In the remote village of Fanikodialan, women gather under a tin roof awning to listen. Some come with shy toddlers by their side. Young mothers bring their babies wrapped tightly on their backs. The elderly sit on stumps or wood chairs while the others scoot together to sit on the floor. Others arrive late after working in their homes and stand in the back, eager to learn. Village children try to sneak a peek and are quickly shooed away by a village matron.
Teningnini Diaketé stands before the group, yet she needs no introduction. As the Alliance’s Program Coordinator since 2000, the village women know her well. She is well-liked and respected. Teningnini is always a welcome visitor when the Mali staff visits the village; she brings with her health education and training the women are hungry to hear. Today she tells the women that they are going to learn how to solve their menstrual care issues. The attentive group breaks into whispers, eyes grow wide and there is even a nervous giggle or two. Soon they will find out, their lives are about to change.
Since 2013, this scene has repeated itself dozens of times in the Alliance’s partner villages. To address the persistent issues of health in a country where culture, environment and poverty often prevents women from meeting their most basic needs, Ouelessebougou Alliance partners with Days for Girls International to provide sustainable menstrual care solutions and education to thousands of girls and women.
What is Days for Girls?
Days for Girls (DfG) empowers women and girls worldwide by developing global partnerships. DfG creates social enterprises to provide lasting solutions that shatter the stigmas surrounding women’s health in developing countries. Days for Girls is more than an organization; it’s a movement to bring dignity, health and opportunity to women around the world.
A Days for Girls Hygiene Kit starts with a DfG POD (Portable Object of Dignity), which contains waterproof shields and absorbent liners. It also includes a wash cloth, underwear, soap, Ziploc bags, instructions — all in a colorful drawstring bag. Because a kit lasts for years, it offers an affordable, washable, reusable solution for menstrual care. With each kit that is distributed, women and girls receive education on reproduction, menstrual care management, hygiene and self-defense. All too often, women’s health issues are shrouded in shame and misinformation in developing countries. This training is critical to the success of the DfG program as it opens the doors of communication and builds confidence through education.
Health + Education
The DfG program perfectly aligns with the Alliance’s own health initiatives. We share Days for Girls’ goal to “empower every woman and girl to become an Ambassador of Women’s Health in her school, her neighborhood and her community.” For over 30 years, we have partnered with the villagers on their efforts to become self-sufficient for their needs in sanitation and provide a preventative health delivery system. Each village has a resident Health Matron and a Matron Apprentice, women who are appointed by the Village Chief to serve as the first line of defense for health issues in the village. The Alliance provides them with training and resources on women’s health; therefore, the DfG training complements our existing program and continues to engage villagers in vital conversations about their health.
The DfG program also supports our education initiatives. Days for Girls was initially created to keep girls from missing school or dropping out due to their periods. The movement has expanded, but it is still its primary goal. No girl should miss out on the opportunity to receive an education because of their period. Since the mid-90’s, we have prioritized the attendance of girls in school in our 12 village schools. We also support the efforts and partner with neighboring elementary, middle and high-schools, knowing that the education of girls will strengthen the community as a whole. By distributing DfG kits at schools in and around Ouelessebougou, girls can attend school year-round.
How It Began
In November 2013, the Alliance’s partner, Utah Valley Eye Center, arranged for an ophthalmology team to travel to Ouelessebougou. One of the volunteers was Ann Lewis, wife of Alliance board member John and at the time Director of DfG Utah. Ann introduced the Days for Girls program to Field Director, Anounou Sissoko, and Teningnini. Both were enthusiastic and excited about the impact it would have on girls and women in the area. The first training was at a local middle school in Ouelessebougou for approximately 80-90 girls ages 11 – 16. Teningnini taught the girls in the Bambara language about their bodies and the process of menstruation. Ann said, “The girls were absolutely quiet – all listened intently with big bright black eyes. Not a whisper or giggle. They were fascinated and engaged with every word she said.”
Then with the help of a translator, Ann showed the girls the kit and explained how to use it. She said they started to smile and show excitement as they realized what this would mean in their lives. After the distribution, Ann loved watching the girls leave the room when it was time for them to get to back to their classes. “They were excited and happy and buzzing with chatter,” she said. “I was wishing every woman who had anything to do with these kits could have seen what I saw this morning. It was like Thanksgiving and Christmas all wrapped into one for me and for the others who were there and for the girls.”
Since then, more than 10,000 kits sewn and donated from local DfG chapters in Utah have been distributed in Ouelessebougou. Expedition teams from Utah have made the delivery of the kits and distributions possible. Volunteers travelling to Ouelessebougou for administrative, medical or humanitarian trips will fill their bags and bins with DfG Hygiene Kits. The ophthalmology team from Utah Valley Eye Center will include hundreds of donated kits in the large shipping container that sends medical equipment and supplies to the Ouelessebougou hospital. Volunteers will accompany Teningnini and the staff to the villages to observe the training and assist in the distribution the kits. All this effort has blessed thousands of lives and laid the foundation for our DfG program’s next chapter.
