Days for Girls in El Salvador - Women Working for Good

A small group of women are gathered in pretty purple house.  For a while it is quiet, except for the whirrr of a few sewing machines.  Then someone makes a joke and the room erupts in laughter.  Outside the house, thunder rolls and big raindrops begin to fall with loud plops onto the leaves of banana, mango, lime, and cashew trees.  Soon the laughter and the sewing machines are equally drowned out by the loud roar of a heavy downpour on the metal roof.  Everyone goes back to work.

Sewing in the pretty purple Women's House
This is a story of determination.  This is a story of community.  This is a story of creativity.  This is a story of women working together in support of one another across boundaries, across cultures and across languages.  This is a story which began with a need for girls and women to have good information about their bodies, which led to a connection with Days for Girls International, which led to giving away more than 400 Days for Girls kits, and which has birthed a sustainability project for women in a small Salvadoran community.  And although I did not plan for any this, I am blessed to be in the midst of it.

The downpour ends and the women gather up the pads and shields which they have made so far on this day.  Each item is inspected for quality.  The items are put out onto the table, for assembly into Days for Girls washable hygiene kits.  The women show off the washcloths, soap and underwear which they have purchased.  It is actually cheaper to purchase the wash cloths ready-made than to cut and serge them themselves.  They tell me that the pink soap smells the best and causes the fewest allergies.  One of the women searched far and wide and actually found the PUL (water impermeable fabric) and she used a few of her own dollars to buy a piece of it.  She was very excited to make a shield using the fabric she purchased. We break for the homemade breakfast brought in by a few of the women...pupusas, cornbread and hot chocolate.

Each product is checked

Dark flannel is not available in El Salvador, so the women
are asking a local distributor to stock it -- and the pink
soap does really smell good!
A purse for a little
girl made from
rejected product
These women know what they are doing.  They have spent the past 5 months perfecting their sewing skills.  They researched the best prices for fabrics. They outsourced the sewing of the fabric bags to a young mom who sews at home because her baby is due in one week.  They participated in entrepreneurship trainings.  They studied the local market and made a business plan.  They go into schools to teach girls about their periods.  They bring foods to share with one another for breakfast and lunch on work days.  They make small items from scraps and from the shields and pads that are of sub-standard quality and they sell their creations for 25 or 50 cents to earn bus money so they can come to work in the purple house.  They used start-up funds from their sister church to prepare and print a Days for Girls menstruation brochure because they believe each girl needs as much information as they can give her.  They are not earning any pay yet, but they are committed to the project. 


Interior stitching
on cloth bag

By the end of this day, the team of 10 women complete their first 20 kits.  Eventually they will sell the kits at a price which will be fair for the workers and the consumers.

How does a US-based project to teach girls about menstruation and provide kits lead to a group of women entrepreneurs to take steps to form a micro-business?  And how does the project of giving away free kits work alongside a project which will ultimately will employ women in El Salvador in the production, promotion and sale of the kits to women who need them?  To understand how this all works together, let's take a quick look at what has happened thus far and where these projects are going...
  • 2016 - The Mission of Healing team conducts an evaluation of the annual Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fair (put on by the Salvadoran Lutheran Church and the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)  which raises up the need for reproductive system education for girls and women, as well as the need for feminine hygiene products among women without access or means to purchase these supplies.
  • 2016-2017 - the US Mission of Healing team learns about and connects with Days for Girls and begins to sew kits.  Word goes out through the Milwaukee network, the Lutheran Church network, and a story in this blog, and the response to create kits is tremendous!  Women in El Salvador contribute to the construction of Days for Girls kits by sewing drawstring bags which hold the kits.  
  • 2017 Mission of Healing - Salvadoran and US leaders provide a series of charlas (educational discussions) on women's health issues, including:  Breast Health and Self-Exams, Mom and Baby (Pregnancy and After the Birth), Menstruation, Menopause, and HIV/STI prevention.  Days for Girls kits are distributed to girls and young women at the Menstruation Charla.
  • February 2017 - A small Salvadoran and US team visits local health clinics to teach about the Days for Girls kits and share a sample kit at each clinic. Workshops are held at a few Lutheran Churches to talk with girls about menstruation, to teach the girls how to use the kits and to distribute Days for Girls kits to girls who need them.
  • March 2017 - Women in a local church hold a few pilot workshops to study the patterns, to practice tracing and cutting, and to learn how to make the pads.  Patterns and guidebooks are  prepared by a registered US Days for Girls Team to ensure proper procedure and quality control.  Women from the church who have a talent for the work and the passion for women's health education join with women from a local community center to continue the learning workshops. 
    The first workshop - feeling the fabrics, studying the patterns
    and imagining how to help get more kits to more girls
First sewing workshop at the Women's House
  • End of March 2017 - during the course of one month, every woman in the group learns how to trace and cut, to sew the kit components, and to use the snap tool.  Eventually each woman will specialize in the work that she does best.  The first products are not of high enough quality to give away, so the women take them home and use them for themselves or their daughters.  Personal experience strengthens the women's advocacy of use of these kits for economic benefit, environmental benefit and most importantly for their health and confidence.  Over the next several months, the women work together to perfect their sewing skills.  They use a combination of donated fabric and fabric they purchase with a small grant they receive through the church.
  • September 2017 - communication with Days for Girls International hits a setback when the organization communicates that it is unable to handle new solicitations for new Enterprise Groups (micro-businesses) until 2018.  When Days for Girls is ready to approve its first Enterprise in El Salvador, these ladies will be more than ready!
  • September 2017 - the women gather in the pretty purple house on a rainy morning to work and to share their progress with me.  That is where this blog story began (do you need to scroll back up to the top?)  The story continues...
Fabric Fashion Show

