On Thursday, women in Utah County gathered to make materials for feminine hygiene kits to be shipped to Ethiopia at the beginning of November. Throughout the day, 150 women, including Brigham Young University students from 13 wards, gathered around sewing machines, sergers, and cutting tables to prepare items for the kits. On Saturday, contestants in the Distinguished Young Women Scholarship Pageant assembled and packed the kits into boxes. In less than an hour, they assembled 200 kits.
These events are part of an ongoing effort by the nonprofit organization Days for Girls, which promotes education and dignity throughout the world by providing girls with access to feminine hygiene products. This service allows girls to attend school every day, whereas before they were forced to isolate themselves and stay in their rooms during their monthly period.
Founding of Days for Girls
Celeste Mergens, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, founded Days for Girls in 2008. Mergens had been searching for years to know how to reverse the cycle of poverty and hunger when she came upon the idea of providing hygiene kits for girls in developing countries. As she was preparing to visit an orphanage in Uganda, she prayed to know how to help feed the children there. She told God she was ready to do anything required of her. After an evening of tears and pleading, she went to bed. At 2:30 in the morning, she awoke to a question: Celeste, have you asked the girls what they are doing for feminine hygiene? “They need food and water,” Celeste said as she related her experience, “Imagine receiving the answer, ‘Have you asked about feminine hygiene?’” She sat stunned, as she realized that this revelation was an undeniable answer to her prayers. Later she would realize that this was not only an answer to her prayer, but an answer to the prayers of women all over the world who were searching for a way out.
As Celeste talked to the girls in the orphanage about their needs, they were anxious to tell her of the difficulties they experienced. They had no resources available to them, unless they were willing to exploit themselves. When Celeste set out to fight poverty, she could not have imagined that these kits would allow many women and girls to attend school, have their own businesses, and avoid isolation, infection, and exploitation, which in turn has allowed them to gain the skills necessary to support themselves and their families. For the recipients of these hygiene kits, this means ending poverty in a very real way.
Along with hygiene kits, the girls receive education about their bodies and are trained how to make their own kits and educate others in their communities. It is an empowering experience for all who are involved.
People started to recognize their individual worth. They started to stand up to violence, exploitation, and trafficking.
She tells of a young orphan, who, after attending a workshop with Days for Girls, went on to educate hundreds of others. When she came back to report on her progress, she said, “I am no longer an orphan. I am a leader of women.” Because of a willingness to respond to a simple question in answer to prayer, women all over the world now understand their worth and have been empowered to help themselves and others. This experience taught Celeste that “we must be a set of hands that can answer prayers. We have to ask with all our heart, and He will make available the knowledge of how we can be of the greatest service.”
Global Humanitarian Growth
Opportunities for service have grown exponentially since Celeste’s prompting. As the nonprofit charity Days for Girls has grown, chapters have opened across the country, and Latter-day Saints have played a significant role in helping these efforts move forward. The Utah Valley Chapter is the most active Days for Girls chapter in the world. They will be celebrating their one-year anniversary this November and have assembled over 7,000 kits in 11 months through a series of events held each week.
Church members and communities have come together elsewhere to participate in Days for Girls. Cindy Ellsworth, a Latter-day Saint in San Antonio, was able to involve her Stake Primary, Young Women Group, and Relief Society, as well as her community members from other faiths. “I felt directed,” she said. “I knew people in each of these organizations that I could connect with, and it felt so very right.”
The lessons that have been learned through this experience have touched those involved in these efforts to help women across the world. Celeste provided a beautiful summary of her involvement,
Heavenly Father’s love is truly universal. It has no boundaries. He will answer prayers from wherever to wherever, whatever it takes. That is more clear to me than it ever was before.