The Petal Project: Bringing the Community Together through Service

Tuesday, 10 November 2015: 10:00 AM

Karen M. Parker, DNP, RN, FNP-C
Wegmans School of Nursing, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY, USA
Natalie A. Masco, DNP, RN, FNP-C
Wegmans School of Nursing, St John Fisher College, Rochester, NY, USA

As we increasingly become a global community, one of the challenges faced by schools of nursing today is building awareness of and an opportunity for responsiveness to global healthcare needs (Memmott, et. al., 2010; Burgess, et. al, 2014). Since May of 2011, the student nurses and faculty at the Wegmans School of Nursing (WSON) at St. John Fisher College (SJFC) have been involved in an initiative to keep young girls in the developing world in school. The Petal Project began following a medical mission trip with undergraduate students to a school and health clinic in a rural town in the western province of Kenya.  It was there that faculty became aware of a pervasive problem many of the school girls faced; lacking necessary supplies such as underwear and adequately absorbent sanitary products to effectively cope with their menstrual flow. Faculty and student travelers learned many young girls do not come to school for a week or more each month due to embarrassment and teasing (McMahon, et. al, 2011). Others obtain the money for sanitary supplies by having sex with men. Many would subsequently never return to school due to a resultant pregnancy ( WSON faculty were committed to returning on the next medical mission trip with a possible intervention for the students and women in the community.

Several options were researched and ultimately with the help of funds from the WSON STTI Delta Sigma chapter and the student nurses’ association (SNA), faculty and students began an initiative sewing reusable sanitary pads and purchasing packages of girls’ underwear  (Sommer, 2009; McMahon, et. al., 2011). In addition, cycle beads were made to help in both the teaching about the menstrual cycle, and then for the girls and women to be able to track their cycles and anticipate onset of menstruation each month. As word of the Petal Project grew we found and appreciated strong support by the larger campus and surrounding community in form of monetary donations as well as helping hands during sewing parties. These parties, funded by Delta Sigma and the WSON SNA, were held throughout the semester and attended by students and faculty from all disciplines across the campus. Since the May 2011 trip, over 900 bases, thousands of pads and pairs of underwear have been distributed to girls in the western province and Maasai Mara in Kenya.  Students traveling on medical mission trips also provide education to the girls about their bodies, how to track their cycles, and important hygiene measures during their menses and throughout the month. Due to the recent outbreaks of violence in Kenya, students have not been permitted to travel to Kenya the last 2 years. However, sewing parties have continued and, through the help of a local NGO and interested others, delivery of pads and other supplies have also continued. Currently, faculty and students are preparing pads, cycle beads and teaching plans that will be delivered in April, 2015 to 6th grade girls in schools in Costa Rica.

Realizing our responsibility to help sustain supplies of pads in these communities and build capacity, in 2013 we also began efforts to raise funds toward the purchase of sewing machines for the Kenyan schools (United Nations, 2013). In May 2014, two sewing machines were purchased and delivered to a school where 10 students were waiting to learn how to use the machines and sew. Twenty six other students, also waiting, learned to sew reusable pads by hand. In fall 2014, a sewing room to house more machines and host more sewers will be constructed. It is our belief and lived experience that each person who contributes to the Petal Project becomes part of a protective circle empowering girls to effectively deal with this natural, predictable part of their lives. By participating in this initiative, students, faculty and members of our larger community in Upstate NY enable girls in the developing world to stay in school; to become more educated; to make decisions about when and whom they marry and when they will start a family. Campus-wide this unique initiative has brought people together, created awareness and rallied a response to the needs of women and girls in distant communities.