GREENFIELD — It took hours of cutting fabric and sewing pieces — measuring, checking seam allowances, making sure what they made was durable.
A woman in the United States tosses a sanitary napkin when she’s done with it. But recently, a group of Greenfield women sewed some they hope will last three years for women in impoverished countries.
The women sewing, part of a group that meets at Park Chapel Christian Church, are generally never far from feminine hygiene products. For a few dollars and a trip to the drugstore, or some change in a bathroom vending machine, women in the United States have access.
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The young women they’re sewing for don’t have that same access, and for them, the consequences of routine menstruation can be costly.
“The girls in many countries can’t go to school,” said Debbie Horn, a member of Park Chapel Christian Church. “Often, they have to sit at home on a bale of straw. So the girls miss a week of school every month.
“They get further and further behind in school until they have to drop out. They are often then sold to be yet another wife for some man.”
Horn heard that some who ministered in Kenya last year were able to take feminine hygiene kits they obtained from Days for Girls. The Washington-based organization promotes making kits available, either by ordering them through its website, forming a group to sew them, or supporting a kit-making enterprise in another country.
Horn approached Ruth Almeida, fellow Park Chapel member and founder of a sewing group, Unraveled Club (Stitched Together with Prayer). It meets at the church, though not everyone who participates is a Park Chapel member.
Sitting in her car, talking on her cellphone, Horn heard Almeida fall silent. Horn was the third person to suggest to Almeida the club take on the project.
“I had three phone calls from different women,” Almeida said. “These people had not been talking to each other …
“I really believe that was a real profound sign that I needed to obey the Lord and get busy on these.”
It was a daunting task. The kits include two shields, eight liners, and two pairs of underwear. Those and other supplies, such as a washcloth, plastic zip bag and travel-size soap, all go into a drawstring bag. The fabrics have to be culturally sensitive, too: in some places, that means no animals, butterflies only if depicted without eyes, avoiding taboo colors, etc.
The instructions for stitching the items are very precise, Almeida said, because the hope is for the materials to last three years — which can add up to a lot more days of school attended.
She, Horn and some other women found a group in Carmel sewing for Days for Girls and visited three times to be sure the Greenfield group was making the components correctly. When items are finished, a “quality control” member gives them another look.
There were other hurdles to consider. The moisture-proof lining can cost about $15 a yard at fabric stores. But volunteers, donations and a grant from the church came together, Almeida said.
“We are really excited about this project, because it can really change the lives of the girls that can get these kits,” said Sally Presser, another member of the group. “We feel blessed to be one of these teams, because dignity, health and opportunity matters to all girls, everywhere.”
The Needles of Faith group at Brandywine Community Church also has sewn products for women abroad. In 2017, members made 94 large holders, 184 small holders and liners to go with them. They were sent to Kenya and Haiti.
Gayle Corfman of the group said the sets fill a need that’s often overlooked. In some areas, “What we take for granted is either unavailable or very expensive,” she said. “The reusable sets can mean better health and freedom for girls and young women.”
The push to remove the stigma that surrounds menstruation in some cultures and to bring better puberty education to young women has a range of advocates.
In recent years, the United Methodist Committee on Relief has expanded its sanitation programs to include menstrual hygiene management. It doesn’t embrace the pad-providing methods of some organizations, citing concerns about import taxes for the groups receiving them and questioning whether climate or social norms make it feasible for hanging items out to dry.
Still, the common thread is the concern for the issue. According to its website, UMCOR has advocated for separate latrines, improved puberty education and other ways to address the issue.
The German non-profit organization WASH United launched global Menstrual Hygiene Day in 2014 and continues to observe it each day on May 28 to build awareness. The group asserts that even one additional year in school can increase a woman’s lifetime earnings by 10 to 20 percent.
Almeida considers the prospects for young women who leave school early, and they appear bleak, often involving human trafficking or marriage at a young age.
“Think about saving even one girl’s life from sex slavery,” she said. “This is one of the things that we can do.”
The sewing club Unraveled meets from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. the third Monday of the month in Room 200 at Park Chapel Christian Church, 1176 E. McKenzie Road, Greenfield. Some volunteers spend an hour; others make a day of it. Even non-sewers can help with tasks such as pushing the ribbon through drawstring bags or pressing fabric pieces, group leader Ruth Almeida said. The next meeting is Feb. 17.