Tara Bone, contributing writer
KARMA WAITE IS not a typical grandma. On any given day, Karma corresponds with people around the world — from Sierra Leone to New Zealand — and every day the 86-year-old spends at least four hours in her Nibley home cutting and sewing, all for the purpose of improving the lives of girls and women in distant lands.
Karma is part of a volunteer army of Cache Valley women who work with the Days for Girls program. Days for Girls (DfG) is a global nonprofit organization that prepares and distributes sustainable menstrual health kits to girls who would otherwise miss school during monthly periods. The organization provides training on menstrual care, health education, self-defense, and trafficking.
Since joining DfG in 2012, Karma has sewn 64,000 liners for kits, and last year Karma sewed 1,000 bags. Karma’s neighbors, friends, and family members help with various parts of the process and she says it “takes lots of hands to do it.”
Each item is made with love and Karma says she thinks of the young women who will receive the kits. She feels strongly in the power of education and about the DfG mission: to break the cycle of poverty and help women live lives of dignity. When girls have to miss days from school, many eventually drop out and lose valuable opportunities.
“The only way to improve the condition of this world is through education,” Karma said.
DfG began in 2008 when founder Celeste Mergens was working with an orphanage in Kenya. She discovered that girls had to sit on cardboard for several days each month during their period, often going without food and missing school and other activities.
According to the DfG website, the organization has reached more than one million women and girls in 125+ countries with DfG Kits and menstrual health education. This translates into over 115 million days of health and opportunity.
From southern Idaho to Paradise, women from all parts of Cache Valley have been part of these global efforts. Sharon Kirk of Petersboro is one of three co-leaders for the Cache Valley DfG chapter. Since becoming a co-leader five years ago, the Cache Valley chapter has completed and distributed approximately 6,500 kits.
The chapter has accomplished this through group work days and individual volunteers, like Karma. When church or volunteer groups want to make DFG kits, Sharon and the chapter leadership train volunteers and help organize the project. Donations are gathered and women come together for three or four hours to sew and organize kits.
The chapter’s main goal is to find 1,000 or more Cache Valley volunteers who are willing to give 15 minutes a week to sew on a long-term basis. Anyone can volunteer. Sharon says that 15 minutes a week may not seem like a lot, but every effort helps.
“Some may say, it’s just a drop in the bucket and won’t make a difference, but all those drops together make a huge impact and are changing lives around the world,” Sharon said.
Sharon herself spends two to three hours every day volunteering for DfG and is inspired to keep going by how their work makes a difference. Sharon even has a DFG “she-shed” where kits are stored until shipment. Cache Valley DfG works with the group Charity Anywhere to distribute kits.
Most kits from Cache Valley are distributed to Honduras, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, and Guatemala by trained ambassadors of women’s health. Every kit is handed out with health education and instructions on how to care for kits. Ambassadors teach that menstruation is normal and healthy. In many parts of the world woman are shunned during menstruation and it’s believed women are cursed.
Sharon relayed an experience of a women standing during a kit training, waving the instruction sheet and shouting, “Why don’t we know this, where have you been all my life?”
Another unique experience came when students from Notre Dame built a school in South Sudan.
They discovered that the girls couldn’t go to school for five to seven days each month because they had no way to manage menstruation, so they found DfG online and asked for help. Sharon immediately sent 80 kits and received pictures of thanks. Their bright smiles show their gratitude.
“It’s so neat to see the girls holding the kits you made in their hands,” Sharon said.
Cache Valley women are gathering for the next DfG group project in Hyrum on February 22. Jenny Garlock, project coordinator, believes DfG is an amazing and meaningful program. The Hyrum group is specifically inviting young women to help at the project so they can put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
“We are so lucky, it’s [menstrual care] something we don’t even think about,” Jenny said. “The work day is a lot of work, but it’s worth it. It’s not just helping one girl, but her family and future generations. It doesn’t stop with just one girl. This allows them to have control over their lives; they have a future.”
Become a Days for Girls volunteer or donate items or funds, email Sharon at email@example.com. The Cache Valley DfG chapter is always accepting donations of new packages of girl’s briefs (girls sizes 10, 12, 14, and 16) and new cotton washcloths. Contact Sharon for details. For more information about the upcoming Hyrum work day, visit hyrumnorthdaysforgirls.wordpress.com.