We Have to Help the Girls

No one has been to the small cantones.  The girls out there have never received any kind of sex education. The Unidad de Salud is hearing about girls who are falling into pregnancy ... you know ... because of what we are going through ... this pandemic.                  Sonia

Acknowledging the possible and probable increase in the number of sexual assaults and sexual abuse of young girls due to the pandemic is something done in safe spaces.  The Women's Project in the Los Héroes church provides such a safe space, and when Sonia talks about the team's work and the positive impact it has on girls' lives, she is on fire.  

Statistics for 2020 have been compiled by the Ministry of Health and are being studied by women's rights groups.  It's hard to tell what the actual numbers of child and teen pregnancies are for 2020, but initial numbers are included in the graphic below.  12,781 registered pregnancies of girls between the ages of 10 and 19. Anecdotally, the local clinic knows that in the hills surrounding this community, girls need help.

Image Credit - Organización de Mujeres Salvadoreñas
Por la Paz

We spend a quiet moment nodding to each other about the gravity of the situation, and we take hope in the work the Los Héroes Women's Project is doing to make positive differences in the lives of girls.  Then we bust out the undies for a photo op.

Photo credit: my husband, who has spent more than 
his fair share of time with the sewing ladies and
might even be able to give the menstruation talk - to the boys!

"Remember those pictures I sent you last year?" Sonia asks me.  We are chatting while folding and packing.  The  church's altar is covered with components of the washable menstruation kits.  The flannel pads are still warm from the iron.  Two sewing machines hum along in the background.  Sonia laughs as she reminds me of the photo of herself and a friend precariously perched on a couple of logs over a gully as they made their way to a remote community.   "We are going to continue that work, going places like that," she said with determination.

The ladies had to haul big bags of kits across this
bridge after making sure it was safe.

When 2020 began, the women participating in the project were excited about their new location, some new equipment, and the plan for the year.  When the pandemic hit and all of El Salvador went into very tight lock-down, the Women's Project was able to pivot, and the seamstresses made masks in their homes until they ran out of fabric. Fortunately, the work they had done at the beginning of the year allowed the women to respond to the emergency created by tropical storms in June and give menstruation kits to women who had fled or lost their homes during flooding north of the community.

When the lock-down was lifted in August, the women gathered at the church to assess their stock of materials and review the 2020 plan.  One woman on the team had broken her leg and due to lingering complications, would not be able to keep sewing.  The team of 4 seamstresses and Sonia (who manages the finances, the inventory, and goes out to do the sex education classes) would pick up with where they left off.

  • The team produces 40 kits per month for the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.  Once per month, Sonia and Pastor Conchi go out to communities which have not previously received the sex education classes or the kits.  They run a workshop and they distribute the 40 kits.  The funding for this part of the program is provided through donations from the US, with significant support from Steady On.
  • The team creates specialized items such as postpartum kits and replacement pads to sell.
  • The team creates newborn baby gift sets to sell.
  • The team creates additional menstruation kits to sell or give to girls and women in need.
  • The team also receives complete Days for Girls washable menstruation kits from US partners.  The local health clinic and local schools contact Sonia to arrange a sex education workshop, and these are the kits Sonia has available to give away at those events.  
One of the new seamstresses learned to sew at the sewing school in Los Héroes when she was in elementary school and has her official certification as a professional seamstress.  Her mom died a short while ago, and she has been supporting her four younger siblings while completing high school.  The work she has with the Women's Project, even though it is only 2 days a week, is a huge blessing for her.

The women on the Los Héroes Women's Project team are very supportive of one another and care for former members of the group.  The shift to running the project out of the church has been a good one, and the women's group at the former site has now opened a restaurant (and Sonia says it is beautiful and successful).

The plan for 2021 will be to continue the work of 2020.  Financially, the hope is to raise enough funds to support the production and distribution of 40 kits per month through the Lutheran Church Health Ministries. (Labor and materials cost $300 per month.)  The communities that will receive attention will be in remote valleys and on hidden hillsides, in places where the health department and women's groups know girls are most at risk.  
Girls need accurate information about their bodies.  Girls need to know their rights.  Girls need their own  resources to manage their periods. We have to help the girls.

I think probably everyone reading this story is with you, Sonia.  We have to help the girls.

Here are just a few photos which Sonia sent me in 2020, before and after the lockdown from the pandemic:

Menstruation charla at the 2020 Mission of Healing

Menstruation charla in a school, giving away extra kits
after the Mission of Healing

A group of high school students specializing in healthcare
receiving the sex and menstruation education

Girls and women from a small, remote community pose with their kits.

A congregation which had not yet received the education
or kits, receives the workshop

When you need a table, the altar is an OK place to work.
God is in favor of helping the girls.

Another happy church group.

This little guy's mom is a seamstress.
He learned to walk while mom sewed - these are his first steps.

Happy to be back in action after the lockdown

Another happy group

Sonia doing her thing.

Look at all these church groups learning and getting kits!

Distanced and learning.

Grandmas are so good at getting the kits for
their granddaughters.  



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