had the wrong size. As they opened their kits, it was like the room was filling with electricity. Excited chatter bounced off the cement walls. I could see some boys peeking in the open windows, wondering what the excitement was all about. I watched the girls finger the soft flannel and open and close the snaps and smell the perfumed hotel soaps. They were Thrilled. It was a beautiful sight I hope to see over and over and over again in the future. What beautiful smiles! What a perfect gift. I love that these kits are made by hand by other women. You can feel and see that they are made with love, each different, each beautiful. They were fascinated by the different fabrics. Nothing like they are used to seeing in their culture. I think they loved that.
I loved watching the girls leave the room when it was time for them to get back to their classes. They were excited and happy and buzzing with chatter. I was wishing every women who had anything to do with these kits could have seen what I saw this morning. It was like Thanksgiving and Christmas all wrapped into one for me and for the others who were there and for the girls.
I have been loving these girls for years. I have photographed their faces and I look at them all the time when I am at home. I’ve always yearned to be able to help them in some way, or communicate my love to them. Now, with the help of 100s of women back home, there is something we can do for them that will bless their lives over and over and over again. I feel like I have finally found my mission here. I felt a bit overwhelmed with joy this morning at the thought of it.
Here we are in Ouelessebougou teaching Teningnini, our local Health/Education Director how to distribute the Days for Girls kits we’ve been working on the last several weeks. Camille Fronk Olson and Amitata, our translator are helping.
Below is Mayor Yeah Samake giving the first kit of Mali to Massata from the village of Falla. Last year Massata came to us, blind. Dr. Paul Olson removed cataracts from both of her eyes. Now she can see. Massata came to our compound, and was waiting there the first day we arrived, happy to see the doctor who restored her sight. Yeah also came by to welcome us. We gave him the honor of giving the first kit. She was so happy to not only feel the soft fabrics, but now she can also see them.
This is the Saint Francois Xavier school in Ouelessebougou, The first school where kits were distributed. The girls were enthralled as they listened as Teningnini explained about menstruation and feminine hygiene. These are beautiful lovely girls, thrilled at the prospects of having hygiene supplies every month when they are needed. Below the girls are gathering to come learn about Days for Girls and this incredible gift.
After the lesson, the girls were given kits. I wish I could say we had enough for every girl. We will have to return with more on our next trip in February 2014.
I think you can see the shy excitement that these girls felt. As the thought of having protection and staying in school no matter what sank in, the smiles widened and the room began to erupt into clapping and laughter.
The girls were intrigued with the soft and beautiful fabrics. We choose bright wild fun fabrics for the pads and shields. Not just to hide the stains, but also to gladden the heart.
This is Aminata Monekata (Ami). She was my Wonderful translator, fluent in both French and Bamakan. She and Teningnini did a fabulous job teaching the girls.
The next pictures are from the village of Solo, where we met with a classroom of young girls, 15 in all, and their 3 teachers. Again, the girls were intrigued by the thought of what we taught and what this would mean in their individual lives. Below are some photos of these beautiful girls learning about and receiving their kits.
To learn more about how to become involved, please go to the Days for Girls website at http://www.daysforgirls.org/ . Please contact me if you have any questions or if I can help you and your friends become involved. THANK YOU.
Each kit contains 2 re-usable shields and 8 pads. We welcome donations to help us buy a pair of panties, a washrag and small soap for each kit . If you can help, please send even a bit to Ann Lewis at 24 West 500 South, Orem UT 84058. Every penny will go to help these girls. Thank you.