When three University of Florida students decided to take a sewing class together, they knew they wouldn’t be making dresses or even handkerchiefs.
Instead, Khadija Kamara, Maria Okoye and Sena Tamaklo learned how to make the reusable menstrual products distributed by Days for Girls International, Tamaklo said. Days for Girls kits include several reusable pads, underwear, a washcloth and more.
“Making the pads is kind of calming,” said Tamaklo, a third-year biology major. “It’s very helpful when you’re stressed about school.”
Now, the students face a larger task than a sewing project. Kamara, a third-year microbiology and cell science major, said she and Tamaklo will be teaming up to help open a Days for Girls International enterprise in Sierra Leone.
The enterprise staff will sew and sell subsidized reusable menstrual products to the women in the area, according to their project proposal.
“All of us really want to go back and help the country that we’re from,” Tamaklo said.
Tamaklo and Kamara are both first-generation West African-Americans, according to the proposal.
Davis Projects for Peace, a program where undergraduates design projects that they will implement themselves, awarded the students a $10,000 grant for their project.
The money from the grant will go to purchasing sewing machines, fabric and thread as well as six months of pay for the employees, Tamaklo said.
Kamara was familiar with the Projects for Peace grant program and suggested an idea that they could work on together, Tamaklo said.
The team had to develop a project proposal, create a budget and obtain letters of support from professionals, Tamaklo said. They started working on the project in mid-October 2018.
Radha Selvester, the chair of the Alachua County chapter of Days for Girls International, met with the students to discuss the project and the need for menstrual products in Africa.
“Every family that has to choose between spending money on menstrual pads or food is always going to choose food,” Selvester said.
She said that girls who don’t have access to menstrual products will use items such as leaves and paper, which can cause infection. Others do without and miss a week of school each month.
There is already a Days for Girls International enterprise in Sierra Leone, but the plan by the UF students is to open an enterprise specifically focused on Kroo Bay, a poverty-stricken area in Freetown, according to their proposal.
Selvester said that a single Days for Girls kit can keep a girl in school for three or four years.
“It’s the most amazing thing to do something so practical and so simple that can have such an effect on a girl,” Selvester said. “How incredible is that?”