I have a love/hate relationship with the beginning phases of starting a new project. At first I feel really excited at all of the possibilities that a new project can bring, and then once I realize how much work, coordination, and reliance on other people that most projects require, I immediately get a series of minor anxiety attacks about how everything will come together. I’m a bit of a control freak, so in Africa when people not keeping their word (example: “sure I will be there at 10:00.” 1:30 rolls around and the wrong person shows up and doesn’t have the right tools for the job.) is pretty common, I am always trying to figure out how to do things myself so I don’t have to rely on someone else. This is probably not one of my best traits.
Aren’t you glad we had this talk? Anyway.
One of my former coworkers had begun working on an initiative in Malawi before she had to return to the states. The project involved working with a CBO (community based organization) that is one of the nearby villages and run entirely by Malawians. The ideal was to distribute reusable, cloth pads to 68 girls who were interested in receiving them in the village primary school. I immediately loved the project and was happy to take over this initiative when she left.
In many undeveloped countries, periods are an extremely taboo topic. It is a misunderstood phenomenon that girls are not educated about and are made to feel ashamed of. Since no one is talking to these girls about how to deal with a period, a lot of times they are using unsanitary items such as dirty cloth, leaves, sand, and newspaper to deal with it, which as you can imagine often leads to infection.
In Malawi, girls are typically missing around 3-5 days of school (or work) a month due to their periods. This in itself has a number of consequences. Girls are then educationally disadvantaged, which leads to being economically disadvantaged. Being uneducated makes it more likely for girls to be abused and to participate in behaviors that can lead to HIV, which is already so common in Malawi.
If you’re like me, you like facts and numbers. These stats aren’t about Malawi (it’s really hard to find hard numbers on this pertaining directly to Malawi), but I think they give an accurate illustration of what women in any third world country go through.
In India 23% of girls leave school altogether when they start their periods.
75% were forbidden to worship on their periods.
45% were not allowed in the kitchen.
In Ghana, 68% of girls didn’t know anything about menstruation when they started their periods.
When education and pads were provided to these girls in Ghana, absenteeism in school was cut in HALF.
Not too much had been done when I came on board with the project besides initial conversation and plans (not that this wasn’t valuable, it absolutely paved the way for the project), so I pretty much had a clean slate to work with as far as strategizing and budgeting. Here is what I came up with (in a neat, bullet pointed format so I don’t get too confused):
– First, raise a small amount of money from friends in the United States that would cover the costs of giving 68 girls 4 pads each. Goal = $125
– Give money to Chris, manager of the CBO.
– Chris buys cloth to make pads with said money.
– Chris pays orphans and vulnerable women in the village that are in the CBO’s tailoring program to make the pads. (This is nice because the orphans and woman making the pads are participating in an income generating activity. Win, win.)
– Chris brings pads to school and gives them to Sarah, an amazing woman we are working with, who will instruct the girls who requested the pads on proper use and cleaning.
– 68 girls are provided with pads and can attend school every day of the month!
– Win, win, win. (Anyone else an Office fan?)
Within an hour of reaching out to friends and family in the U.S., we had over DOUBLE the amount of money I was hoping to raise!! I felt like this was just confirmation that this was God’s plan all along. As soon as I acted and did what He was calling me to do, He provided. Not only did He provide, but He far exceeded my expectations and I blown away at His faithfulness and love for these girls!
“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” –James 2:5
I am working on getting all of the money out of my bank account now from the donations that so lovingly poured in. In Malawi you can only withdraw about $80 a day from the bank, which is slightly annoying because it means I have to wait a few days to get all of the money out and thus the girls have to wait before the tailors can get started on their pads. My goal is to have the money to the CBO within the week so I can monitor at least some of the progress before I have to go back to the states.
Because we were able to raise so much money, we can now provide 120 girls with 5 pads each. Yep, 120. I almost fell over when I saw this number. Amazing. I am still blown away by the support of this project and the faith that people at home have in me to see this through.
Sometimes it is so easy for me to look at these people in abject poverty and forget the God has a plan for each of them and that He is in control. I have seen the poorest of the poor, the absolute bottom of the pyramid. When you read about people in poverty, it hurts and it makes you angry, but when it isn’t a person far away in some article, but it is a man covered in sores looking into your eyes, you see the monster that poverty really is. These people are not different than us. We have much, much more, but we are not different. We are all human beings, but some of us are forced to live in truly dehumanizing conditions. At the end of the day we each have a responsibility to stop ignoring those that seem so different and far away, and reach out and help one another. I think sometimes we have this image of the type of people that do aid work as dogooders, missionaries, and peace corps volunteering hippies that live out in a village for two years without running water or electricity, basically an image that most of us don’t think we could ever live up to (or want to). The truth is, that isn’t the case. You don’t have to be some weird traveling, nomad giving up the luxuries of the Western world to help. I certainly don’t fit the bill for that and neither does Andrew. We were both involved in Greek life in college, love football games, having fun with our friends, and the luxuries that living in America provides, like a really awesome date night filled with wine and sushi. I think sometimes people are surprised I do this kind of work. People have actually said that I “don’t look like I would do that stuff.” Hmmm…okay. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to give up your lifestyle, your nice things, and travel the world living in remote villages to change someone’s world. We are each called to help those in need, but first we must stop ignoring it because those in need seem so different and far away. The man I saw today covered head to toe in sores is just like me. And you.
“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; tongues are parched with thirst. But I the LORD will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.” –Isaiah 41:17