Climbing for a Cause: How a Springfield charity is changing women's lives

Published: Jan. 22, 2020 at 5:11 PM CST
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There's a saying in Tanzania: water is life. That's why members of the Maasai tribe are so proud to show off their new water well that springs life-- dug deep by Springfield based charity WorldServe International.

"They're competing with wild animals and domestic animals, and they are all using the same water. And it's not purified," explained WorldServe president John Bongiorno.

That issue is getting much better with a well now in place. But there's another issue facing girls and women. It prevents them from going to school and work, or doing anything away from home for up to 10 days at a time every month.

"They don't have basic sanitary napkins when they are on their menstrual cycle," said Alex McDowell with WorldServe. She is part of an education initiative to help Africans understand what is happening to their bodies.

WorldServe is helping employ natives to manufacture the only 100% compostable sanitary napkins in the world.

The design is used with permission from another social venture out of India called Aakar Innovations. Aakar’s generosity in sharing their technology is what makes getting pads to parts of Africa possible. Biodegradable is key.

"Once a girl is on her menstrual cycle, they are kind of shunned for that amount of time, so it can be anywhere from four to 10 days. If they are missing anywhere from 4-10 days of school, then they are going to fall that far behind and if that's happening every month, they eventually just drop out of school," McDowell said.

For $12 a year, WorldServe can provide a school girl enough sanitary napkins for the entire school year, and bring dignity to girls and women who were previously outcast.

"This isn't a burden that we understand in America. It's huge because it is an impact on their economy, it's an impact on your identity and self worth," said Kate Bailey, a donor to WorldServe. "It's not a one time thing. It's not an illness, it's not something that you can fix. This is something that we have to help them deal with. I just can't imagine missing work or my child's teacher not coming to school for ten days because they are on their menstrual cycle."

Biodegradable is a necessity in an environment where there is little or often no trash service, and unsanitary conditions that could otherwise lead to disease.

"When it happens for the first time, they're scared, they don't know who to turn to, they don't know where to go about it, and actually we've heard stories of predators taking advantage of that," said McDowell. "They start to prey on these girls around that age, and they provide the sanitary napkins in return for things like sexual favors-- so it's actually been turning into human trafficking."

"Truly, it's something we take for granted. I just spent $12 in the coffee shop, and that is one girl's entire life for a year that could be her education," said Bailey. "Think about what you could miss in ten days a month of school! I'm honored to be a part of it, and honored to be a part of the next step."

You can learn more about the sanitary napkins project at: