Posted: September 26, 2017
Kim Trinh Shamim Premji Shahinaz Damji Alysha Damji
From left to right: Kim Trinh, Shamim Damji, Shahinaz Damji and Alysha Damji

A group of friends including two GRH nurses will take a unique approach to promoting women’s health and empowerment in India.

Nurses Kim Trinh and Shamim Damji along with a local teacher, Alysha Damji will travel to India in October.

Since January, they with the support of Alysha’s mother Shahinaz have hand sewn kits containing re-usable feminine hygiene products. They’ll donate these kits to young women, while providing education on use of the products and women’s health overall.

While Kim, Shamim and Alysha have been the core team behind this project, they are grateful to dozens of others in Waterloo Region who have helped in sewing, fundraising and providing support to the venture.

Their ultimate goal is to empower young women and provide greater dignity. For Shamim, the trip also represents a special journey.

What inspired all of you to get involved with this initiative? 

Kim: All of us strongly believe in the empowerment and dignity of a young woman and what she can achieve when she is given the opportunity to do so.

There is a lack of education about menstruation and feminine hygiene, especially in developing countries. One of the ways women are discriminated against is the lack of feminine hygiene products to manage her menstrual cycle.

Without that access, women are forced to stay home, miss school, work and other opportunities. They're also forced to isolate themselves and sometimes shamed by society because it is viewed as dirty. 

One of the completed kits with re-usable feminine hygiene products, that will be handed out to women and girls in several areas in India
One of the completed kits with re-usable feminine hygiene products, that will be handed out to women and girls in several areas in India
Can you describe one of the kits?

Shamim: Each kit comes with two barrier shields that clip into their underwear, eight liners that act as feminine napkins, two Ziplock bags, two underwear, a wash cloth, soap, and a beautiful drawstring bag to carry all her belongings.

Each kit is designed to be different and unique with the various colours, to embody the principle that each girl is unique. Each kit can be hand washed, and can last for two to three years.

Education is important for not only the recipients of the kits, but also their families. How is that so?

Alysha: Education about women's health is important for both the young women, and the community to understand.

Many times, even in Canada, the topic of female and male reproduction is neglected because it is viewed a private and embarrassing topic. For example, after starting this initiative, we have been in numerous conversations with colleagues, family members and friends. We realize that the stigma exists here too.

The difference is that women in developed nations have the tools necessary where young girls do not have to miss school. This is not the case for developing nations.

The hope is that education will help break the taboo topic and help facilitate, empower and provide dignity to these young women so that no one feels shamed, different, embarrassed, or neglected.

How long does it take to create a kit?

Shamim: We have 160 kits and we will likely be working on them until we have to leave for the airport. We have been actively sewing since January, over a few hours a week.

From beginning to end, each kit takes a minimum of three hours start to finish.  So we decided to break each component down in phases, and create spaces where local volunteers can help too by hosting monthly ’sewing’ parties.

Between the four of us (Kim, Shamim, Alysha, and Shahinaz), hundreds of hours have been put into this project. We cannot wait to hand them out.

A sewing party to make the feminine hygiene kits.
The organizers held several sewing parties since the start of 2017 to produce the kits by hand. They're grateful for the support of many volunteers.
Where will you be donating them? 

Shamim: In October, we will be going to Asha Sadan Rescue Home in Mumbai, India and REACH (The Visram Foundation) in Pune, India. 

How do you think your respective careers in nursing and education have influenced your roles in this initiative? 

Alysha: Our careers inspire us to actively contribute back to our communities, and teach us that each individual has the ability to be an active participant for positive change. 

We believe that we must do our best to help uphold human dignity, equality and education. By distributing and educating young women about these kits and their cycle, we are (hopefully) giving these young women days back to school. Consequently, this will help contribute to a positive quality of life for them and their community in the future. 

Shamim: why will this trip will be special for you in particular?  

This trip is special to me because my parents adopted me from the Asha Sadan Rescue Home 27 years ago. This opportunity will allow me to go back to visit my roots and my community. I’m hopeful this visit will also inspire and empower the young people now there.