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Woman who started sewing sanitary pads to end period poverty among refugees now has 1000 volunteers

'I try to remember that you may not be able to save the whole world but you can give one person at a time the power to empower themselves,' the 21-year-old said.

Woman who started sewing sanitary pads to end period poverty among refugees now has 1000 volunteers
Cover Image Source: Facebook/The Pachamama Project

A student who began sewing reusable sanitary products for refugees during the first coronavirus lockdown is now running a global network of over 1000 volunteers. Ella Lambert, a 21-year-old student at the University of Bristol, was inspired to launch the reusable sanitary pad project by her personal experience with serious period pains and a desire to break the stigma associated with talking about them. "I've always really struggled with period pain, like absolutely atrocious period pain which would mean that I’d have to miss out on school and cancel plans last minute," Lambert explained, reports Independent.


"So although I've been really lucky, and I’ve never had to experience period poverty as such, I do know what it's like to have to miss out on really important things and appointments because of my period," the languages student added. "This seemed like a really easy way of combatting period poverty and making sure that people didn't have to deal with that because they had the products they needed that would last." After learning how to sew from YouTube videos, Lambert developed a pattern for reusable sanitary pads and put up appeals for material on community groups. Soon, volunteers from all over the UK started reaching out to her, enquiring how they could help support the cause.


Lambert came up with a guide for volunteers of her Pachamama Project—a venture she launched in August last year with university friend Oliwia Geisler—which explained everything from sourcing material for free to sewing the pads and sending them back to her to be posted abroad, after quality checks. Since launching the non-profit, more than 30,000 patterned pads which come in discreet matching pouches have been made by over 1000 volunteers in the UK, Germany, Italy, France and the U.S. using donated materials. Refugees who menstruate are given four pads each, which are washable and can be reused for about five years.


"The people I want to help, in these camps, they're experiencing period pain and having to use random tissue paper, cardboard, socks, scraps of material and even leaves - whatever they can get hold of," Lambert told BBC. Speaking of how the project "went from zero to 100" this year, she said: "Sometimes I have to check myself and realize what we have achieved - amongst a humanitarian crisis. I try to remember that you may not be able to save the whole world but you can give one person at a time the power to empower themselves."


"It's really escalated from a little university project from a kitchen table to a global network," Lambert said of Pachamama Project, which is named after the goddess of fertility Pachamama, a figure revered by the indigenous peoples of the Andes. She recently got the chance to visit a refugee camp in Lesbos Greece, where she worked with local women who were able to distribute the products for a profit. "I was actually leading the distributions which was amazing," Lambert said. "We have Pacha clubs, we're calling them, in Lebanon and Greece."


"That's when we have a group of women making them and then, for example, in Lebanon, they're selling them, but to NGOs so they then give them away again to other refugees. So not only do those refugee women get to earn a bit of an income, but they also have a further impact of actually reducing period poverty in their community," she explained. "I read a stat today saying that 76% of people who menstruate in Lebanon are struggling to afford period products because of the huge inflation and that kind of economic crisis. What better way to actually try and come up with a solution for this problem, but to have the people leading it be the people in that community?"


"I get letters every day from my volunteers... we get thousands of every week," Lambert added. "You know, letters saying how much the products helped them." She now hopes to get schoolchildren involved in making the pads, so as to tackle the stigma attached to menstruation and period poverty. "Period poverty is everywhere but the stigma is ingrained in us," she said. "I think it's a fun, creative way of normalizing it and feeling more comfortable about the subject."


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