By Melanie Petrucci, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Sewing machines were humming recently when women from St. Mary’s in Shrewsbury and St. Mary of the Hills in Boylston gathered to sew panty liners for kits containing sanitary supplies for women and girls in third world countries.
These compassionate women are members of the local “Days for Girls” chapter. It’s difficult to imagine but there are still places in the world where women and girls have no supplies and they are often ostracized during their periods.
Days for Girls is an international organization aimed at making sure that every girl and woman is equipped with ready access to feminine hygiene by 2022. It provides girls in third world countries the opportunity and the tools necessary to stay in school and remain a part of her community while on their monthly cycles. Their mission is dedicated to creating a freer, dignified, and educated world, through providing lasting access to sustainable feminine hygiene solutions and health education.
According to their website, www.daysforgirls.org, “Days for Girls was founded in 2008 when CEO Celeste Mergens was working with a family foundation in Kenya.”
It was on this mission that she was plagued by the question, “What are girls doing for feminine hygiene?” She was told: “Nothing, they wait in their rooms.”
Locally, the Shrewsbury/Boylston chapter began when several women read an article that ran in a Worcester paper about a year and a half ago about this organization. Sue Dileo and Barb Trudel from St. Mary of the Hills in Boylston and Nancy Hughes, Marilyn Vallejo, Beth Van Atten and Gina Kuruvilla from St. Mary’s in Shrewsbury independently decided to attend a presentation at a church in Westminster, where a chapter had been running for a year, to see what it was all about.
These women, along with Pat Renzoni from Berlin, decided to form a combined chapter where meetings and work sessions would take place alternating between locations.
Chapter members watched a TED Talk given by Celeste Mergens, CEO and founder. Mergens explained in this talk that girls would sit on cardboard for several days each month, often going without food. They were often sent out of their homes to wait out their cycles, in isolation, in tents or caves and face exposure to the elements. This still happens, all over the world.
Nancy Hughes explained, “[Mergens] first thought about sending disposable pads but they quickly discovered that without any place to dispose of the pads, this was not a viable or sustainable solution. The used pads would attract animals. She spent thousands of dollars on pads and tampons.” She continued, “Girls would use rocks, dirt, corn husks, cotton and rags to collect the menses.”
They designed a washable, long-lasting pad and created kits which include two plastic bags, a bar of soap, two new pairs of underwear and a washcloth. The bags serve as a washing machine then they hang the contents out to dry. The kits also include waterproof shields and panty liners to help secure the pads in place.
Trudel will be going on a mission that includes delivery of kits in Haiti with folks from St. Mary’s to their sister parish, St. Michel in Roche-a-Bateau. Trudel said, “We want to get there before the girls are out of school.”
The Shrewsbury/Boylston chapter has assembled and sent approximately 200 kits to girls and women in Uganda and most recently, the Dominican Republic. Between the two parishes there are about 80 women involved in this chapter.
Today, Days for Girls has over 900 teams worldwide and has reached over 640,000 women and girls in more than 100 countries. The kits will last a girl or woman two to three years.