By Jan Kinne Conway
Women from “Marco Fellowship” are helping young African girls stay in school in Kenya, 8,000 miles away. Their tools are few: fabric, scissors, sewing machines, and a simple pattern found on the Internet. Each Thursday, four to ten women with willing hearts and hands gather at the home of Wanda Hobgood on Marco Island. They call these days “Personal Thursdays”. This “labor of love” began when Michelle Babin, a missionary to Kenya, visited friends, Mark and Kathy Matthews who are part of “Marco Fellowship,” a parachurch organization. “How can I help?” Kathy asked. “What do you need in Kenya?” One of the biggest needs is personal, Michelle explained: “The girls don’t go to school while having their menstrual period. Girls wrap cloths, leaves, corn husks, or anything they can find around themselves, but they leak or soil quickly, causing them much embarrassment. It’s easier to stay home. Days missed in school can add up to two months a year.” “Disposable pads are not available, even if the cost was affordable,” Michelle said. “What we really need are menstrual pads which can be washed and reused every month.” Kathy shared this need and challenged the women in “Marco Fellowship” to help. Wanda Hobgood offered her garage, and the women just started showing up. Wanda found a pattern on the Internet which she modified, and they were off and sewing.
Each Thursday, women come to the garage to sew. A relaxed, assembly line of women cut, surge, and sew pads for the girls. Each pad has multiple layers of colorful fabric sewn together, and then the pad is put over a waterproof liner. Four pads and a liner are placed into a pretty, drawstring bag which the Marco women also sew. “By wearing the absorbent, reusable pads, the young girls don’t have to miss school,” Michael explained. Although many church and service groups have shipped clothing, shoes, toiletries, school or art supplies to villages in Africa, this unusual sewing venture is gaining momentum – and success – in developing countries. Kathy Matthews, and others from Marco Island, are planning a mission trip to Kenya in May. They will personally deliver the attractive bags to girls, along with love from their “big sisters” in America. “Apparently this project is more widespread than we knew,” said Wanda, who purchased the waterproof liners she needed at Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft store in Naples. “The clerk said she knew exactly what I wanted to use it for, ‘Sustainable Hygiene Kits.’” The Marco women haven’t forgotten the siblings of the girls in Kenya either. They have already made shorts for the boys and simple dresses for the girls made out of napkins or pillowcases. “We’re having lots of fun just being together while we sew,” said member, Marrolyn Rekus. “If we get tired, we might take a break and play a board game, just to mix things up.” Some of the husbands of the women even make lunch for the group “The men call us to lunch at noon, said Wanda, “after we eat, they clean up and do the dishes!” The women would welcome other groups to take on the project. Some plan to take the creative idea home when they return north where many live part of the year. The women hope more groups will take up the cause of “Labor of Love Gets Personal “so many more girls can stay in school, not just in Kenya, but around the world. For information on Marco Fellowship or Personal Thursdays, contact Jan at 231-347-8050.