I'd like to tell you a story about something pretty special which recently happened. It involves some passionate people, some big dreams, and a LOT of sanitary towels.
I'm a student at Durham University, I'm also involved with a group called Just Love. We're part of a series of groups across UK universities affiliated with the national charity Just Love, which is committed to inspiring (Christian) students to stand against injustice.
Last year a few brilliant students at Just Love Durham came up with a little idea for an initiative called Giving: Strings Attached (pun intended), a university-wide drive to collect sanitary products for vulnerable women in our local community.
An inconvenience to most of us who get them, for a huge number of women in this country and globally who lack access to sanitary products, periods are a source of immeasurable discomfort, shame and harrowing stigma. I don't know about you, but the thought of enduring just one period with no pads, no clean running water, no basic hygiene, is more than I can bear to think about.
This March, in the midst of the second annual campaign, having already had an overwhelmingly generous response from Durham students, we received a facebook message from two Durham graduates: Jake Cundy and Helen Murphy, now working for the company P&G, saying they had heard about our campaign via facebook and wanted to support us with a donation.
When Jake and Helen first got in touch we were (hopefully and tentatively) thinking in the realms of a few vans worth maybe, but lo and behold the delivery which finally made its way to Durham in June came in the shape of three large lorries. Three Lorries, 117,000 pads and panty-liners, and 774,144 individual products.
Incredulity, joy and thankfulness was mixed with minor bafflement as the team began the task of determining where on earth all these pads would go. It was felt by all that a significant portion of the donations should reach out to refugees.
Amazingly, Samara's Aid Appeal who had heard about the mammoth donation via social media, got in touch shortly after and it was arranged that they would take one full lorry to Iraq. The initiative is a self-funded charity set up by a British mother of two dedicated to the provision of humanitarian aid to displaced peoples and refugees in Syria, Iraq and the Middle East. For more information check out the website: http://www.samarasaidappeal.org/
It was later arranged that a second lorry load would be sent to Zambia with Samara's appeal, to assist a women's project there.
The third and final lorry was delivered to a food bank in Newcastle, and a small proportion of the products have been distributed to around 10 local organisations, including other food banks in County Durham, Oasis Aquila Housing charity, A Way Out (who support and engage vulnerable young women), and DASH (Durham Action on Single Housing).
So you see: three lorries worth of pads can go a very, very long way (quite literally). Such a basic practical necessity can bring comfort, relief and dignity, to not just one woman, but thousands. If that's not a joyful thought, I don't know what is.
I suppose you could say there are a few 'messages' of this story. The incredible donation demonstrates the even more incredible influence that student activism can have. What started as an idea dreamt up by a couple of students, in a tiny, cold (nonetheless rather beautiful) university town in the far north of England, has generated a phenomenal response that will make a huge difference to the lives of women in some of the most vulnerable parts of our society and world. I hope our story inspires students all over the country to try similar things, to be bold and fearless. No campaign is too ambitious, no idea too bold, or group too small.
Secondly, next time you're on your period (and probably feeling rather unhappy about it), or you're thanking your lucky stars that you don't have periods, spare a thought for the pain, discomfort and dread that 'mother nature' brings to millions of women in the world, face the humanity beneath the faceless and clinical statistics of refugees or homelessness, and consider donating a pack of pads to your local food bank. Even better, start your own initiative, if there isn't one near you already, at your university, workplace or church.
Finally, this story testifies to the huge influence that graduates going into roles at different companies can have in terms of pursuing justice and being generous. You don't have to go into a career as a charity or NGO worker to change the world or make a difference. Any position of influence is a position of influence. As students in particular, we are privileged - many of us will go into professional and highly influential jobs. Those with privilege have a duty to use that privilege to support those who have not been given the same.
What started as a little idea has gone a long way. In the coming months Just Love Durham hope to receive updates on how the pads, which began their journeys (some longer than others) in June, were received and what difference they have made in the places they are being delivered. Watch this space.
Photos: Harriet Cheema-Grubb
Top photo: (from left) Rachel Cook, Harriet Cheema-Grubb, Henry Silva and Anthony Weedon from our Just Love Durham team