DAYS FOR GIRLS LAKE CHAPALA:
Every Girl. Everywhere. Period.
By Margaret Porter
You are a girl.
One day, your hypothalamus tells your pituitary gland that it’s time to mature, so the pituitary signals your ovaries to release chemicals which create a blood-and-mucus lining in your uterus and an egg to travel toward it. If the egg is fertilized, it will grow into a baby. If not, the same brain-gland communication causes you to start your menstrual period, and every 28 days for the next 40-plus years you will experience the same miraculous and cumbersome event … one that you may not understand at all.
Hana Figueroa-Urias, Community Ambassador of Health for Days for Girls Lake Chapala, says, “I teach the girls in our program that menstruation is a super-power! It’s what makes you special!”
So you become a believer and want to hear more.
Days for Girls Lake Chapala is Lakeside’s newest charity and the first Mexico “team” of the international DFG organization. It came to life only a year ago to address the needs of maturing girls and women in communities around Lake Chapala, many who live in deep poverty. Figueroa-Urias and volunteers have customized a five-session program for use in the region – the first three sessions are reserved for girls and women; in the last two, interested boys are invited, where they adopt healthy sexual attitudes and become role models in the village.
So, you are a maturing girl and you don’t understand the physical processes that occur during menstruation because your mother and grandmother didn’t understand it, either. You are poor and you’re embarrassed because you don’t have the necessary things when your period arrives – no pads, soap, no panties, and in the family every extra centavo goes for food. You live in a village where there’s taboo about menstruation, too, so you are encouraged to hide yourself away until it’s over … so you miss school and eventually quit because you lost days and fell behind.
Days for Girls Lake Chapala is fighting to give those days back to maturing girls. In each village, Figueroa-Urias creates circles in which girls and women explore the concepts of self-respect; are taught the science of what happens in their bodies; positive management of the moods and hygiene of menstruation; saying “no” and protecting themselves from STD’s; maintaining healthy relationships with males; the cycles of violence; and how to mentor younger girls in the community.
“I’ve been through my own hardships,” Figueroa-Urias says, “and my life was saved by a circle of supportive women. Now I look into the eyes of these girls and relate to their pain and confusion. They want to learn about themselves, who they are, and what maturity is bringing. It is a big moment when they can openly talk about their menstruation and realize that it’s powerful and not shameful.”
She says everything flows from that and, in fact, the DFG program is called “Fluye.”
Figueroa-Urias relates a story about a grandmother who approached her after one session. “She said to me, ‘If I had known about what happens during ovulation, then things might have been different for me.’ But I told her she can help change the culture for the girls. That is what we do, get the whole community involved.”
At the first gathering, the maturing girls are presented menstrual kits containing two panty shields, eight washable pads, and two pairs of panties inside a brightly- colored cotton carry bag. These are hand-made by a team of volunteer seamstresses who are trained by Beverly Letourneau. The girls learn how to hygienically manage the items in the kits – they are extremely popular and so far over 1,000 have been gifted to girls and women who attended the program.
Darlene MacLeod and Jan Quarton are the principal organizers of Days for Girls Lake Chapala. In one short year, Figueroa-Urias has led dozens of workshops and the scope of the program is now better known – simply put, there is a great need for more volunteers and additional funding.
“We appreciate all help, hands-on or funds,” says Quarton. “And we are seeking leadership contributors who can make significant donations. It’s a chance to really make a difference in the lives of maturing girls here at lakeside.”
All women agree with the research that indicates when a woman understands her body, its reproduction and sexuality, she tends to make better choices for herself and her family. “It really is that simple,” says MacLeod.
Figueroa-Urias says, “Menstruation is about women’s health, and it comes with its own gifts to celebrate. Yet most importantly, it is a human rights issue because if women miss school and work, they get left behind. This is my work now, and I love it!”
With the life-affirming success that the Days for Girls Lake Chapala team is already having, it is easy to see why.
Days for Girls Lake Chapala is dedicated to creating a freer, dignified and educated world through providing lasting access to feminine hygiene solutions and health education. If you would like to donate or get involved with sewing in other volunteer capacities, contact:
Darlene MacLeod - volunteers
Jan Quarton - contributions