University of Bristol: The students making period poverty history

Two students have launched a non-profit organization which has ended period poverty for hundreds of women in refugee camps – and they are only just getting started.

Pachamama is the brain child of University of Bristol languages student Ella Lambert, who was stirred to action by her own debilitating period pains.

“The pandemic shone a light on the most vulnerable people in society and I realized there are so many people dealing with the kind of pain I deal with, who aren’t even able to satisfy their most basic needs like having access to sanitary products,” said Ella.

She enrolled fellow languages student Oliwia Geisler and together they learnt how to sew, stitching hundreds of reusable sanitary products from their kitchen tables.

But that was just the start. Since Pachamama was launched in October, Ella and Oliwia have gathered more than 300 amateur sewers to the cause, creating a network of volunteers who have created more than 3,100 pads.

Already sewers from Germany, Italy, Spain and France are involved in the project, and there are plans to launch in the US imminently.

Oliwia said: “I came to the UK as an immigrant and consider myself to be very fortunate to be where I am. I think I therefore sympathise a lot with people who have also had to leave their homeland, but who have been faced with so many more obstacles in their path.

“The vast majority of those obstacles are out of my control, but delivering reusable period products is one thing that I can do to make their lives that tiny bit easier.”

Those in need are given a homemade drawstring bag with four pads inside. They can be washed and reused for up to five years.

Many of the sanitary products already made have been sent to camps in Greece and Lebanon.

Ella said: “As a woman who has suffered with extremely painful periods from early adolescence into adulthood, I feel very strongly about fighting period poverty. I’m lucky enough to be able to climb into bed with a hot water bottle when the cramps kick in, when many can’t even afford a pack of pads.”

Sarah Purdy, a University of Bristol Pro-Vice Chancellor and part-time GP, said: “Struggling with the challenges of life as a refugee or displaced person is daunting beyond words. Adding the loss of dignity, pain and distress associated with period poverty creates such a terrible situation for those who are affected.

“The work of Ella, Oliwia and the other volunteers at Pachamama to relieve this and provide practical and sustainable help is inspiring to see. Thank you for all you are doing.”

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