The fact that the majority of girls’ bathrooms in San Juan Cosala schools are void of trash receptacles may not seem like a big deal to most, but for menstruating girls, it can be a dealbreaker as to whether they attend school during their monthly cycles or not.
Hana Figueroa is the ambassador for Days for Girls Menstrual Heath. She, along with a group of engaged volunteers at the lakeside chapter of Days for Girls International (DFGI), are working hard to keep girls in school and engaged in life, which includes eliminating the shame associated with menstruation. In doing this, Figueroa and the others are using two main methods: education and distribution.
“Unfortunately, a large number of menstruating girls face discrimination,” says Figueroa. “They’re seen as ‘money drains’ on their families, and are having to do without access to sanitary products or school bathrooms that support their monthly cycles.
“When we go into schools and communities throughout lakeside, we see girls who have never even heard the word ‘menstruation’. Once we educate them, these girls begin teaching their own mothers about fertility. Their mothers tell us they wished they had known about fertility before having eight children.”
Days for Girls is a global movement and non-profit organization that originated in 2015 in Minnesota. Its initial aim was to promote access to menstrual health management and reproductive health education, while distributing menstrual kits to 10- to 12-year-old girls in towns worldwide.
Prior to 2015, developers at DFG spent eight years at their Minnesota headquarters developing the perfect kit model, which included 37 revisions. In 2015 they produced their first model for international distribution, which consisted of eight cotton pads, a shield, and plastic bags for soaking.
Says Figueroa, “The organization now has teams all over the world distributing these kits, having recently reached nearly half a million girls in more than 100 nations.”
Figueroa has been integral in the Days of Girls Lake Chapala Chapter since its 2016 inception. Starting out as a volunteer, she soon rose to being a paid employee, bringing to her role a background in advertising, marketing and community development projects.
“Our program,”says Figueroa, “offers girls the opportunity to thrive, grow and contribute to the betterment of their communities, while ensuring they receive quality, sustainable feminine hygiene. Cotton pads may be a small thing, but they make a huge difference in a girl’s life.”
Hailing from Canada, Darlene Macleod is a volunteer program leader at the Lake Chapala Chapter of Days for Girls. The kits for this local Chapter originally came from the Days for Girls team in Canada, where McLeod was an active member. Two years ago the Chapter started a sewing project where they could produce the pads mostly from materials purchased in Mexico and avoid Canada’s high import costs.
Says MacLeod, “With between 100 to 150 members, Days for Girls Lake Chapala is the bridge between the locals and the expats. We help girls discover their potential and self-value so that they can become agents of social change.”
Distribution Day takes place two to three times per month, in different locations within different lakeside communities. Figueroa provides the education component, which includes everything from how to take care of their reusable, sustainable, hand-sewn items to understanding the menstrual cycle, self care, violence prevention, and women’s empowerment. At the end of the day, each girl receives a kit, handed to them from the expat woman who made it.
Says MacLeod, “When I was a girl, I wasn’t told about sustainable options to the commercial, toxic pads and tampons, all of which are endocrine disrupters and which generate mountains of non-sustainable trash. These girls have a choice.”
Local chapter members take on tasks of cutting the fabric or sewing one kit component, such as the pads. Others take on the role of sewing leader, such as Beverly Letourneau (pictured).
“Our team periodically conducts large, kit-making gatherings in order to produce the inventory needed to reach fifty girls a month, which equals two monthly distributions,” says MacLeod. “Our first year’s goal was to make and distribute 300 kits and we came up short by 58 kits. This year, we’re hoping to reach 1,000 girls by the end of December.”
With their follow-up support system, local chapter members can rest assured that the girls are actually using the kits.
“Since we receive direct feedback from the girls, we can see first hand how the work we’re doing is creating change in the lakeside communities,” says MacLeod. “Our aim is to turn a negative into a positive, periods into pathways. Our workshop and distribution days are transitional, almost intangible. Everyone who witnesses this process is mesmerized.”
For those interested in volunteering, the Days for Girls lakeside chapter provides tasks for both experienced sewers along with beginners. For information, or to contact an organizer, visit daysforgirls.org.