By Amy Flowers Umble
The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.
Traveling on a bumpy road to a remote Burundian village, Julia Desilets could see the challenges students faced getting to school.
While visiting the African school her parents helped create, Desilets discovered that students often walked miles through jungles, past wild animals and over rocky paths for the opportunity to learn.
On her flight home, Desilets learned of another obstacle for about half of the student body: girls’ monthly periods.
The Spotsylvania County resident sat next to a stranger who had flown to Africa to distribute feminine supplies. The woman told Desilets that girls often miss about 180 schooldays in three years because they must stay home while menstruating.
Desilets hadn’t thought about periods while touring the school for teenagers.
“It doesn’t occur to us because we can go to CVS and pick up the supplies we need for our monthly cycles, but they can’t do that,” Desilets said.
The stranger on the plane worked with a Washington state-based organization called Days for Girls, which provides reusable sanitary supplies for female students across the globe. The group didn’t have a distribution center in Burundi, but members could help Desilets learn how to make the supplies.
Desilets contacted someone from the Burundian school and learned that the feminine supplies were desperately needed. She couldn’t sew a button, but Desilets was determined to get the supplies crafted.
She began a sewing circle, recruiting other members of local Catholic parishes, and started the efforts last fall.
The patterns and instructions came from Days for Girls, which began in 2008 when Celeste Mergens was helping an orphanage in Kenyan slums.
While helping staff find sustainable ways to feed and clothe 1,400 children, Mergens asked a simple question: What do the girls do during their time of the month?