Wisconsin seamstresses are getting together for stitching bees, but the end products aren’t quilts. They’re sewing reusable feminine hygiene products for women and girls in the villages and rural areas of Guatemala.
As part of her volunteer work with HELPS International, Amelia Daniels of Eau Claire has been encouraging sewers to use their skills to make the pads for the women in the Central American country.
The country is still recovering from years of unrest and war, and the nonprofit has been working to improve the lives of Guatemalans since 1984. The group’s mission is to address the root causes of poverty in that country, focusing on the four key areas: agriculture, community development, education and health care.
“I’ve been making mission trips with HELPS International the past four years, six trips total,” Daniels said. “I got involved via my husband who’s a surgeon who was invited by some physicians he had previously worked with. Some of whom were on the very first HELPS International mission trip 28 years ago.”
During one of those trips, Daniels saw the need for the feminine hygiene products and thought other Wisconsinites might be willing to help. Not being a proficient seamstress herself, Daniels began looking for others who could stitch the pads.
Carolyn Boehne of Strum was one of those who learned about the project from a member of her church’s quilt sewing group. Boehne took the information to her UW-Extension Home and Community Education group and two ladies in the group took on the project.
Last fall, Boehne spread the word further by giving a presentation at the Wisconsin Association for Home and Community Education West District meeting. In her talk, she related how women in Guatemala lost work days and girls missed school when they were having their periods because they can’t afford feminine hygiene products.
In many developing countries, menstruation is heavily stigmatized due to lack of education and misguided beliefs. In some countries, menstruating women are restricted from engaging in certain activities or are segregated from their families and communities.
In countries where women only earn $2 a day, the loss of income resulting from missed work days can be devastating for them their families.
If they do have access to cloth, the women and girls will make pads they will reuse, but too often they do not have access to clean water and soap for laundering their hygiene products. Reusing those unsanitary pads can cause infections. If they don’t have access to cloth, some resort to using newspaper to catch the flow.
One of those taking the message home from the West District meeting was Laura Ira of the La Crosse Association for Home and Community Education. Ira, the Cultural Arts and Textile Arts coordinator for the La Crosse group, recruited fellow sewers, and since starting work on the project in February, they have reached and exceeded their objective.
“Our goal of 100 sets has been surpassed,” Ira said. “We have 193 completed sets plus a few more to be turned in yet. We have 179 extra liners.”
The pads are made from flannel because of the fabric’s natural cotton fiber, absorbency and washability. The material used to line the shields is a polyurethane laminate, a breathable moisture-resistant barrier often used in infant hygiene products.
The reusable feminine hygiene pads consist of two parts. The shield is cross-shaped with pockets sewn at each end of the long piece. The pockets receive and hold the removable washable pads. The removable pads are 8-by-12-inch pieces of flannel edged with stitching. When the pads are folded in half lengthwise twice, they fit neatly into the shield’s pockets. The pads can be removed and washed for reuse.
The wings of the shield have hook and loop fasteners sewn on them. The fasteners are used to secure the pads in place in the women’s and girls’ undergarments.
The La Crosse group recently delivered their finished pads to Boehne who will send them on to Daniels who will then arrange to get the pads to Guatemala.