“My grandmother told me not to eat watermelon when I have my period. Is that right?”
This simple question, asked by a teenage girl in El Salvador during a 2016 Mission of Healing teaching session about nutrition, has sparked a movement in Lutheran Churches from Milwaukee and Muskego, to Eau Claire and Duluth, to Brookfield and Menomonee Falls, to Tonacatepeque and San Jerónimo. As companion churches working together, health professionals and pastors and lay leaders realized that although they had been working to provide good access to sexual disease education, girls and women in El Salvador lacked basic factual information about their own bodies. Frank conversation revealed that girls and women were depriving themselves of important nutrition and hygiene routines because of their belief in myths. The women also shared their struggle to find and purchase the feminine hygiene products they need in order to participate in school, community activities and work.
A little digging led Wisconsin women to the organization, Days for Girls International. Days for Girls is committed to equipping girls and women with washable feminine hygiene kits. Individuals and groups in the US can register at different levels with Days for Girls to have access to patterns, instructions and resources to sew and put together the kits. In quick fashion, 2 sample kits traveled from Milwaukee to El Salvador, where the Salvadoran Lutheran Church health team gave a big thumbs-up to including the kits as part of the plans for the 2017 Mission of Healing.
During 2016, church groups across the Greater Milwaukee Synod and Wisconsin sewed Days for Girls kits. Women in El Salvador helped out by sewing cloth bags to hold 150 of the kits. During the February 2017 Missions of Healing, 483 donated kits were distributed. During follow-up meetings with youth at churches, an additional 45 kits were given to girls in need. Women in two Salvadoran Lutheran Church communities expressed interest in learning how to make Days for Girls kits. St. John’s Brookfield, All Peoples Milwaukee and Holy Cross Menomonee Falls worked together to create teaching materials and assist with workshops, first in Tonacatepeque and then in San Jerónimo.
The women in Tonaca self-organized, and quickly set up a rigorous teaching, practice and production schedule. Using donated fabric, start-up funds from First Lutheran West Allis, and educational support from All Peoples Milwaukee and Hope ELCA in Eau Claire, the women are organizing a sustainable small business project. They are working with Days for Girls International to register as an official micro-enterprise and are working with Salvadoran organizations to register their business name and logo.
In preparation for the Missions of Healing 2018, women and men are busy sewing Days for Girls kits. The donated kits are coming into the Greater Milwaukee Synod, and will be carried to El Salvador to be distributed to girls and women who need them as part of the Menstruation Myths and Realities charla (education discussion). Pastor Emely of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church has expanded her menstruation charla into a fantastic curriculum which she is using with school girls in El Salvador, throughout the year, and she will continue to be the menstruation expert during the Mission of Healing. Lutheran Church women in El Salvador are sewing cloth bags. The Tonactatepeque micro-business is producing the teaching brochures which will be inside each kit.
You can help! Connect with Days for Girls teams and super-sewists at Holy Cross ELCA Menomonee Falls, Atonement ELCA Muskego, All Peoples ELCA Milwaukee, Hope ELCA Eau Claire or French River ELCA Duluth. Visit www.daysforgirls.org to learn about the movement and to download resources. SEW and assemble kits! Donate funds so teams can purchase fabric, soap, undies and other kit components. Funds and kits can be directed to the Greater Milwaukee Synod office. Contact Linda Muth, Mission of Healing Roundtable Chair for information at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for kit completion for the Missions of Healing is January 15, 2018.