This week for our Coffee With series, we reached out to April Haberman of Days for Girls, a nonprofit initiative working to increase access to menstrual care and women’s health education across the world.
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT DAYS FOR GIRLS IS?
We're turning periods into pathways. Days for Girls increases access to menstrual care and education by developing global partnerships, cultivating social enterprises, mobilizing volunteers, and innovating sustainable solutions that shatter stigmas and limitations for women and girls. Our vision is to create a world with dignity, health, and opportunity for all.
HOW DID THE DAYS FOR GIRLS GET ITS START?
Days for Girls Founder and CEO, Celeste Mergens, found herself face to face with the menstrual health challenge in 2008, while visiting a crowded orphanage in Kenya. She discovered that during their monthly periods, girls spent their days sitting on pieces of cardboard, with no other way to manage their menstruation. Donating disposable pads was not the answer, she quickly learned, because the girls didn’t have a place to dispose of them and had a tendency to reuse them.
A better solution eventually came to her: a washable pad. She and her sewing friends got to work, creating prototypes and gathering feedback about what the girls liked and what needed improvement.
After twenty-eight prototypes and varying feedback from partners and beneficiaries around the world, DfG Kits have culminated in a design that requires very little water to clean and dries quickly, even in humid, monsoon-ridden regions. Realizing almost instantly that a pad alone was not enough, Celeste and the team set out to develop DfG’s four core programs: Kits, Education, Enterprises and Volunteerism.
HOW DID THIS PARTICULAR CAUSE BECOME SO IMPORTANT TO YOU PERSONALLY?
I took my daughter, Rachael, to a puberty class when she was 10 years old. On our drive home from that class she asked me what women and girls do if they can't afford to buy tampons and pads. I didn't have an answer and found the question unsettling. I really hadn't thought about it before. Rachael wanted to do a service project to give hygiene bags to homeless girls in our school district, and so we sought out to do just that. Fast forward 5+ years and what we thought would be a one time service project turned into an ongoing mission to help women and girls manage their periods with dignity and to become leaders within their own communities. We started our own Days for Girls Chapter in Edmonds, Washington and to date, we have distributed thousands of DfG Kits & health education, as well as helped to set up Enterprises in Eswatini, Africa. Seeing the joy our DfG Kits brings energizes us to continue the work that we do.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PEOPLE WHO WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE BUT AREN’T SURE WHERE TO BEGIN?
I would say, "Just start!" There are so many needs in this world and so many organizations that are seeking volunteers. Start in your own community or even your own neighborhood. Heck, even being kind to someone who needs a smile is making a difference. And that has a ripple effect! Hop on our website and find a local team in your area. You don't have to sew or go to Africa to help. Use your talents and find your passion and what motivates you. Then go and use those talents. Many organizations are looking for those with professional skills as well that can donate hours or work pro bono. Just start... you won't regret it.
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT ENABLING ACCESS TO MENSTRUAL CARE AND EDUCATION IS SO NECESSARY? HOW DOES IT WORK TO EMPOWER WOMEN ALL OVER THE WORLD?
Lack of access to menstrual health products, knowledge on menstruation and reproductive health, poor menstrual hygiene management, and stigma surrounding menstruation all result in adverse health, education, and social outcomes, specifically for girls and women in low and middle-income countries.
DAYS FOR GIRLS OFTEN PARTNERS WITH WOMEN IN AFRICA TO PRODUCE YOUR PRODUCTS, PROVIDING JOB OPPORTUNITIES WHILE YOU CONDUCT YOUR WORK IN MENSTRUAL CARE.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO, WHEN POSSIBLE, SUPPORT AND CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR INDEPENDENT ECONOMIC ENTERPRISES WITHIN THESE COMMUNITIES AND HOW DOES THIS TIE INTO DAYS FOR GIRLS' OVERALL MISSION?
A smart solution must be accessible, affordable, and sustainable. It must traverse cultural norms, varying climates, and supply chains, while also being attractive enough that women and girls to want to use them. Furthermore, when combined with appropriate education and grassroots community organizing, it helps to shatter the stigma and limitations associated with menstruation.
Days for Girls supports local leadership and sustainable solutions through our Enterprise Program, which gives women the knowledge, tools, and networks they need to deliver menstrual health solutions and education in their own communities and countries. The result is that we are able to help generate income within these communities, ensure sustainability, and to support local ownership, ensuring that communities are invested in meeting their own needs.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED IN THIS JOURNEY?
Creating a sustainable model, in whatever we do to help others, is the only way we can truly make a difference. We can work in a "one and done" capacity, but that's not a long term solution. There are capable, intelligent people living in developing countries who want a better life. Coming alongside them as coach and consultant allows them to become leaders within their own communities and creates opportunities for them to invest in a solution.
IN STARTING A BUSINESS OR A MOVEMENT, WHERE DO YOU RECOMMEND PEOPLE START? WHAT ARE THE VERY FIRST STEPS?
Seek feedback from those you plan to serve. You can't change what you don't know.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE DAYS FOR GIRLS GROW IN THE COMING YEARS?
Since we began in 2008, we have reached over one million women and girls with DfG Kits and education, and we have a goal to reach 5 million by 2024. We will achieve this goal through a combination of partnerships, volunteers and launching social enterprises, ensuring that every woman and girl is able to thrive within her community and has what she needs to fulfill her potential.
WHAT STEPS CAN PEOPLE TAKE IN THEIR DAILY LIVES AND IN THEIR COMMUNITIES TO PROMOTE OPPORTUNITY AND GROWTH FOR UNDERPRIVILEGED WOMEN IN OUR OWN COMMUNITIES?
Providing women and girls here in the US with basic feminine health care solutions is a good starting point. That alone brings freedom, dignity, health and opportunity. Help to raise awareness. Tell others about the need. Write to your local legislation and ask for change. Start a fundraiser and donate. Host a panty or pad drive and donate to a local shelter. Really, the solution is to just jump in!
Written May 13, 2019