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Seattle group sewing feminine hygiene kits for African girls

A multi-religion coalition sews feminine hygiene kits for African girls so they don't have to miss school. (Roger Nelson, Flickr)
LISTEN: Seattle group is sewing feminine products for African girls, so they can attend school

On a recent Monday morning, a group of women sit in a Seattle dining room, sewing, drinking coffee and chatting. Even though it’s Monday, some of them are known as the Saturday Sewing Sisters, and they gather to sew feminine hygiene kits that they will hand deliver to girls living in villages in Cameroon, Africa.

“In many parts of the world, girls miss a significant amount of school during their menstrual cycle for lack of product,” says Alfreda Lanier. “So we feel strongly that we can impact their lives and allow them to get the education that will empower them to change their circumstance.”

Lanier says they delivered 1,200 kits to schoolgirls in five villages last year, and they have another delivery mission coming up in December. While they’re there, they teach the girls how to use the pads, they do a course on sex education and even teach self defense.

“If you don’t have the product, you’re not going to want to go to school,” Lanier said. “It’s not that they’re not allowed. But if they do go, they often are taken advantage of by, sometimes, male teachers, other men in the village. They will exchange product for sex. Therefore, the girls are exposed to exploitation, early pregnancy, even marriage.”

Feminine hygiene kits for African girls

The sewing project started with just 16 women at the First AME Church, but has since expanded to include Jewish and Muslim volunteers. Rabbi Elana Zaiman got involved with the project a few months ago.

“They have enough kits for all the girls in the school. They have to. Every girl gets a kit,” explains Rabbi Zaiman. “It’s taboo to have your period. The idea is that with these kits, and with every girl having them, they all bring them to school every day whether they have their period or not.”

“No one knows who has it or who doesn’t,” she said. “And everyone can feel very comfortable. As you can see, the material is all different colors, beautiful, to hide the stains, so when they’re hanging to dry [no one in the] family is aware of when the child has her period.”

Rabbi Zaiman says an amazing side effect of the project has been the multicultural community they’ve established.

“With this world the way it is and with the anti-Muslim sentiment and the racist sentiment, especially in the election frame we are in, I’m disgusted by it,” Zaiman said. “We need to begin working together.”

“It’s brilliant, actually,” she added. “We’re doing a project that is not for any of us, it’s for all of us. And it’s not really for us, it’s for other girls elsewhere. It’s a beautiful thing to all join in to do together. I’m moved by that and I’m then moved by the fact that because we’re doing this all together, relationships are happening and we’re building. We just went to First AME church the other day for a service, they will be coming to us. We went to the Ahmadiyya community for a September 11 memorialization. I hope we’re able to be there for each other always.”

While a few of the women are set to deliver the feminine hygiene kits to Cameroon in December. But they’ve recently run into a snag.

“We are raising money to support the cost of baggage fees,” Lanier said. “We will take approximately 30 duffel bags of the kits and each of those, at 50 pounds, the airline charges about $200. We’re looking at probably about $5000 to do that.”

Last year Delta waved the baggage fee, but Air France won’t do it.

Everyone involved in the project is a volunteer and they pay for all the sewing material and their plane tickets out of pocket.

To donate to their You Caring fundraising page, click here.

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