Every Wednesday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., eight to 10 Cache Valley women meet in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church of Logan. They call themselves the “Sew ‘N Sews,” and their sewing machines hum with definite purpose.
Each woman in the room has a designated job. Linda Bettinger is the cutter. Dee Logterman irons fabric. Jane DeByle affixes snaps and facilities quality control. Together, the group will produce 500-600 reusable sanitary napkins this year. Most of the pads will benefit girls in Uganda.
The Sew ‘N Sews have been sending pads to Uganda for going on seven years. The project began when Linda Roberts, a retired nurse practitioner, learned while traveling to Uganda that many girls in the East African nation can’t attend school during their menstrual periods because they don’t have access to protection.
“You know, month by month, those days would add up and they’d get further and further behind,” said Roberts. “We started this project so that we could help Ugandan schoolgirls stay in school all month long and get as much out of their education as possible.”
Too often, she explained, the girls—many of them being raised in orphanages—become increasingly discouraged and drop out of school. From there, they become more vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies and lifelong poverty.
“We know from research that one of the mainstays of third world economies is the education of their girls and women,” said Roberts, “so the longer they stay in school and the more education they get, the better their lives are, their families’ lives are, and it really extends into the stability in their countries.”
When Roberts and DeByle, a retired special education teacher, traveled to Uganda in 2011 to deliver the Sew ‘N Sews’ first 100 pads, DeByle said the girls who received them at first “cried and danced with joy”—until they realized that the pads didn’t come with “knickers,” or underwear, which is difficult to obtain in rural Uganda. In response, the Sew ‘N Sews began to create hygiene bags to accompany the pads, with each kit containing four pair of knickers, three pad covers, nine to 12 pads, two one-gallon Ziploc bags (for wash water) and a bar of laundry soap.
The Sew ‘N Sews travel to Uganda with a humanitarian organization called <a href=”http://seeeme.org/”>SEEEME</a> (Sustainable Education, Economics and Engineering), founded in 2009 by Dr. Willam Grenney, a retired professor of Civil Engineering at Utah State University. As they teach seminars in rural villages, the group discusses feminine hygiene, how the menstrual cycle works and family planning. While the intention is to help reduce birthrates, Roberts said, the subject is sensitive because of a strong Catholic influence in Uganda, which frowns on contraception.
Ultimately, said DeByle, the Sew ‘N Sews want to help the women and girls they serve achieve self-sufficiency. When they travel to Uganda, they try to visit the same villages each year, and before they leave, they create opportunities for residents to learn to make their own pads and maybe even develop small businesses. The Sew ‘N Sews raise funds and seek donations each year to develop business starter kits to share with the villagers. These include treadle sewing machines, fabric, pins, scissors and step-by-step instructions for making reusable sanitary pads.
In addition to their ongoing efforts in Uganda, the Sew ‘N Sews also donate pads to the Cache Community Food Pantry and to several homeless shelters in Salt Lake City. Hoping to help both locally and abroad, they are driven to serve and have developed strong friendships.
“I do this because I was in education for 42 years and a teacher and administrator,” said Logterman. “It is so important to me to know that girls in other countries have the kind of opportunities that children here have. I put in the time just to make that happen for them, and getting together with these people is also a lot of fun. We really enjoy each other’s company.”
The Sew ‘N Sews welcome donations of funds, Velcro strips, thread, straight pins, hand sewing needles, fabric scissors, tape measures, pin cushions and reading glasses (+1.5 and +2.5 strengths). More information about the group is available from Linda Roberts at 435-770-7453.