It would seem that Direct Relief administrative controller Julie Aguiniga has enough on her plate without also sewing reusable sanitary kits for girls and women lacking access to feminine-hygiene products. But in her spare time, sew kits she does.
“For me, it’s been an amazing process,” said Aguiniga when we spoke at the Goleta office of Direct Relief, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to people and communities affected by poverty or emergencies. “My mom and I have been doing this for about two years, and we’ve made about 600 kits. This helps me feel so connected to the women we’re supporting in Direct Relief.”
Their kits have been sent to several countries, including Malawi, Peru, and Haiti. “Direct Relief has a program where we do cervical cancer screenings in Haiti,” Aguiniga said. “So some of the women who were found to have pre-cancerous lesions are being treated with cryotherapy, which is freezing, and the women who had the treatment will have discharge for a week or so afterwards as the cells slough off. So we gave kits to them.”
As for the kits themselves, Aguiniga explained, “Each girl gets eight pads, and you try to make them colorful fabric that would hide what they are being used for. And then when you hang them out to dry, they just look cute.” She continued, “The girls get two shields, eight liners, a washcloth, soap, underpants, and an instruction sheet, which isn’t words. It’s a visual because you don’t know what language the girls will speak when you send them to different countries.”
Aguiniga first became aware of the lack of access to sanitary kits in January 2014, when she read a story in O, The Oprah Magazine. The story was about the feminine-hygiene-focused nonprofit Days for Girls and its founder and CEO, Celeste Mergens, who worked in a Kenyan orphanage in 2008. During her time there, Mergens realized that some girls would skip school when they were menstruating because they lacked menstrual-hygiene materials.
Recalling a video she had watched, Aguiniga spoke with a quiver in her voice as she described a girl from Kenya who said that if she had to choose between food and sanitary towels, she would pick sanitary towels. Joining the conversation, Direct Relief CEO Thomas Tighe praised Aguiniga’s work: “At the end of the day, you do all this stuff for this basic, nice, human, emotional, important reason. To me, that’s what this represents perfectly.”