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Haiti girls empowered by Flagstaff knowledge

During this past December’s trip by the Northern Arizona Volunteer Medical Corps, Peter Brainard split from the main team to work on a side project inspired by his wife, Lindsey Brainard.

There is scant access in Haiti to feminine hygiene products and young women have little access to information about menstruation, the developmental changes in their bodies and the link between menstruation and the use of birth control.

Lindsey had come across an organization called Days For Girls, which through the work of volunteer seamstresses, creates feminine hygiene kits that are reusable. The kits include soap to wash a set of soft cotton panty liners, a holder for the liners, ziplock bags to store used and unused liners and a menstrual calendar so that menstruation can be both tracked and anticipated. Days For Girls has also developed a curriculum to be used when introducing the kits that explains menstruation, female development and pregnancy.

Brainard and his childhood friend Brett Morris arrived in Haiti with two duffle bags containing 80 of the kits. The first job was for Brainard and Morris to teach two Haitian women the Days For Girls curriculum and how to share it with Haitian young women.

The first teacher was Maude Louis, an operating room nurse who the team had met last December at the Bernard Mevs, hospital where the team works when in Haiti. The second teacher was Angel-Ben Gilot, an orphan from the Foyer Renmen orphanage, which the NAVMC organization supports. She is the first of 55 children at the orphanage to have graduated from post-secondary education with her nursing degree.

Once the two nurses had been trained in the Days For Girls curriculum the team taught two classes. The first was for Angel's fellow orphans at Foyer Renmen. The second was at the Haitian American Caucus, a school, run by an American charity on the outskirts of Port au Prince.

Without adequate access to feminine hygiene products a vast number of Haitian women spend their menstrual period each month confined to their homes. That means they miss 25 percent of their schooling if they are lucky enough to be enrolled in school. It means that 25 percent of the time they have to earn an income is also curtailed.

Watching as the girls looked through the kits and were taught how to use the menstrual calendars, it was clear that the girls understood that they were not being simply given a product and some information they but also power and control.

After leaving the class the students lives would be on a different course. The fact that the classes were being taught by professional Haitian women means that with a continued supply of the kits, the Days For Girls program will be sustainable in Haiti.

Brainard hopes to be able to expand the program in Haiti by training more local women to instruct girls on the use of the kits and by arranging to have more of the kits delivered to Haiti.

His passion for the project and the success it had in Haiti has encouraged a local group of seamstresses in Flagstaff led by Wendy Wetzel.

Photos: Days for Girls project takes root in Flagstaff, grows in Haiti


Cooper French of Team FAST skis down a course.

top story
Hopi land settlement
Reboot: Swap involving Flagstaff-area lands takes heat, suspended

More than 9,000 acres of national forest around Flagstaff that were being considered for a trade to the Arizona State Land Department are more than likely off the table for such an exchange.

State and legislative officials delivered that message to a standing-room-only crowd in the Flagstaff City Council chambers Monday evening.

It was welcome news to attendees who were largely opposed to the possibility of those federal lands being moved into state hands.

The Monday meeting was called by Flagstaff City Council and the Coconino County Board of Supervisors to discuss the state-federal land swap, proposed to fulfill a 22-year-old promise to the Hopi Tribe. The agreement gives the tribe nearly 150,000 acres of state trust land south of Interstate 40 east of Flagstaff in order to settle a Navajo-Hopi land dispute that dates back more than a century.

Staffers in the office of Sen. John McCain had been exploring the idea of a federal land trade in recent years as a way to compensate the Arizona State Land Department for the acreage it would need to shift to Hopi hands, said Nick Matiella, a legislative assistant in McCain’s office. Under an initial draft proposal, McCain’s staff and the State Land Department identified 83,000 acres for a potential trade, 9,400 of which are parcels on the Coconino National Forest around Flagstaff.

That initial proposal had been sent to the city and the county and was obtained by the Arizona Daily Sun through a public records request to those governments.

During Monday’s meeting, Matiella stressed that the parcels were the result of informally “throwing spaghetti at the wall” to see what federal land possibilities existed.

“We learned rather quickly that the lands in question are not suitable” Matiella said to applause from the audience.

Matiella said discussions about the land trade stopped a couple of months ago and McCain’s office is looking for guidance from city and county leaders about how to reboot the process and how they would like to be involved moving forward. He and State Land Department Commissioner Lisa Atkins both said local participation, transparency and government consultation have always been their intent -- they just hadn’t had the chance to do all of those things before their initial map proposals were published.

Members of the public who spoke at the meeting came out strongly against the transfer of federal lands around Flagstaff to the state. They brought up concerns that recreation access could be restricted, that forest management would suffer and that the lands could eventually be developed.

“I support the Hopi people getting the land that is owed to them as soon as possible but I really don’t want to see Flagstaff’s public lands traded away as part of the deal,” Jeff Goulden said.

The parcels in question, he said, “are some of Flagstaff’s best recreational and open space assets.”

Nearly every speaker expressed a similar sentiment, supporting the transfer of state lands to the Hopi but objecting to the use of the Flagstaff-area federal acreage to make that happen.

During his time at the podium, Hopi Chairman Timothy Nuvangyaoma emphasized that the tribe simply wanted the federal government to stand by its word and isn’t trying some sort of “land grab” for Forest Service lands. With the closure of the Navajo Generating Station in 2019 and the loss of the nearby coal plant that supplies it, the Hopi Tribe stands to lose about 85 percent of its operating budget, Nuvangyaoma said.

The tribe sees the state land along I-40 as an opportunity to diversify its economy and mitigate the impacts of the power plant’s closure, he said.

“The single most effective thing the government can do to help the Hopi Tribe weather this storm is to live up to the promises made in 1996 and allow us to obtain our settlement lands,” Nuvangyaoma said.

Both elected officials and members of the public expressed frustration, however, that the responsibility of fulfilling those promises seemed to be falling at the doorstep of local communities. They also asked why it wouldn’t be possible for the federal government to pay for the state land sought by the Hopis, instead of needing to provide compensation via a land swap.

Matiella expressed doubt that federal money would get approved for that purpose, especially because the Hopi were already awarded a cash settlement as part of the Navajo-Hopi land dispute agreement. When asked about that money, Nuvangyaoma referred this reporter to tribal lawyers.

Matiella said that given current circumstances, a land swap is the best way to resolve this final element of the 1996 settlement agreement.

The city and county boards ended the night by drafting a letter to McCain and Rep. Tom O’Halleran. They outlined their disappointment with the federal government’s inability to follow through on its land agreement with the Hopi and urged the legislators to explore the possibility of paying for the state land in cash, rather than through an in-lieu land exchange. The two governments agreed they want a revival of discussions about resolving the decades-old land settlement agreement and they both want to be stakeholders in those talks.

“That ability to reboot would be extremely helpful,” Matiella said.