Partnership is in our name. Heck – it is at the root of our identity as an organization. In a society that seems increasingly linear, self-serving and insular (think business or science), I see an alternative: people working collaboratively and supportively to create meaningful change in individual lives, communities and full societies. Access to information and connections can have a huge impact on the way that we interact with each other, and how me look to affect lasting change.
From the moment I first thought of menstrual cups as a solution to broader challenges facing women and girls, partnership was a crucial element. There needed to be partnerships between Cameroonians and Canadians, between people and the planet we call home, and between females and our own bodies. (Yes, my uterus and I are on the same team.)
Nowhere was partnership as important as in Mother Nature’s recent girls’ menstrual health program in Cameroon. We simply could not have done it alone. I could not go it alone. This incredible impact became a reality because of our partners, our generous donors, our Question Period trivia-ers, our silent auction supporters, our volunteers, our Cash Flow contributors and our community of family and friends. That is a lot of people who put time, money and moral support into this labour of love.
One such partnership, which revolutionized our program, is with Lunapads. They recently donated 1,000 AFRIpad kits through their remarkable buy-one-give-one One4Her program. These reusable menstrual pads are made in Uganda, and are safe, hygienic, affordable, culturally appropriate and good for the environment. So, we like them. A lot. (If you’re interested, you can take a browse at Lunapads, and partial proceeds from your purchase will help to fund more projects like ours.) The kits that we integrated into our program in Wabane District in Cameroon include two holders, five washable inserts and a discrete carrying bag. This last clever piece – the carrying bag – really comes in handy for the majority of girls who don’t have access to a private bathroom at school. As part of our comprehensive, girl-focussed curriculum, we showed students how exactly to use and care for their reusable menstrual pads.
The girl participants in our program were thrilled with the pads. (Every girl is provided with a choice between reusable pads or a reusable cup, based on their personal preferences.) And by thrilled, I mean there were shouts of approval and spontaneous applause in every classroom where we introduced the pads. For most of the girls that we work with in Cameroon, they have never used a pad or cup, and instead resort to toilet paper or nothing at all for menstrual care. This, of course, leads to unsanitary conditions, embarrassment (starting menses can be overwhelming enough when you have supplies to care for it!) and absenteeism from school. In contrast to this state of affairs, having a convenient, discrete and most importantly reusable source of menstrual care can be life-changing. It makes the difference between staying at home, and going to school, healthy and happy.
The powerhouse female teachers we work with were also intrigued by the pads, and came up to me after the workshops to ask for a kit of pads that they too could use for menstrual care. (The disposable pads that I found available for purchase in Cameroon were massive, boat-like, wingless relics from a different era. I would not wish them on anyone.)
What’s more, I learned that the girls in our program are far more receptive to reusable supplies than your average Canadian. There is a lot that Canadians can glean from these Cameroonian girls, who are immediately keen on the idea of reusable supplies and quickly adopt the practice of washing, drying and meticulously caring for their pads so that they last for years.
It isn’t always easy for me to accept it, but every one needs to ask for help. We cannot do it alone. The amount of support I have received in the lead up, implementation and ongoing monitoring of our girls’ program is staggering. The generosity and entrepreneurial, creative approach of Lunapads has been instrumental to the impact we have seen so far, and continue to see. Not to mention the menstrual cups that are highly subsidized for us through Femmecup, and the underwear that were sourced and partly funded by Aangen. And every person who contributed to Mother Nature has made our program possible, in every imaginable way. I am grateful to say that the list of people who are in partnership with Mother Nature is very long and very rich indeed.