Five Women on the Front Lines of the Pandemic
As the world reels from COVID-19, global NGO Days for Girls International women have found ways to continue their work with menstrual health as well as introduce new programs to educate and protect the communities they serve.
According to Celeste Mergens, founder and CEO, “We rallied our 70,000+ grassroots volunteers and 150 global enterprise teams to continue to provide vital menstrual kits and education, while simultaneously dealing with the immediate impact of the devastating health crisis.”
Since 2008, Days for Girls has produced and distributed washable, sustainable menstrual kits (DFG Kits), using a unique, hybrid model. Volunteers in 1,000 chapters and teams create DFG Kits for distribution to those most vulnerable, reaching over 1.7 million women and girls.
As well, in low and middle-income communities, the Days for Girls Social Enterprise Program trains local leaders to become entrepreneurs as they produce and sell the kits and provide women’s health education.
Because of this extensive, highly effective distribution network, Days for Girls was able to respond quickly, adding face masks to their production line-up under the #Mask4Millions initiative and providing life-sustaining support. They began by enlisting local sewists to make masks for healthcare and frontline workers in the U.S. With the demand escalating, they expanded this initiative to reach out to their global network in Africa, Central America, and Asia.
This is part one in a series of posts we’re doing to highlight five women on the front lines.
Going House-to-House in Kenya
In Kenya, Days for Girls Enterprise Leader and youth activist Alice Wambui Mwangi oversees a 20-member team of 10 seamstresses and 10 trainers.
“When the government announced the lockdown on March 15, the news didn’t reach many of the small villages we serve because there are no TVs, radios, or smartphones,” she reports. “We had to go house to house, handing out masks we had made, while maintaining social distancing and explaining about COVID-19 and how dangerous it is. Some people thought that rural communities would be okay, that it was an urban problem.”
The task for Alice and her team was made even tougher due to cultural traditions that involve handshakes and much physical contact. Using posters provided on the Days for Girls website, Alice and her team provided training on how to effectively wash hands, and they even set up water buckets on fences, providing soap as well.
“The shift in direction actually provided new revenue opportunities and ways to expand our enterprise,” Alice said. “We have been able to ensure that our 20 workers continue to have work and are getting paid, and they are learning about how businesses have to be flexible. And of course, we are helping our communities make sense of the pandemic and guiding them through it through education.”
Read “Part 2: Seeing the Downside of Depending on Imports in Zimbabwe“
Special thanks to Days for Girls volunteer, Elizabeth Titus for contributing this article.
Elizabeth Titus has been an English teacher, a journalist, an advertising executive, and a communications director (15 years at American Express). For the past decade, she has focused on pro bono consulting to nonprofits, via PennPAC, for graduates of the University of Pennsylvania; Taproot; and Catchafire. She is especially interested in gender equality and the education of girls and women. A freelance writer, her articles have appeared in Ms., Narrative, and The Humanist, among others. She lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.