#FWOTM Double Header: Celeste Mergens of Days for Girls, Saving Education

Celeste MergensEvery girl. Everywhere. Period. That’s the Days for Girls (DfG) motto because all over the world, young girls are forced to miss days of school each month due to irregular, unsustainable, and inadequate menstruation management. Girls use leaves, mattress stuffing, newspaper, corn husks, rocks, anything they can find leaving them prone to infection, but still end up missing up to 2 months of education and opportunity every year. They fall behind in classes and vocation skills that ultimately affect their earning potential, empowerment, gender equality, and overall development.

Last month, we shared with you a slew of stats around the correlation between menstruation and education to help present the case for our solution – The Healthy Hygiene Project. This month we’ve got more stats that build our case even further and set the scene for the great work DfG is doing.

In Sierra Leone, more than a fifth of girls miss school because of their periods. In Afghanistan and Nepal, 3 out of 10 girls miss school for the same reason. “The world cannot afford the cost of girls dropping out of school. If a girl attends school for the majority of seven years, she marries later and has fewer children. She’ll also be more likely to delay having sex, be less likely to be forced into sex, and, if she is sexually active, more likely to use contraception. An educated girl adds to a country’s GDP, and is essential for lifting her, her family and her community out of poverty,” reports GirlEffect.

Something as simple as a menstruation hygiene kit or participating in DfG’s #5moredays social media awareness campaign can solve such issues. Evidence of this is can be seen in two African case studies; after distribution of Days for Girls kits, school absence rates dropped 36% to 8% in Uganda and 25% to 3% in Kenya, indicating the efficacy of such solutions. Days for Girls is expanding their enterprise model into eight additional countries which is based off of their Ugandan pilot program that also won the 2015 African SEED Award for Gender Equity and Entrepreneurship.

The visionary behind DfG is also Maxim Hygiene’s Fierce Woman of the Month – Celeste Mergens, Founder (2008) and International CEO under whom the programs and organization has flourished globally. Yes, we already featured one fierce woman this month, but in the spirit of the upcoming Menstrual Hygiene Day and the overwhelming number of fierce women we’ve come across this year, especially in the realm of menstrual hygiene management, we’re doubling up on empowerment this month. Celeste has over 17 years experience in non-profit work and a strong personal interest in sewing and tailoring. In combining these two passions, Celeste put her creativity to use to find a solution to problems voiced by women from around the world.

Days for Girls menstruation kits

Just seven years and 27 design versions later, Days for Girls empowers women and girls in over 100  countries on six continents. Both DfG and Celeste have been featured in O Magazine, Forbes, and was recently named a Huffington Post ‘Next Ten’ organization positioned to change the world in the next decade. Celeste’s passion for this issue is infectious and she has helped bring international attention to an issue that has long been neglected.

We had the chance to sit down with Celeste and understand her drive, her work, and her passion. Read below to find out how you can contribute to DfG and how 10% of your next purchase of Maxim Hygiene organic tampons and natural pads and panty liners can go to Celeste’s organization to help provide menstruation kits to girls in need.

What was the moment you decided to found Days for Girls and what has been the most rewarding moment since?

In a very real way Days for Girls chose me. I had no idea how great the cost women were paying around the world for not having access to adequate feminine hygiene. I was shocked when I learned that girls that I had been serving for over a year and a half had been missing school, waiting in their rooms on a pieces of cardboard when they were menstruating. I was not surprised to learn that if the school had to choose between purchasing food or pads, they would choose to purchase food. That would be a natural choice for any of us. I found a nonprofit to purchase reduced cost disposable products from but there was not only no funding to purchase more than our original order. There was also no place to throw them away. We knew we needed to create sustainable solutions and we did. But for me Days for Girls was born when the girls explained that they were being sexually exploited in exchange for a single disposable pad. That had to change. Little did I know that too happens all over the world.

Choosing just one rewarding moment is almost impossible. Seeing girls hug their Days for Girls kits maybe. But from the miracle of tens of thousands of volunteers changing lives in such a direct and effective way, to the reward of seeing girls, women and men become Ambassadors of Women’s Health in their own communities. It’s been a privilege to see the power of what people can do when we join hands to create change. Days for Girls is about what we can do together. That’s what wakes  me up at 4:30 AM in the morning every day. Not an alarm clock but the knowledge that there are women and girls out there paying too big a price and dignity can’t wait. The knowledge that there is something we can do to reduce poverty and violence against women in an effective way. That’s exciting and it keeps me energized about the tomorrow that is possible if we free women and girls (and by extension communities and nations) to live to their fullest potential.

