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Pandemic projects: Making personal sanitary hygiene products to help reduce period poverty in Guatemala

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

The idea for Mary Ann Trautman’s pandemic project came from her youngest daughter. They went out to breakfast and her daughter handed her a small fabric square fastened with a snap.

“She said, ‘This is your new project,’ ” recalled Trautman, 80.

The fabric square was a washable, reusable sanitary pad, designed by a program called Days for Girls. The program provides reusable menstrual supplies and education to women around the world.

Trautman had never heard of Days for Girls, but she knew she could make the pads

“I learned to sew when I took home-ec in ninth grade,” she said. “The moment I sat in front of the sewing machine, I felt like I was home.”

She’s made a living as a professional seamstress and an upholsterer among other things, and for 10 years, she taught fourth-graders at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Spokane Valley how to make rosaries.

“We made 15,000 rosaries,” Trautman said.

A trip to Guatemala to visit her son and his family inspired her to start the project her daughter had suggested. The trip brought home the reality of “period poverty.” Due to cultural taboos, women in nations across the globe are forced to stay home when menstruating. They lose income, can’t go to school and are often preyed upon by men.

“To buy enough products for a five-day period is equivalent to three days worth of food,” she said.

The reality tugged at her heart.

“I have five daughters,” Trautman said.

When she returned to Spokane Valley last February, she started sewing.

“So far, I’ve purchased 600 yards of fabric for this project.”

The fabric is used to make panty shields; then she makes foldable liners that are tucked into pockets in the shield which is then fastened to the user’s underwear with two snaps. Girls can use more liners for heavier flow days, and the pads and shields can be washed and reused.

“My neighbor, Bonnie, helped me for most of last year,” Trautman said. “We’ve made at least 2,000 pads.”

Though Trautman’s son is based in Seattle, he also has a home in Guatemala, and travels there frequently. She knew he’d be able to find a way to distribute the product to the women and girls who need it most.

Sure enough, her son connected with a friend who said, “We’ll take as many as she can make.”

Trautman boxes and mails the product to Miami, and from there it’s shipped to Guatemala, where the pads are distributed in local schools and villages.

She’s hoping to return to Guatemala in April to meet some of the recipients in person.

For now, she’ll keep on sewing.

“Someone once said, ‘You’re obsessed with this,’ ” she recalled. “I said, ‘Well, I have all these girls.’

She encourages others who want to help to get involved with Days for Girls. Prior to the pandemic, two local groups met regularly to make the reusable menstrual pads.

“Days for Girls have years of service and could use all the help and donations they can get,” she said. “What I’m doing is like a drop in the ocean.”

But even small drops can make a splash, and Trautman understands that.

“It gives me such pleasure to know I can sit here in my basement and make a difference.”

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Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com

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