The gentleman who called to tell me about this story sounded ever so slightly uncomfortable on the telephone. He began to talk about a woman in his community who is making cloth purses for young girls in an African country. As he got to the crux of the matter, I understood his disquiet.
And so I will finish the story for him.
Kem Smith, who lives and works as a CPA in Blythewood, is making it her mission to sew purses for young women in Zambia so that they may carry personal hygiene supplies to school rather than stay at home during their menses.
These beautifully-sewn handbags are filled with reusable pads so that the girls do not have to use what is the normal go-to protection in their poverty-ridden homes – bark from trees, rags, paper, or, if you can fathom this, simply sitting on a pot until a monthly period has abated.
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“Every woman can relate to this,” Smith said.
“The problem is, when these young women reach puberty, they miss, on average, about six weeks of school and that is because they will not go to school during their periods because they have no protection. They won’t leave the house.”
So Smith, whose first Girl Scout badge was for sewing, is making purses in her sewing room above the garage. They will then be filled with necessary supplies by a nonprofit initiative called “The Sew Powerful Purse Project” (www.sewpowerful.org). The organization is hoping to send 1,000 small, filled handbags to Zambia by May.
“If you’re worrying about protection and because of that you can’t get an education and an education is the only way to lift yourself out of poverty, well, I started making purses,” Smith said.
She has made some 50 handbags so far. She held a class recently and taught others how to make them. She has even created kits, which include everything a person needs to sew a purse.
She smiled and as she showed several of the purses she had recently sewn. They are lovely and bright, something any girl would be proud to have hanging over her shoulder.
“The idea is, if you make them so that they are beautiful, then all the girls carry them all the time so you would never know who is having their period and who is not. The purses take the stigma away.”
But the purses also take time and effort.
So Smith needs as much help as she can get crafting the much-needed little handbags.
“I need sewers,” she said. “Lots of sewers.”
Salley McAden McInerney may be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to help?
Email Kem Smith, at email@example.com.