"My grandma told me not to eat watermelon when I have my period. Is that right?"
How do girls learn about their bodies and their natural reproductive processes? What do girls do when the advice they receive from their mothers or their grandmothers is confusing to them? How do girls acquire the supplies they need when they do not have money or live far away from the nearest store? How can girls and young women continue their education, go to work, play sports or simply leave their homes if they do not have the supplies they need during each monthly period?
If you are a guy, and you are thinking this story is not for you, you are wrong. You exist because your mom grew you in her uterus. Even if you don't have sisters, a wife, a girlfriend, daughters, female friends, female co-workers, or female clients, you do have a mom. Keep reading.
During the Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fair (see this and this) which is put on annually by the Salvadoran Lutheran Church (SLC) and the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), participants attend charlas (interactive teaching discussions) about health and wellness. For many years, there has been a strong presence from the SLC HIV-Aids Education Team which has given charlas about sexually transmitted illnesses, pregnancy prevention and sexual abuse. Yet during our last fair, we realized during the Nutrition Charla that many girls and young women have lots of questions about their periods, including what foods are OK to eat. After doing a little research, the planning team for the fair identified a need for a charla centered around female reproductive health and specifically addressing the myths and facts about menstruation.
Step 1: Using the word "menstruation." When I met with Pastora Conchi, the coordinator for health ministries for the SLC, she congratulated me on using that word. She said that most people feel it is taboo to say "menstruation" - even in a doctor's office. In the charla we will use plain language and help girls to recognize that they should not be ashamed of having periods.
Step 2: Supplies. When we talked to girls and moms and dads, we learned more about the struggle families have to supply females with hygiene products. Girls and women in El Salvador (and many other countries) prefer to use pads. To conserve funds, they don't change them until absolutely necessary. Girls without resources use rags or paper or leaves. Girls without resources are stuck at home or in the farm fields. As part of the charla, we will give out washable, fabric hygiene kits.
Step 2.5: We need help! We have set a goal of making 2000 kits by January 15, 2017. We are using the Days for Girls patterns and educational material. Our hope is that women and men who have some sewing skills can donate the materials and make the kits. In the Greater Milwaukee Synod, women's ministry groups are getting started on this project, but we recognize that the more people who are involved, the better! The reality is that we can give away as many kits as we can make! We believe this is a good, ongoing project which can help girls throughout El Salvador.
Step 3: Good News. Small women's groups in the SLC will gather to make a quantity of draw-string bags to hold the contents of the kits. They will make the bags from scrap materials or donated materials. So, if you or your group can provide the inner contents, Salvadoran women can provide the bags. We will be working toward creating complete kits in El Salvador, either for women to use themselves or to donate to other women who need them.
If you go to the Days for Girls web site, there are links to the patterns (which you download) and educational materials in Spanish, as well as an instruction sheet on how to care for the kit (one sheet goes into each kit).
If you wish to make one kit, or many, simply ship them to
Greater Milwaukee Synod
1212 S Layton Blvd
Milwaukee, WI 53215
And as for eating watermelon, while medically there does not seem to be a reason not to eat it, the women in El Salvador say it causes cramps and heavier flow.