We’re pretty proud of how we go about making the reusable, cotton menstrual pads that we send to House of Hope Haiti school and orphanage in Williamson, Haiti — so we want to tell you all about it, and about the many people involved.
A short history
When We Gotchya sent its first batch of 25 period kits to Haiti in May, 2019, that represented about 9 months of work involving dozens of people. But we knew we were only getting started. We were only sending kits to 25 of the 32 girls at the orphanage, and what we were sending would only last a cycle if the girls are diligent about washing and drying their pads.
After a conference call with Edna, the orphanage/school manager, we realized that the typical stigma of drying cotton pads outdoors was causing a problem there, too. Girls don’t want their drying pads visible to others, slowing down the washing/drying process.
We also learned we needed to send some pads that are much larger than our first shipment. And, we learned the boys in the school (separate from the orphanage), were asking for pads for their mothers and sisters.
In short, we still had a lot of work to do!
Fixing the drying problem
Because thoroughly drying pads is so important, we had to help the girls overcome the problem of their pads being visible outdoors in the sun. We decided this was the perfect way to use fabric that wasn’t quite right for the pads — fabric like polyester or knit fabrics. We cut rectangular “shields” — about 24-inches by about 22-inches — that can cover the pads on a drying line.
This is an approach we’ve seen used in other countries, so we’re hopeful it will work in Haiti.
The mass-production approach
To supply the number of pads necessary for the Williamson community, we realized we needed a real system. That system is almost completely in place, as of August 2019. Here’s how it works:
- Fabric comes in.
- We are very fortunate to have the PERFECT fabric donated to us for the bases. We get a regular supply of bed liners from a friend in Ohio who works at a linen supply service. She sends us bed pads that are very thin and very absorbant, and have a waterproof lining. These pads make the perfect material for bases because they are waterproof on the bottom and very absorbant on top. The bases we make can then be used for light days, or can handle 1-2 pad inserts for heavy days and nighttime.
- We also collect 100% cotton fabric wherever we can, and we purchase loads of material at flea markets and fabric stores, when the material is on sale. The “we” here is mostly two angles, Penni Fox and Pat Kinman. The two of them are a fabric team, buying loads of new and used fabric whenever and where ever they can! We are in the process of trying to build a fabric (and product) drop-off system across town, so stay tuned for updates about that!
- Fabric gets quilted. This is where the mass-production system gets really cool! Penni takes all the pad fabric, stacks it with the softest, lightest fabric on the outside, and then quilts it on her long-arm machine! This makes for a solid pad that will work better and last longer.
- If you’re wondering about the light color — during our phone call with Edna, we learned that they want their pads to be light in color, not dark as we’d assumed. They want to see how soiled the pads are and then see how clean they are getting them. This was a learning moment for us.
- Fabric gets cut. This is another cool part of our process! Pat and Penni, after several different styles, designed just the right base and pad sizes, and then ordered a special die that can quickly cut the quilted fabric. Their die-cut machine can perfectly cut 12 bases in about 10 minutes — way faster and better than we were doing by hand! In two hours of work, they cut 88 large “Big Booty” bases, 36 smaller bases, 106 regular pads and 51 smaller pads. And this is why we are so proud of this system!
- Bases and pads are finished.
- The edges of the bases and pads are finished with a zig-zag or serger stitch, ensuring longer life. This involves a team of sewers in and around Maryville, MO. The team includes about 2 dozen volunteers.
- Straps are added to the bases to hold pad inserts. After the bases are stitched, they’re given to volunteers who add straps, often made of rick-rack. It’s a tricky attachment, as the straps can’t be too tight or too loose to keep one or two or even three pads in place!
- Snaps are added to the bases to keep them secured to underwear. Once the straps are added, the bases are sent to another team who attach the snap in just the right location. Again, a tricky job, especially given the bases, which we make in 2 sizes, are basically “2-sizes-fit-all” approach.
- Bases and pads are put in period kits. Once the bases and pads are finished, we put them in “Period Packs” along with a wet/dry bag, washcloth, soap, shield and laminated care instructions.
- Kits are sent to Haiti. Because actually shipping items to Haiti often doesn’t work out (items may never actually arrive at their destination), we have to send the products with people who are travelling to Williamson. Bayo Joachim and Mike Bellamy, the two who started the orphanage and school, regularly travel there about two to four times a year, depending on the level of unrest in the country. Bayo and Mike basically pack down as many pieces of luggage as they can manage. The period kits take up a lot of room, but they are an important addition to the community.
Edna has told us that these pads are exactly what they need: They cannot afford disposable products, and using rags has obvious problems.
We’ll be constantly perfecting our pad production process, and as we do, we’ll update this page! Please leave a comment if you have any experiences making reusable cotton pads for Third-World countries!