Mother Nature Partnership
When we were in high school, my best friends and I were in a group called The Interact Club. It was a student partnership with the local Rotary club, where they would help sponsor some of our activities and we would lend a hand when they needed volunteers at their events.
In this club, we got involved in community service projects, we wrote letters to governments, we hosted a Not So Scroogey Christmas party for local underprivileged kids and we organized fundraisers. Lots of fundraisers.
I loved working on these fundraisers so much. I loved figuring out creative, fun ways to persuade people to care about an issue, how to educate them without alienating them, and just how to put on a damn good show.
I loved it so much, I’d occasionally skip class to do it.
It probably wasn’t exactly what the school had in mind, but who could concentrate on hypotenuses (hypotenusi? Must have missed that class) when there was domestic violence to stop, political prisoners to free, food drives to organize, memorial gardens to dig and a whole damned world to save?
Also I just really hated math.
Then high school ended and our lives got busy, we moved out of our parents’ houses, all floating around to different cities, provinces and countries for nearly a decade before finally all landing here in Toronto.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before we were back at it, setting up a launch party/fundraiser for Irene’s amazing brainchild, Mother Nature Partnership, this week.
It was a rousing success, and it felt so fantastic to look around and think, “This is a really cool event. This is an event I would actually be thrilled to turn up at. There is nothing half-assed or embarrassing about this. I’m really proud of this.”
And I kept thinking, for the millionth time about how lucky I am to have found so many beautiful kindred spirits and about what an effective team we make.
Moments before the doors opened, Red, who took the lead on the event, and with it, a lot of the stress, looked at me with panic in her eyes and told me she really, really needed her blazer pocket stitching cut so she could get her hand in it. Someone who didn’t know her well might have brushed off the request, given the timing, but I knew better. She really needed that pocket, and then she’d be fine. So I dropped what I was doing, found some scissors, freed up a pocket, et voila: a happy, charming event organizer was ready to take on the night.
It was a little surreal to look around at the room full of people clearly having a fantastic time, and to watch our little cash box fill up with money to make the work we’re doing with MNP to improve the lives of women and their communities half a world away possible, and to realize that there were no supervisors, no teacher-advisors or Rotary Club members guiding us along, ready to swoop in and save the day if things went awry.
No one else made this happen. It was just us from start to finish. Me and my best friends (and the amazingly supportive new pals we recruited to help), doing what it felt like we’d always done.
We (ahem, I) may have lost our unstoppable metabolisms and we (again, just me) may have a steadily growing collection of grey hairs, and we may not have the unlimited stores of energy we had at 16, but the drive, the determination and each other?
You know, the important stuff?
We’ve still got it.
A heartfelt thanks to all of the wonderful, generous folks who helped out or just showed up to our launch party trivia night, Question Period, at the Drake Hotel this week! It was definitely one for the books!
You know how you have that friend who makes you feel like a total underachiever? They’re not only constantly doing a million cool things, but they’re excelling at them. They’re world-changers, go-getters, creative geniuses, and probably just plain old regular geniuses too. They’d be completely insufferable if they weren’t also damned hilarious and kind.
My friend Alice Irene is one such annoying genius. Just hearing about the things she has on the go at any given time makes me want to take a nap.
A couple of years ago after meeting Veronica Kettle of the African Women Education and Development Forum, Irene came up with an idea to address the challenges many women around the world face due to harmful taboos attached to menstruation in their communities.
For many women around the world, menstruation is considered an actual curse, to the point where, in some cultures, they may be banished to a tiny isolation shed, offering inadequate shelter from the elements for the duration of their periods so that they will not contaminate their own homes with their “impurity.”
Even when not taken to such extremes, the taboo, shame and mystery around menstruation, combined with the prohibitive cost of feminine hygiene products, often means that women are forced to use ineffective methods to manage their periods, which can in turn endanger their health.
It’s not difficult to see how women in developing countries being prevented from working for several days every month, all while feeling ashamed and confused about their own bodies could have a hugely negative impact not only on their physical and mental well-being, but on their economic security and that of their families as well.
So how do you go about empowering women living in a culture with such stigma?
Well, if you’re my amazing friend, you start a partnership with the African Women Education and Development Forum, send 350 reusable menstrual cups to women in rural Cameroon and invite them to take part in workshops where information about menstruation and female reproductive health is distributed and discussed by/with health professionals. For many of them, it was the first time they had access to this vital information about their own bodies.
The response from every woman who took part was so overwhelmingly positive. Reading their feedback and realizing what a huge impact something as simple as a small, sustainable tool and a little bit of knowledge would have on their lives got me more than a little choked up. I immediately volunteered to help with whatever needed doing for the next phase of the project.
The next phase, as it turns out, will be taking the project to 5000 more women in Cameroon, a number we will be able to reach in part because Mother Nature Partnership, it was announced this week, will be one of the (over-the-moon thrilled and grateful!) recipients of the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations grants!
We still have lots of work and fundraising ahead of us to make this happen, and I’ve taken on the task of trying to drum up some interest through social media, which is where you, my internet savvy friends come in.
Or, if any of you bloggers are interested in the project, and feel like writing about it or how to go about taking something like this from an idea in the shower to an actual living, breathing organization, please-oh-please feel free to drop me a line!