Imagine you wake up one day to find blood between your thighs. Nobody told you about puberty and what changes to expect, so you think something is terribly wrong. There are no menstrual products at home to prevent the blood from seeping onto your clothes. You know the  kids at school will tease you when they see the rust-colored stain on your uniform, so you don’t go to school. At twelve, your education is over.

This is the reality for many children around the world but especially for those living in poverty. Even though half of the human population menstruates, school kids in many countries aren’t taught about their bodies. Girls scrounge for items to help them like old rags, mattress stuffing, cardboard, leaves, rocks and sometimes even mud or ashes. Many of these items can cause irritation or infection. And none of them protect against leakage, meaning that at some point during the school day, someone is going to notice the stain, making a girl vulnerable to taunting.

At an orphanage in Kiberia, Kenya, in 2008, Celeste Mergens, founder of Days for Girls International, asked a question no one had thought to ask before: “What do the girls do about menstruation?”

The answer, the story goes, was: “Nothing.”

They were lucky, their friends brought them food and water. But they would still miss three to five days of school each month due to a lack of sanitary supplies.

Mergens was moved to take action. Back in America, she gathered the support of friends and together they purchased sanitary napkins for the orphanage. But when Mergens returned two months later, she realized this was not a solution. The latrines were clogged, and the spaces in the chain-link fence were stuffed with used pads. Girls in Kenya were losing valuable “days” sitting on cardboard. With reusable, washable menstrual hygiene items, girls could have these “days” back. Thus, Days for Girls International was born.

Girls in Kenya were losing valuable days sitting on cardboard. With reusable, washable menstrual hygiene items, girls could have these days back.

It turns out that girls attending school regularly is a solution to many other issues. Girls who miss a week of school every month are likely to drop out before they can graduate. This leads to early marriage, child bearing and increasing rates of maternal and infant mortality. Out-of-school girls are more vulnerable to sex trafficking. Many girls wind up with HIV or babies in their early teens due to this exploitation. Who would have ever thought a “Days for Girls International Hygiene Kit” could have such far-reaching effects?

Nine years later, DFGI is in over 100 countries. There are 1,000 teams and chapters producing kits with over 60,000 volunteers. Over 600,000 women and girls have received kits. Three major centers have been established (with three more emerging) to train people to run micro-enterprises that produce reusable, washable menstrual supplies to sell to support their families. There are currently 200 of these enterprises in the works, and hundreds of people in Alachua County are working hard to support these endeavors!

The Alachua County Chapter of DFGI was started by Girl Scout Troop 733 in 2013. The chapter has put on 17 sew-a-thons with 30 to 90 people attending each one. Participants sew, trace, cut, trim, flip, snap, thread, stuff, fold, iron—each person does what they can and many have learned to use sewing machines, rotary cutters and sergers because of their connection to Days for Girls. Chapter members have also given kits to the Helping Hands Clinic, UF Mobile Outreach Clinic and Rural Women’s Health Project for distribution to local women.

With your help, we can make sure that “Every Girl, Everywhere, will have what she needs by 2022.” •

To get involved, find Days for Girls, Alachua County on Facebook  or 352-316-6113. You can also stop by their office at 1731 NW 6th St., B-3.