“Sewing” menstrual awareness through the Haiti Hygiene Initiative Project

May 28, 2019

By Ingrid Robinson, Mercy Associate

In the United States, we take “disposable” for granted: coffee cups, diapers, razors, etc. But in impoverished Haiti, where sanitation is a daily challenge, disposable items are unheard-of luxuries. That includes feminine-hygiene products, which must be washed and reused.

“Young girls and women use rags and even leaves every month, and their embarrassment leads to a high dropout rate in schools,” said Sister Jill Weber, who ministers in Haiti.

Dr. Ellen Lawson demonstrates how to use the reusable hygiene kits.
Dr. Ellen Lawson demonstrates how to use the reusable hygiene kits.

To alleviate the problem, Dr. Ellen Lawson of Mercy Urgent Care in Asheville, North Carolina, began sewing and distributing hygiene kits for Haitian women as she travels there often to work with the Mercy Focus on Haiti ministry.

Mercy Associates Dr. Ellen Lawson and Ingrid Robinson.
Mercy Associates Dr. Ellen Lawson and Ingrid Robinson.

Each kit consists of a drawstring backpack, a plastic bag, two shields made from cotton and waterproof fabric, 10 flannel pads and two pairs of underwear.

One day, I saw Sister Jill cutting and assembling some of the products and decided to get involved. In a big way! As a woman, I could relate and understand how it feels to be without basic necessities. I had to help! Only one problem: I didn’t know how to sew.

I tinkered with the original design to make it smaller and less bulky. Then I turned to another Mercy Associate, Regina Pastula, for sewing expertise.

After the pattern was finalized, the Haiti Hygiene Initiative Project began having monthly “Cutting for a Cause” parties involving sisters, associates, co-workers, and friends. After the first party, Regina taught me how to sew. I sew nightly, now. It’s very therapeutic.

Ingrid Robinson (in green) explains the process of assembling the reusable hygiene kits.
Ingrid Robinson (in green) explains the process of assembling the reusable hygiene kits.

I organize tables laden with brightly colored fabric, underwear, bags, snaps and other donated supplies. Volunteers cut and fold fabric, pin, snap or assemble the shields after they’re stitched by volunteers at tables full of donated sewing machines. There’s something for everyone to do.

Word of the project spread, and now volunteers in 11 states plus Guam are making kits. I provide the pattern, samples, a how-to video and written instructions. The volunteers mail me their completed kits, and I in turn send them to Haiti with mission workers. So far, 372 kits have been delivered.

I have received thank you videos, texts and gifts from the Haitian people and hope to travel there one day to meet the young girls and women who’ve been impacted by the project.

Link to instructional video:

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  1. Sister Rose Marie Tresp

    This is a wonderful work. To see the tables in Curtin Hall spread out with the materials in an Assembly line production is fabulous. And there in instructions via video with patterns on how to do this if you or another group wishes to participate.

  2. Jane Bower

    Would be happy to help with this project. What are the measurements for the cross piece?

  3. Denise Sausville, RSM

    You are an inspiration to us all, Ingrid! This is an awesome woman-to-woman project. Thank you for your sensitivity and leadership in this.

  4. Ingrid Robinson

    Thank you so much!!

  5. Carolyn Bergman, Mercy Associate

    Great information & update, .
    thanks to u & sister Jill continuing to us aware of the needs of young girls/ women in Haiti. It has been an honor to be a small part of the cutting/ sewing nights.

  6. Sister Natalie Rossi

    What a great idea!
    Thanks for being with the Haitian women

  7. Jean-Marie Gorman, RSM

    If you are looking for help with this project, please send me the information needed to make these. I’d be more than happy to assist.

  8. Marie McIntyre rsm

    Congratulations to the women of Haiti and all who have helped worldwide. We have a similar problem here in Johannesburg. Poor families can’t afford to buy the pads. One chain of pharmacies Dis Chem are helping in an unfriendly environmental way asking their customers to buy a packet of throw away sanitary pads. I must see if any of our associates are interested in doing the Haiti way

  9. Barb Giehl

    This is an amazing project and it has helped so many young girls and women!! Thank you Thank You for your continued commitment to this project Ingrid and all those who participate!!!

  10. Denise Sausville

    Ingrid, You are a real inspiration to us all. Thank you for taking this project and running with it, and animating others. I understand why this blog garnered so much readership. Even if some of us were not directly involved in the project, we were aware, and we prayed.