A couple weeks ago I had the sex talk with Ana. I told her, “You’re about to start fifth grade, and you probably have heard some things here and there, but I’m going to lay it all out for you. Because I want you to hear it from me. This is the beginning of a lifelong conversation between the two of us, as mother and daughter, and I want you to know you can always come to me with questions.”
I am the daughter of a veterinarian, so I’ve grown up hearing about animals and using all the technical terms. There were never any hoo-has and pee-pees in our house. So I went with what I know, used all the words, referenced diagrams, and read some Bible verses. (Because which hole babies come out of and the Apostle Paul go together. Nailing “The Talk,” like a boss.)
Her reaction? “That sounds painful.”
What my daughter was especially interested in is the part about her body and what’s going to happen to her during puberty. I gave her a tampon to look at and we talked about periods and taking care of ourselves as women.
Sitting in Ana’s room talking about this stuff mother to daughter was so my jam. These conversations have been happening between mothers and daughters for centuries and there’s a sense of universal sisterhood, of unlocking the mysteries of feminine life together. Reproductive health is our past and our future as human beings.
On a global scale, here’s why we have to talk about our periods. Without the proper resources and education, periods keep girls out of school, and when girls don’t get to go to school, communities suffer. So as we have these conversations in our homes with our daughters, we also have to widen the conversation to include orphaned and vulnerable girls without the relationships and opportunities in their lives to teach them about personal healthcare.
Last year, you may remember that we raised money together for pads and bras for the teen girls at our HopeChest CarePoint in Uganda. We called it “Support Our Girls.” We met our goal and the girls there have been receiving the items they need to take care of themselves and stay in school.
But our money eventually runs out and pads are thrown away. What then? We need something sustainable, and at HopeChest‘s Global Partners’ Conference in April, I met with Sheryl Farnsworth, the Sponsorship Coordinator for a CarePoint down the road from ours, and we talked pads. I took notes and asked questions and came home with ideas on how to equip our girls with the skills they need to take control of their periods, and most importantly, stay in school and on track.
Every summer we send a team of sponsors to visit our kids and the staff at the CarePoint. It’s a time of community bonding, learning, and mutual growth. Each year we focus on a few key areas, depending on the needs and desires of the Ugandans running the program and the gifts and abilities of the team members traveling over, from maternal health to vision screening, to discipleship training to microfinance classes, and this year, one of the areas of focus was on making pads. We had a couple girls from the University of Georgia on the team, and one of them wrote about “The Pad Project.” Here’s what Brittany Ward had to say:
Our mission for this trip was simple. To build upon existing relationships and do things with people, not for people.
After months of preparation, we were able to focus our efforts on educating the adolescent girls and teaching them a much-needed skill set. Reusable sanitary napkins that can be made with local materials, by hand, that can easily be washed and re-worn comfortably during their monthly cycles. Through extensive research before the trip, we learned that access to disposable sanitary pads is difficult and extremely expensive, therefore girls are missing two or more days of school each month due to their lack of feminine resources. The girls can quickly fall behind in class and many end up dropping out of school. Our hope was to educate and empower the adolescent girls at the CarePoint to take control of their reproductive choices, provide a much needed skill set, and set them up for more success in the future.
Our program was met with great enthusiasm by both the staff of the CarePoint and its students. We made the decision to buy all of our material locally so that we could support the local economy and to demonstrate to the girls that they had all they needed locally for this project. After a trip to the local market, we were armed with all the sewing supplies necessary to teach the girls how to sew their very own reusable menstrual pad. We began our session with an open conversation about good hygiene and menstruation. With the help of our very patient translator, Susan, we then transitioned into teaching the girls step-by-step how to make and clean their very own pad.
Our young girls would smile and giggle, just as any American teen would do given the subject matter. We were thankful they did. For the first time in our lives we saw that laughter is the same no matter the language. And laughter was definitely needed due to the communication barrier, mixed with the skill level needed to sew a comfortable, durable, reusable pad. To say it was a little chaotic at times may be an understatement, but we were on a mission and the smiles on these young girls’ faces as some began to grasp what we were teaching them only served to strengthen our resolve.
By day two we began to realize that all of our preparation had not prepared us for how to connect with each girl individually. So with the help of our fellow teammates on the trip, we put together a pad kit for each girl. This not only organized our teaching process, but also allowed us time to work one on one with each girl. After many hugs, high fives, and spending much needed time with each of the girls individually, we began to see such a change in their attitude and confidence.
We were also able to have a very honest and open discussion about both puberty and adolescence with both the girls and the staff of the CarePoint. Despite our language barrier, we were able to break the taboo surrounding these issues and educate and empower them to understand exactly why God made them so special.
Being back in the silence of our normal life we are so overjoyed with all that we were able to accomplish during our mission trip. Our prayer is that as the CarePoint continues to grow and evolve into a self-sustaining community, education of female issues will be an important area of the curriculum long after we leave, and the materials and skills we left behind will be used to continue to educate and empower the young women to thrive!
I’ve been partnering with this CarePoint for six years now and have watched as the community has grown from surviving on handouts to thriving and succeeding, developing sustainable businesses, raising their school test scores, and getting into higher education. If you’re interested in how your church, ministry, moms’ group, or circle of friends can get involved, go on a vision trip, and build a community partnership, email me at unexpectedmel@ unexpected.org. I’ll talk your head off.