Local volunteer group has a global impactMar 16, 2020 01:41PM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart
Women in Fiji display feminine hygiene kits created by the Days for Girls Midvale UT Chapter. (Photo courtesy Megan Glover)
By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]
Suzanne Walker never gave much thought to having her period. That is, until she and her friend Jennifer Woods met the founder of an organization called Days for Girls.
“We learned that many girls are banished to small huts during their cycle or are kept in their rooms sitting on cardboard, old newspaper, leaves, whatever they can find,” said Walker in a Facebook post. “They are not allowed to go to school. Many girls have ‘access’ to products, but only after they give sexual favors to the men controlling the pads. Our hearts were broken to hear the stories of so many girls and women who die, are injured, or abused because of the practice of being isolated during their cycles.”
Days for Girls provides sanitary hygiene kits to girls in need. The kits are small, portable, and can be used for 3 to 5 years. The bright colors camouflage staining and the absorbent liners resemble washcloths, allowing women to wash and dry them outside without embarrassment. Most importantly, the kits allow women and girls to participate in daily life throughout the month.
“We heard the presentation and Suzanne turned to me and said, ‘Jen, we need to do this,’” Woods said.
Walker began devoting her spare time to creating a Midvale Chapter of Days for Girls. In just three years, the group has distributed more than 1,000 kits.
“That’s not something I could have done by myself,” Walker said.
Volunteers are essential for each step of the process. From cutting and dying the donated fabric to sewing reusable shields to packing the kit. Each kit takes three to four hours to make, using materials worth around $10. Once the kits are assembled, young adults from a Utah-based organization called Youthlinc distribute them to women and girls around the world. So far, the Midvale Chapter has sent kits to Nepal, Peru, Thailand, Fiji, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Cambodia and Haiti.
But while the impact is felt all around the world, most of the work is done here in Midvale.
On a Saturday morning in February dozens of volunteers were gathered at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel. A display at the front of the room shows new volunteers how the kits are made. Jars full of leaves, corn husks and cotton stuffing represented what girls and women would use if not for the kits. Men and women of all ages were ironing fabric or sewing on machines. One family that frequently volunteers took over an entire table to fold washcloths.
“This is a slow day,” Woods said. “We’ve had times when every table in the church is being used and we’ve had to overflow into other rooms.”
Local chapters get guidance and some funding from Days for Girls USA. The nonprofit is based in Mount Vernon, Washington and has more than 50,000 volunteers around the world and distribution centers in Ghana, Uganda, Guatemala and Nepal. There are volunteer chapters in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
“Suzanne coordinates everything and did hours of training for the group to become a chapter,” Woods said.
“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. That’s Suzanne,” said Carrie Wagner, a volunteer. “She’s a drama mama, she watches other people’s kids, she makes blankets, she’s involved with the Midvale Arts Council.”
That Saturday morning, a volunteer found sequins in a sewing machine that Walker had brought.
“I wasn’t a sewer until I got involved in theater,” Walker said. She recently spent weeks making costumes for her son’s theatre production at Hillcrest High School. Walker organized fewer Days for Girls work days than usual in 2019 due to family obligations, but 2020 is off to a good start.
Upcoming work days will take place Saturday, April 11 and Saturday, June 6 from 9 a.m. to noon at 7825 S. Olympus St. in Midvale. Volunteers of all skill levels are welcome. The group also accepts donations of items including fabric, washcloths and small bars of soap. Guidelines for what items can be donated can be found on the Days For Girls Midvale UT Chapter Facebook page.
“It’s all about keeping girls in school, because otherwise they miss so much,” Woods said. “We’re trying to reach every girl.”