Our Local Impact
We want every girl and women in the Ouelessebougou region to have the health education they need and access to sustainable menstrual care solutions. But how will we do it? This is where Teningnini comes in.
Teningnini is our resident health expert and supervisor of the Alliance’s DfG program. She is the local Days for Girls leader in the Ouelessebougou region and under her direction, distribution and training reaches thousands of girls and women. As we continue to have the means to send and deliver kits from Utah, Teningnini will work with our Health Matrons to provide donated kits to our 25 partner villages. These donated kits are given to the women free-of-charge as part of our continuing “pilot program”. Each recipient is asked to provide feedback to their Health Matron in order for us to follow the impact of the program. This will help us reach even more villagers, especially those who are in remote areas.
But even with these donations, there still is a great need to make more kits and training accessible to girls in and around the Ouelessebougou commune. The Mali staff saw a need to implement a long-term sustainable solution. They determined locally sourcing additional kits from the Ouelessebougou compound would not only serve more people in the region, but also provide an income source for local women tailors.
In November 2017, the Alliance launched a Days for Girls enterprise in Ouelessebougou – the first ever in Mali. A DfG enterprise is structured as a local business partnership with exclusive licensing access to the patented DfG Hygiene Kit design and education curriculum. Last November, Teningnini and three women tailors from Ouelessebougou, received training from DfG Founder Celeste Mergens and DfG staff from Uganda. They received hands-on-training on the DfG program, health curriculum, kit sewing, marketing and business development. This supplements the Alliance’s women’s health program and is now included in the Health Matron training. Teningnini was certified as a Certified DfG Enterprise Leader and each tailor is now a certified DfG Ambassador of Women’s Health.
The ambassadors now sew DfG kits at the Ouelessebougou compound and sell them to the community at a subsidized cost, which gives a very affordable option to those not served in the Alliance’s partner villages. Girls and women can also purchase other components for the kits like extra shields for a minimal price. Any money earned from the sale of kits goes directly back into the Days for Girls program in Mali.
We are thrilled how this program empowers Teningnini and the ambassadors. It gives Teningnini leadership opportunities as she supervises the three ambassadors at the compound and on village DfG distributions. She utilizes her talents to train the ambassadors on how to educate the girls on women’s health, speak confidently in front of a group and build rapport with village leadership. The ambassadors gain experience sewing the kits, teaching, marketing and are prepared to start their own DfG business once they complete the program. With the support of the Alliance, the ambassador will be able to provide income for her family, an opportunity that is not always available to women in rural Mali.
The Future is Bright
As Teningnini continued the training in Fanikodialan, the enthusiasm was contagious. What first started as a subdued lecture setting, soon erupted in conversation and laughter. After demonstrating how to use the kit, Teningnini asked for a volunteer to stand up in front of the crowd and show what she learned. Awa Jarra proudly walked to the front and repeated the instructions with joy and confidence. While the kits were being distributed among the women, they laughed and joked about the sizes of underwear, traded bags for colors they preferred and happily tested how the PODs worked. One woman said in awe, “How did you [people from Utah] know we needed something like this?”
But no one was quite as joyful as Mariam Samake. When the distribution was complete, the vivacious daughter of the chief, dressed in bright yellow, led the women in dancing and singing.
“Who makes us happy? The Utah Alliance. Even if we could give you a horse, it would not be enough!” A horse is considered a gift for a king and the highest honor. The singing continued and Teningnini even joined in. It was truly a time to celebrate.
Mariam now has what every woman deserves. The right to dignity. Villagers like Mariam will not only be able to meet their feminine health needs, but also be empowered to educate their children and families.
How Can You Help
We are so grateful to all of the willing people who want to support our Days for Girls program in Mali. Currently, we do not have a need for more donated DfG kits. The team from UVEC recently shipped over medical supplies and there are kits that will be distributed to our villages over the next few months.
Most materials are purchased locally in Mali for convenience and to support the local economy. However, it is necessary to send some supplies from the states. To find out what is needed and the timeline for the next expedition, please contact Judy Hut at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The best way you can help is by making a tax-deductible contribution to our Days for Girls Enterprise. All funding for the enterprise comes directly from Ouelessebougou Alliance. 100% of your donation will go directly to fund our DfG program in Mali. This includes providing the locally-sourced materials and supplies, training and supervision, marketing materials, stipends for the ambassadors and program expenses. All contributions directly benefit the Mali staff, girls and women in Ouelessebougou.
Donations can be made on our website by selecting the Days for Girls button for your gift designation. Or send us a check at 525 East 4500 South Suite F115, Millcreek, Utah 84107.
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