On any given Sunday, I can expect to hear certain things during a church gathering. Songs of praise. Prayers. Announcements about activities. Bible verses.
But a couple of Sundays ago, I heard three words I never, ever, ever, expected to hear in church.
They weren’t swear words or anything like that, but they were a bit shocking.
Are you ready for them?
Here they are: washable feminine pads.
Sorry if I lost a few male readers with that revelation, but if you’re not too squeamish, stick around and hear why these words were part of our service.
Every once in a while, members of our church volunteer at a GAIN (Global Aid Network) distribution center in our county. Recently, a group took a Wednesday night to help out at the center, and the following Sunday, our pastor reported on their activities. Sometimes, the groups work with boxes or blankets. This time, though, they helped in a completely different way.
They traced a pattern and cut material to make washable feminine pads for women in developing countries.
Now, ladies, I don’t know about you, but I can hardly even talk about my monthly “gift” without squirming and getting embarrassed. My husband is completely comfortable making a run to Target or CVS for supplies when I’m desperate, but I feel like I might as well be wearing a blinking sign when I purchase the same products. So, I could hardly believe my ears when this topic was talked about at length at the start of our service by our pastor.
And there were pictures! Pictures of our church people doing this work. I wanted to crawl away or laugh nervously.
But then I got over it. Or I tried. Because the reality is this: I have nothing to be embarrassed about.
Women in developing countries face real shame about their femininity. You can read more here. Shunned. Degraded. Ostracized. Imagine if you had to miss 20 percent of your school year? If you couldn’t go out in public for the duration of your period?
The simple solution is this topic we talked about in church: washable feminine pads.
Shame on me for being embarrassed to talk about it. And for thinking only of myself.
How easy it is for me to go to a local store and pick up what I need and carry on with my day (mostly) during that time of the month. How easy it is for me to not even think that someone else doesn’t have it that way.
And this is my main problem as privileged American: selfish, narrow-minded thinking.
Slowly, I’m gaining knowledge, becoming aware of the needs of people worldwide, convicted of how my selfishness negatively affects people I don’t even know.
I won’t ask if you’ve ever thought about the menstrual cycles of women in developing countries because until that Sunday, I hadn’t.
But what about the source of your luxuries?
We’re entering a season of the year where sweets and food and gifts take front and center. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas. This is an important question all year long, but at least during this end-of-the-year stretch, we need to talk about it and remember.
When you eat chocolate, do you think about how it got to you? Do you know about children enslaved to harvest cocoa beans so you can have a sweet treat?
What about when you drink tea or coffee? Do you wonder if the farmers who grow it get paid fairly?
How about that quinoa you eat because it’s a health food fad and is a good source of non-meat protein? Do you wonder if your consumption of it, our demand for it, impacts the Andean people where it’s grown?
What about your chocolate hazelnut spread that uses palm oil thus destroying the habitat of orangutans? (I learned this while visiting a zoo.)
I could keep going talking about our technology and the minerals used in our phones and computers, about the diamonds we covet and the corruption bred in the countries where such things flourish.
It’s overwhelming. Really. There’s almost no part of our lives untouched by the corruption and exploitation of others. That’s the bad news.
The good news is we have choices. Lots and lots of choices. And we have knowledge.
And even if we can’t change everything, we can change some things. Now. Even if it’s just one thing.
Not long ago, I switched to fair trade coffee in my house. This is not a huge sacrifice because Costco sells it in bulk and it’s not terribly expensive. It hasn’t really affected the amount of coffee I consume. It’s not as easy when I’m drinking coffee away from home, but it’s possible. More companies are using direct-trade, fair trade or other sustainably sourced beans in some of their coffees.
Then I started buying fair trade tea. I don’t drink as much tea as coffee, and this one is much more obvious in its impact on my finances. Fair trade teas are not cheap. But neither is justice.
Our next move is chocolate, and I will confess that this one is hard because chocolate is everywhere and it’s cheap. The fair trade kind is expensive (and delicious!) and not in every candy aisle. It’s a special trip or an online order. But, it’s not impossible.
October is fair trade month, and through the website Klout, which tracks online influence, I received a box of fair trade products as a gift. Snacks made with fair trade chocolate, a quinoa/rice blend in a box made with fair trade quinoa. Tea, both hot and cold. All of it delicious and all of it fair.
So. What’s my point? I started off talking about washable feminine pads and now I’m on to fair trade food.
I think my point is this: it’s easy to look away or think only of ourselves, of the cost to us, which is really only monetary. It’s easy to want to be comfortable and not talk about things like child slavery or women being shunned for having a period.
But we need to know. And we need to talk about it. And we need to act.
It’s good to get a little squeamish. It’s good to talk about things that make us uncomfortable. Because then we’re better able to identify. To say, what if it was me?
My challenge to you (and to me) this season is to make one small change you can carry through beyond the first of the year. Swap out your favorite tea with a fair trade brand. Buy a bag of fair trade coffee. Check the source of your favorite chocolate treat. Ask more questions about where your food comes from. Buy your next new outfit from a company whose clothes are ethically sourced and fairly made. Read a book about human trafficking or corruption in governments whose resources are valuable.
There are a lot of companies to choose from, a lot of lists on other blogs out there to help you with these decisions. If you need specific direction, leave a comment about the change you’d like to make and I’ll see if I can point you in the right direction.
Or just leave a comment about the change you plan to make so we can encourage each other to stick with it.