We were up at 6am (after a full day of traveling and only an hour or two of sleep) in order to drive six and a half hours to the island of Muisne off the coast of Esmeraldas, Ecuador. Muisne was 17 miles (27 km) from the epicenter of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April 2016. The roads are broken up, houses worn down, yet are set against the backdrop of luscious green tropical surroundings. Many of the people are still living in temporary housing, which means 10’x10′ (3m x 3m) tents for up to ten people. These people face many challenges. The Big Ocean delegation went to offer one solution, help with feminine hygiene. We brought 600 Days for Girls kits with us to distribute during our trip to Habitat 3 in Ecuador.
We were an hour and a half late, and worried that these good people would give up on us. But when we arrived at the small Catholic Church, we were greeted by the community leader, Pedro Rillamarim, and about 50 women and their young children. They gathered on wooden benches waiting to hear what we had come to share. Teenage girls and boys were standing in the doorway. Ann Takasaki stood and, with the help of Brigitte Morales translating, presented the feminine hygiene kits with reusable shields and liners, explaining that many girls around the world have no options for staying in school when they are on their period. These hygiene kits give freedom and remind the girls of their power. It was a little intimidating to stand in front of these women we had never met, not knowing their background or family situations, and without the ability to speak their language, but we knew our message was important and hoped it would reach them. Kim Landeen spent a few minutes speaking on self defense and let these women and girls know it is ok to say no. She reminded them that their body was their own and they had the right to protect themselves. While she was speaking, Ann turned to me and said, “I’m going to have you speak next about sexual purity.” I was not anticipating that. A quick prayer in my heart and a short discussion with a couple of the big ocean women and it was my turn to stand. I looked at these women, saw their beauty and shared the words that came to my mind, that God had blessed women with the very special power of creating life. We should respect that power and not give ourselves away to just anyone. I talked about saving themselves and being true to their spouse in marriage. And then I froze. I’d come to the end of what I had thought up, but needed some way to close. Jillaire looked up and whispered, tell them about your family. It was a great idea, and as I thought of it, the emotion welled up in my chest and I couldn’t speak for the tears. “I am the mom of four kids. I love seeing you here with each of your beautiful children. I know God loves each one of you. What a privilege it is to be a mother!” Vilma Sagebin wrapped up the presentation in Spanish by talking about the power and importance of families. She shared how, although she came from a broken family, she has the power and opportunity to create something better for her future, her family. Her words were powerful and driven. The women and girls were then invited to line up and received their own Days for Girls kit. Many approached wanting more for daughters that were not there. Breaking through language barriers, there were many besos y abrazos. In speaking with Pedro, Brigitte learned of a tailor and his wife who lost everything in the floods that came up during the earthquake. She learned that, if provided a sewing machine, he could get back on his feet and even contribute to creating these feminine hygiene kits. Another woman spoke with Vilma and was interested in a sewing machine to make kits. With commitment, these women can help create a more sustainable future. by Dana Robb