Keeping girls around the world in school

A group of volunteers met last year at the Maple Grove Government Center to cut, sew and put together colorful feminine hygiene kits for girls in Third World countries to help them manage their periods. (submitted photo)

North Hts. Lutheran joins global effort 

In American stores, girls and women may find an entire aisle of feminine hygiene products for managing their menstrual cycles so they can continue going to school, working or doing sports. They wouldn’t accept anything less.

But in remote areas of developing world, girls are often shunned, forced to miss school when they are menstruating. 

Sometimes they skip food and water, because they have to sit apart from others on cardboard or moss for a few days or they may use leaves, corn husks, mattress stuffing, newspapers or cow dung to manage their periods. They often get vaginal infections.   

And if they are not in school, they are considered marriageable, even at age 12 or 13, and could get pregnant.  

In 2008 Celeste Mergens was working at an orphanage in Kenya, and began wondering what girls in the region did to manage their periods.  

She was stunned to learn they couldn’t do anything, so she started the Days for Girls program to restore education, health and dignity to girls. Now this program helps over 100,000 girls and women in 83 nations.

Mergens, who now lives in Washington state, developed washable hygiene kits that contain moisture barrier shields, pads made of flannel to fit inside, a gallon-size freezer bag to transport soiled items and for soaking them in a very small amount of water, two pairs of panties, one washcloth, a travel-size soap and a drawstring bag to put the items in and later to use as a  book bag.

After these hygiene kits were distributed, school absence rates in Uganda dropped from 36 to 8 percent and in Kenya from 25 to 3 percent.

Today volunteers all over the world are putting together hygiene kits. Some of those volunteers are from North Heights Lutheran Church in Arden Hills. 

Church member Deb Nygaard is involved in the project and said North Heights hopes to enlist lots of people on Sunday, March 13, to put together components for 50 kits headed to Senegal.

There will be waterproof fabric to be cut, sewing, and bags to string, turn inside out and iron. Lots of lots of work for all who want to help, she said. Supplies are also needed: zippered gallon freezer bags, washcloths, hotel-size bars of soap and cotton and flannel fabrics in dark and wild colors.   

Days for Girls

**The event location has changed**

When: Sunday, March 13 12-3 p.m. at J. Arthur's Coffee, 2441 Rice St. in Roseville.

What:  Help make the components for the Days for Girls feminine hygiene kits. Sewers and non-sewers alike are needed. Volunteers need not be church members.

Why: Keep girls in Third World countries in school by helping make these kits so they can attend school when they are menstrating.

To register or for more information, email or phone 612-919-0882. 

“This event is a great blending of service-oriented people from various Rotary Clubs, the church and the community,” said Nygaard, who learned about the program from a Rotarian friend and then talked to her church leadership about hosting this event. 

“It’s an inspiring thing in which to participate -- and the winners are all the girls in developing countries whose lives will be so powerfully and positively impacted.”

The Days for Girls charity was featured this year at the United Nations Commission on the status of women. It is a top-rated non-profit organization, and Nygaard said it’s no wonder. If girls can stay in school to get an education or are able to work more, she said that helps their families break the cycle of poverty.

Access to feminine hygiene products is so easy in the U.S., she said, but help is needed to make it possible in rural areas of Third World countries.

For more information on this international program, go to


Pamela O’Meara can be reached at or at 651-748-7818.

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