Mama of the Month: Celeste

celeste.jpg

We are so pleased to introduce you to our newest Mama of the Month, Celeste Mergens, founder and CEO of our current project partner, Days for Girls. Celeste was working at an orphanage in Kenya to reduce issues of poverty when a simple question stopped her short. “One night, I awoke with the question, ‘Have you asked what the girls are doing for feminine hygiene?’” she said. The answer to that question was even more arresting. “The girls there would sit on a piece of cardboard for days. No school. No leaving the room. For days. I knew that we needed to do something.”

That something started with disposable pads and morphed into the first reusable kits:

I found a nonprofit providing disposable pads at a discounted rate, but I knew that if I sent money for pads and they needed food, those resources would rightly be used for food. When we arrived at the school and orphanage with the pads, we noted there was no appropriate place to dispose of the pads. They were piled against the fencing and rolled in the chainlink. They were stopping up the pit latrines, and a few girls would wash out a soiled one to reuse for themselves. So how could we create a solution they could count on month after month? We created the first washable pad of Days for Girls.

We were happy we had a solution that wouldn't create those problems. As the girls received their Days for Girls kits, we talked about women's health and safety. The girls thanked us afterward, stating that before we came if they wanted to leave the room and go to class, their only option was to be sexually exploited by some of the staff in exchange for a single disposable pad. That was the moment Days for Girls was born for me, but I didn't know how global the need was. Today we have reached 124 nations on 6 continents.

celeste w kids.jpg

Somebody’s Mama is partnering with Days for Girls in Kalikot, Nepal where women face more than just a lack of resources. They also face the cultural practice of chhaupadi, which categorizes women as hazardous and untouchable during menstruation. They are isolated for days in places like huts and cow sheds, which not only means that women miss work and girls miss school, but it also exposes them to the elements, potential violence, and poisonous snakes. The practice is already illegal. Celeste said this posed a particular challenge:

Days for Girls' response in Kalikot has been one of cultural bridging. At Days for Girls, we don’t shame tradition.  We don’t demand change.

We have conversations. We invite new considerations.

For communities in Nepal where legal steps and even fines and jail time were not stopping the practice, that invitation sounded like this, “The law has not and can not stop you. What if you as leaders honored your rich tradition in new ways? What if you ritually cleansed this DfG kit and chose not to risk the health of your young women? The leaders agreed to this invitation. They said women and girls could practice chhaupadi in new ways and honor the family tradition while still being free to go to school and be in their community.

Soon Nepalese Days for Girls leaders were providing education and DfG kits throughout Kalikot. They reached more than 6,000 women last year alone. True change happens when we trust local wisdom, invite tradition to ask “What if…,” and embrace the beauty of culture, instead of shaming it.

When facing challenges in our own communities Celeste suggests listening first. “And then be willing to take action wherever your heart draws you. It doesn't have to be big to make a big impact…small actions done by many can transform the world.”

Celeste emphasizes that there is more that brings us together than we realize. “I have loved the people of every culture I have ever met around the world. What do we have in common? Almost everything.”

school girls.jpg

As we continue to fundraise and hold Love Clubs to raise $15,000 for Days for Girls, Celeste reminds us:

It's working! Women have told me how much it means to them to have a small Days for Girls business that allows them to be a leader in their community while feeding their children. Other women who volunteer with Days for Girls have shared how much it means to them to know they can truly change lives with something so simple and direct.

There are so many things that are hard to change. The global impact of women being shamed and left disadvantaged because of their basic biology is not one of them. This is something we can change.

We are so grateful for Celeste’s leadership, vision, and wisdom around this particular issue. We love that Days for Girls is doing the hard work of bridging cultural conflict through conversations. We love that the women served are taking the lead in their communities. And most importantly, we love that more women and girls are able to engage fully in their education and lives.

Thank you, Celeste and Days for Girls, for letting us be a part of the solution! If you are ready to give to this project, click below. Any amount, large or small, can make a significant impact.

$10 = health education and one DfG kit lasting up to 3 years for one girl

$25 = 25 meters of flannel for local women to produce liners for 34 kits

$50 = underwear for 125 kits

$200 = a treadle sewing machine for local women to sew kits

$350 = sponsorship of a health training/talking circle for a classroom of 30 girls

$500 = kits and training for 50 girls

$1,500 = all training and programming costs for a local team for one month