Because the women are not earning salaries, I thought it might be fun to do a little raffle with some donated fabric.  These kinds of small acts of kindness and fun really help to keep morale high among the women. (I have written previously about the value of bringing fabric to our sister church.)  I bundled up some large pieces of fabric (not suitable for Days for Girls kits) and tied them up with pretty ribbon.  I brought them with me in a secret bag.

After our delicious pot-luck breakfast, we hold the raffle.  My husband is the master of ceremonies, and of course, everyone wins a bundle, with the first number chosen being the first woman to choose her bundle.  The women are also working on a presentation which they will do for Indigenous Women's Day, preparing a flag and costumes and a traditional dance to honor feminists from Peru.  One of the fabric pieces seems like it might work out as part of a costume before being made into a skirt.  Hilarity ensues when one woman unfurls her bundle to reveal pre-printed Christmas vests - complete with snowmen and snowflakes -- and I never, ever would have predicted that the Christmas vest fabric would be so intriguing and desired by a group of sewing ladies in El Salvador!

Just a week after my September visit to the purple house, the co-leader of this new church-community-women's sustainability project contacts me to see if I can whip up a presentation for an event we had planned for 2 days later.  What was planned as a visit of a couple of my friends from the Milwaukee Synod was now expanded to a big celebration of the women and their work.  When my friends and I show up, we are impressed!  Local school officials and principals, government workers, political party representatives, and leaders from a variety of social agencies (from environmental groups to women's rights groups) all listen intently and ask a lot of questions.  At the end of the presentation, we highlight the plan that has been developed for two pathways as we go forward:

1)  Women in the United States are continuing to sew Days for Girls kits in preparation for the 2018 Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fair.  The US sewing teams are partnering with Salvadoran women as in 2017, with the Salvadoran women making a significant quantity of the drawstring bags.  The US Days for Girls registered team is supplying the Salvadoran women with the logos to put onto the bags.  Donated kits will be given out during the Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fair 2018 as part of the Menstruation Charla.  Donated kits will be given to girls who need them in follow-up workshops after the Mission of Healing, for as long as the kits are available.  Donated kits will continue to be needed to provide girls and young women who live in poverty or remote areas with the ecological and economical feminine hygiene product they need in order to be able to study and work.

2)  Women in the small purple house are working toward registering their micro-enterprise.  They are working with the appropriate women's entrepreneurship agencies of the Salvadoran government to register the Days for Girls design as the intellectual property of Days for Girls so that no one in El Salvador steals the design and begins to mass-produce the kits to sell for profit without legal permission to do so.  The goal of producing Days for Girls kits in El Salvador by Salvadoran women as a sustainable micro-business will provide a local source for the girls in El Salvador to purchase their kits.  The micro-business does already have a legal name and potential clients lined up as schools and health clinics want to be able to purchase kits to GIVE to girls who need them.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?
1.  Support Days for Girls International.
2.  Sew Days for Girls Kits and connect with the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA to send your kits to El Salvador as part of the February 2018 Mission of Healing.
3.  ALWAYS INCLUDE THE OFFICIAL LOGO purchased from Days for Girls on any kits you create and send out into the world.  If you send kits to the Greater Milwaukee Synod without logos, please consider sending a small donation so that the affiliated Days for Girls Teams can purchase the logos and sew them onto the bags.

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