There is no shortage of lessons learned from my time in Haiti but recently I discovered that regardless of where you are in the world, talking to girls about pads, periods, and menstrual health will induce giggles. While in Fond des Blancs for the grand opening of the Haiti Project Pad Project, I had the pleasure of joining a Haiti Project Pad Project education session for members of the girls’ soccer team.
Since 2014 Haiti Projects and The Mahila Partnership have educated over 450 women and girls and provided reusable pads. Unlike the United States where girls receive education on menstruation and puberty at home and during health class in school, the culture in Haiti is different. Girls are never taught about puberty, periods, and how pregnancy happens. Haiti Projects found that more than 43% of women didn’t know what menstruation was before they got their first period.
While we have an abundance of choices when it comes to feminine hygiene products, girls and women in Haiti do not. The exorbitant cost of leaves them without access to feminine hygiene products since a package of disposable pads costs the equivalent of their monthly income. Instead, women tend to use rolled up cloth that is uncomfortable, non-hygienic, and can lead to infections. Like in other countries around the world where there isn’t access to feminine hygiene products, girls in Haiti miss school when they get their periods. Being confined to the house once a month due to your period erodes girls’ self-confidence, leads to higher dropout rates, and magnifies gender inequality.
As a mom of teenage daughter and someone who has worked with the Always #LikeAGirl campaign, I know the negative effects periods can have on a young woman’s self-confidence. Without access to pads, girls are held back and felt like they can’t participate in school and activities like soccer. Just as I aim to educate my daughter and her friends about pads and menstrual health, Haiti Projects does the same for girls in Fond des Blancs through the Pad Product.
On the day that I was there, the planned Pad Project session almost didn’t happen. Morning embroidery and knitting done in the morning by the Artisanat had been put away and chairs were circled waiting for attendees expected at the 3 pm session.
But after a morning of blue skies and hot sun, the dark skies and pouring rain delayed their arrival. Many girls used the same dirt road we walked to visit Laroche and the bee hives earlier in the day and would wait for the heavy rain to pass.
As the rain let up, the room started to fill. Girls from the TechnoClub came upstairs as their programming lessons concluded to join others arriving on foot or on the backs of motorbikes. Before long the 25 seats were full. We added more chairs and when those ran out, friends scooted over to let late arrivals share a chair to receive education on menstruation, puberty, and pads.
On this particular rainy afternoon, members of the 5 Haiti Projects’ girls’ soccer teams attended the Pad Project workshop. The group was quiet as the conversation about puberty began. There was some shifting in seats, especially when asked for signs of puberty in both girls and boys. When one girl said that boys get prettier during puberty, the others laughed and the tension in the room seemed to dissipate.
The conversation about puberty led to talking about periods and eventually pads.
Health education for women and girls is an important part of the Haiti Projects Pad Project but the sessions also serve as a way to distribute locally sewn, reusable sanitary pads in and around Fond des Blancs. Adolescent girls who attend the workshops receive a drawstring bag containing a starter pack of 6 reusable pads that feature a leak proof liner and wings and come with safety pins so they can be pinned to a laundry line to dry in the sun.
Since the Pad Project began, females have been educated about menstrual health through in-person education sessions and the traveling mobile clinic that reaches some of the most remote areas on the southern coast of Haiti, including one community that is 7 hours west of Fond des Blancs. 76% of the women who have come to education sessions report that they have educated others about menstruation since participating in the program.
According to Haiti Projects, women love the modern design and ability to access affordable, clean sanitary pads that can be washed and reused for up to 12 months. Women who haven’t attended the education session or been visited by the mobile clinic often hear about the pads through word of mouth.
Haiti Projects now makes and sells pads to other communities around Haiti, providing women in Fond des Blancs with jobs and others with a viable feminine hygiene product. A reusable package of 6 pads can be purchase for the equivalent of $1.50 U.S., a subsidized below-cost price in order to reach as many women as possible.
- Traveling to Fond des Blancs, Haiti to Visit the Haiti Projects Community Library
- Why a Bee Sting Allergy Couldn’t Keep Me Away from Haiti Projects Beekeeping Project
To support this nonprofit’s programs such as the Pad Project, tax deductible donations of any amount are accepted online through the Haiti Projects donation page. If you prefer to shop as a way to give back, the Haiti Projects online store features gorgeous hand embroidered products.
There is also a continuous need for donated items such as digital devices like old cell phones for beekeepers, books in French to stock the library, and purses for women and girls participating in the Pad Project. If you have items and would like to send them to Haiti Projects to be sent to Fond des Blancs as part of their monthly shipments, you can send items directly to:
335 Water Street
Hanover, MA 02339
This is not a sponsored post. Haiti Projects paid my travel expenses in exchange for covering the library opening and sharing their initiatives on social media however, all luggage overages to bring donated items were personally paid for.