By Ruth Anne Shepherd
One of Ruth Anne Shepherd’s passions is making a difference: helping individuals recognize their worth, supporting their educational pursuits, and encouraging them to live their dreams to reach their potential. Before graduating from San Jose State University with a BS degree, she served a full-time LDS mission in Colombia. Her career includes being a programmer analyst at Silicon Graphics, and a small business owner for over 25 years. Many organizations have benefited from her expertise and knowledge as she volunteers her time. She has been on the board of Silicon Valley Women since 2014. She loves her family and when possible includes them in her leisure activities: relaxing on the beach, horseback riding, and watching movies with strong female characters.
One year ago, I was once again in the presence of a remarkable LDS woman who radiates our Savior’s love and who has the determination, faith, and vision to change the world. She was discussing fundraising strategies with me, other Silicon Valley Women board members, and two advisors. This blog post was written at the personal request of Celeste Mergens, CEO/ Founder of Days for Girls International (DFGI).
Meeting Celeste in June 2015 at a Relief Society Humanitarian event was an experience that would change my global perspective on women’s basic health needs. I was deeply touched by the harsh realities that she so lovingly communicated and it was a message I could not forget. The content of Celeste’s presentation was heart-breaking and appalling. And yet her innovation offers unprecedented hope for the future.
In the past, I had wondered what girls and women in poverty used for feminine hygiene; but I imagined they used some sort of cloth to manage their periods. I did not know of their actual suffering, confinement, and shame. While at home in the United States, Celeste described how she first became aware that in African orphanages, girls had no solution but to stay in their rooms sitting over a piece of cardboard (if available) and miss school. Because they were not educated about their bodies, when their periods began for the first time, they were terrified they would die, and some even believed they had AIDS. Heart-breaking.
Celeste soon learned lack of feminine hygiene products was a serious problem in many countries including the United States. “Girls worldwide suffer indignities, infection, even exploitation trying to stay in school.” Girls resort to using “leaves, mattress stuffing, newspaper, corn husks, rocks, anything they can find.” Girls can lose up to two months of schooling each year, and often drop out, which perpetuates the poverty cycle. Appalling.
Founding a grassroots non-profit to develop a solution was Celeste’s objective.
Eight years ago, Days for Girls International was established and a reusable kit was developed by consistently listening to feedback from the grateful girls and women. “Each DFGI hygiene kit lasts up to three years, which turns into three more years of education, income, and opportunity. Pure and simple, a kit is a small thing that changes everything.” Innovation.
Why Days for Girls? (video: 1:04)
DFGI recently won the African SEED award for gender equity and sustainable entrepreneurship. This organization is changing and strengthening the lives of girls, women, families, communities in over 100 nations on 6 continents with this vision: “Every girl and woman in the world with ready feasible access to quality sustainable hygiene & health education by 2022.” Thousands of volunteers in teams and chapters all over the world produce these kits. Ultimately, Celeste’s vision includes “helping ultra poor communities start their own programs to supply kits and training.” Unprecedented hope for the future.
Days for Girls International (video: 5:20)
The Revlon Love is On – Million Dollar Challenge is simple: the women’s health organization to receive the most donations will be awarded $1,000,000. Other prizes: 2nd place $100,000, 3rd place $75,000, 4th place $50,000, and 5th place $25,000. Awards are in addition to the amount donated by donors. Minimum/Maximum donation: $10/$10,000. Important: There is no restriction to the number of times an individual can donate. Donations are tax deductible.
DFGI teaches girls their worth, how their bodies function, and how the human race continues because of them. Girls replace confusion and shame with knowledge and dignity. As I prepared this post, I wore a simple bracelet made by a thankful recipient of a hygiene kit. Celeste explains that upon receiving kits and health education, the girls’ joy and appreciation is immense. Each kit is a reminder to the girl who receives one “that she is loved, that she is worthy of education, and opportunity. That she matters.”
Days for Girls International was named by the Huffington Post as an organization that will shape the next decade. One million dollars would go to support in-country enterprises that allow women to earn income by meeting hygiene needs in their communities. One million dollars would literally change hundreds of thousands of lives. Please share this post and consider making a donation by Wednesday, Oct 26, 2016 1:59:59pm ET.
1) All quotes are either from Days for Girls International (DFGI) or from an e-mail written by Celeste Mergens.
2) In 2015, this post originally appeared in Ardis E. Parshall’s blog Keepapitchinin. It has been updated for the 2016 Revlon Challenge.