Does DfG help women beyond the school level? Have you partnered with any NGOs that help women find employment, give them vocational skills, training, etc. How does DfG provide sustainability?

Does it ever. This issue is, at it’s heart, about time. It’s about regaining 3 – 5 days of loss of income, lost opportunity and isolation. It’s about giving back days of health. It helps women engage in their community with greater confidence and the dignity of a healthy sanitary option. It’s big. And it’s big in all of the 101 nations on 6 continents we have now reached. Yes, we have many wonderful partners around the globe. And in fact, Days for Girls micro enterprises provide jobs. Days for Girls Uganda alone provides jobs for over 18 people. Not just jobs but opportunities to serve as local advocates, Ambassadors of Women’s Health. Days for Girls kits were designed with the feedback of those we serve and they last 2 – 3 years, which makes them a solution girls and women can trust. And one that is as practical as it is comfortable and culturally, physically and environmentally appropriate. A solution that doesn’t add to garbage issues. A solution that gives women not only more access to feminine hygiene but a greater voice of leadership.

What social barriers do women you work with report facing and which of those do you think we can have an immediate impact on & how? 

Women all over the world face a great deal of stigma and shame around a basic biological function of their gender, menstruation. The consequences are huge not only for women and girls but also for their families and community. We can all contribute to making the issue of lack of menstrual hygiene products a thing of the past.  You can help raise awareness about it. This month is International Menstrual Hygiene Management month. May 28th is MHM day. You can tweet #MenstruationMatters with us. You have a campaign right now, #5MoreDays, which reminds us all to ask the question, What would you do with 5 more days every month? That’s a whole lot of days of opportunity to give back. In fact, women menstruate an average of 3,000 days in a lifetime. Imagine gaining back 8 years of your life. You can donate to $5 or more to Days for Girls. You can volunteer.  There are a lot of things that are hard to change but this is not one of them. This is something we can change.

At Maxim Hygiene, we define a fierce woman as a “glorious female creature whose idea of beauty is hinged upon the idea that she can change the world with each choice, each moment and each breath of her life.” Who in your life is a Fierce Woman and why? 

I love that definition. In that case, I know a whole lot of fierce women. The ranks of Days for Girls team members are full of such women. They sacrifice their time, talents and resources to ensure that strangers have more dignity, health and opportunity. They talk to complete strangers about periods. They don’t care about getting credit. They care about reaching more women and girls and they have done that for more than 300,000 people. That’s amazing… and so are they.

Maxim will be offering this post’s readers the chance to support DfG through our Fierce Woman Funded Initiative. In addition to buying Maxim products this month, how can our readers get involved or help DfG?

Thank you for helping raise awareness about Days for Girls. What a difference your funding support will make. Your readers can select a project to adopt and sign people on to help fundraise for it. Sewing machines for a DfG Ethiopia women’s group? Funding more fabric for Days for Girls Nepal. Funding panties and fabric for Guyana, South America. They can volunteer to help not only sew or assemble DfG Kits, they can also go on a distribution expedition with us (click on Get Involved on our website) or join in gathering data with us.

Launch a Flow & Glow Yoga event to raise funds and awareness (learn more by emailing info@daysforgirls.org. Or tweet about our #5MoreDays campaign and take the challenge. Or follow us on Facebook and help tell the world that #MenstruationMatters. There are so many ways to help and every bit makes a difference. We look forward to the possibility of serving with and gaining the support of your readers. Imagine the difference we can all make together.

Days For Girls promo

These all sound like awesome opportunities for getting involved in making sure every girl, everywhere won’t have to worry about menstruation getting in the way of her success! We are blessed to have Celeste and all the fierce women at Days For Girls as not only our featured organization for this month, but also year round as partners of our #FierceWomenFunded initiative. We’re making a 10% of sale donation to Days For Girls for every Maxim Hygiene product purchase made at our online store using the following coupon code, which will also get you 10% off your order: DAYSFORGIRLS

Want to make a pure donation? We hear ya! Just click here to make a contribution directly through Days for Girls’ website.

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One thought on “#FWOTM Double Header: Celeste Mergens of Days for Girls, Saving Education

  1. Kudos to Maxim Hygiene for bringing such important organizations on our radar and for supporting them both publicly and financially. I’m thoroughly impressed with the work being done by Days for Girls. It will be my pleasure to assist them in their mission!


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