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.