WARNING this blog post contains stories relating to female menstruation ... Oh my god how gross right? Ummmm no actually periods are pretty bloody natural! (pun intended.)
Seriously can I just start by saying no matter if you're male or female if it weren't for women having periods you wouldn't be here right now reading this blog. BTW Happy Mother's Day Mummas! Yup it's true, if you're mum didn't bleed once a month she wouldn't have been able to grow you in her beautiful womb ... So now that's out the way, let's talk about periods...
I'll go first ... I'm a woman and I bleed. For some reason the universe blessed me with a "disorder" labelled "Late Leutal, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder" (or LLPMDD if you wanna' be cool about it.) Basically it's a severe form of PMS and it kinda' sucks. I don't talk much about it because I'd rather focus on something more fun but lately I feel like it's time to talk. Period.
I'll try to make this quick ... Basically in my world, up to 2 weeks out of a month can at times be a challenge... We're talking extreme fatigue/ exhaustion, brain fog, memory loss and sometimes depression (amongst a shit tonne of other symptoms) ... To put this in context, I once had a Dr recommend that I don't drive a vehicle in my late leutal phase ... but ummmm obviously that Doctor wasn't a "soccer mum"?
Annnnyway I reckon there are ALWAYS silver linings to be found in everything so the blessings of this funky label is that it has also given me my heightened sensitivity and creativity as well as my ability to TRULY empathise and understand anyone going through "challenging" times emotionally. I truly believe it has fast tracked my spiritual growth and led me to find "tools" and create deep connections that I may not have found or created otherwise.
I also have a VERY real understanding that "service to humanity" is one of the most beautiful ways to get outa' our heads and into our hearts... In fact my own "life experience" is what led me to create Head, Heart and Hand Holidays and our Head, Heart and Hand philosophy.
So I've been pondering this topic a LOT lately and thinking of my friends in Cambodia... See the thing is as soon as I bleed my "challenge" is over (ahhhhhh cue the sunshine and singing birds!) ... but for most menstruating women and girls in Cambodia as soon as they bleed their challenge is just beginning...
For starters a lot of girls and women in Cambodia (and other developing countries) don't have access to pads or tampons ... yup some girls and women substitute "normal" sanitary items for leaves, rocks and cow dung. Some are sent off to "bleed" elsewhere, some are punished for being evil. Girls miss days of school. Now add to this "challenge" that in many remote areas people don't have access to basic hygiene facilities so having a relaxing bath or cleansing shower is NOT an option ... sometimes washing hands isn't even an option!
I've also had first hand experience of being "caught out" bleeding in Cambodia so I (almost) get it. Years back when I first learnt that girls/women don't have "normal" access to sanitary items I went "sanitary item shopping" with a group of local teenage girls. We were smack bang in the middle of a local market when I ironically began to bleed (and by "bleed" I mean the flood gates had opened!) There was not a loo in site and I had blood everywhere ... Thankfully by some freak blessing, it began to pour with rain and we all got totally saturated so the blood on my pants blended in enough to bide time until I could use one of the bloody pads I was purchasing for the girls.
Another time I was out at one of our "wash house" schools inspecting a past project and the "flood gates" opened again ... Once again I had blood everywhere. I used the squat toilet available but of course in Asia there's no loo paper and no where to dispose of a tampon. Thank buddha (again a freak blessing) we'd built a wash house so I could actually clean myself up and wash my hands with soap. If the wash house wasn't available I would have had to travel home literally covered in blood. Imagine if I was a shy school girl!
My last bloody experience happened in the middle of a ceremony at a friends house in a remote village. The flood gates opened yet again ... but this time I was dressed in traditional Khmer ceremonial clothes (a long skirt and a white top) I managed to scramble past everyone to get to the squat toilet (thankfully my Khmer friend supplied me with some tissues otherwise I dunno?) ... I had to manage my skirt on the squat loo but by this time blood was on my white shirt and my skirt, this is kinda' embarrassing but I'm sharing because this is also "normal" ... I had to take my nickers off and put them in my bag... So there I was at a "bloody" traditional buddhist ceremony with no undies on ... Thankfully I had a tampon I could use ... But imagine if I was a khmer girl and didn't have any sanitary items. What the hell would I have done?
To make sense of it all ... Along with building wash houses in school communities and providing students with life saving access to basic hygiene we've also partnered with Tnai Samrap Srey ("Days For Girls") to educate school girls on menstruation and menstrual health AND provide each girl with a "Days For Girls kit" (reusable material pads and undies.)
I've trained for my "Ambassador of Women's Health Certification" so I know exactly what the local ladies are teaching the local girls (but I keep out of it and leave it up to the locals to teach locals!) ...
Did you know periods often aren't talked about in remote areas? Sometimes a girl will start to bleed and wonder if she's dying. She wonders why all this blood is coming from inside her. Because girls use anything to stop the bleeding they're prone to all sorts of infections. There's even stories of girls using hot coals in an attempt to stop the bleeding. ... Girls miss days of school during their menstruation (hence the name "Days for girls") and the sad reality is- an uneducated girl is prone to continue the cycle of poverty ...
When girls don't understand why they bleed, they also don't understand how babies are made... With no "control" over their bodies they effectively have no control over their lives and so the cycle continues. This is big stuff ... this could revolutionise the way we deal with the cycle of poverty ... and it all needs to be talked about. Period.
So now that we've chatted about all this "real stuff" ... You may be interested to know that we, the humble souls at Head, Heart and Hand "Heart-quarters" along with our bloody beautiful volunteers (made up of women, men, boys and girls) aim to provide 10,000 students across Siem Reap with access to wash houses, hygiene education and "Days For Girls" education and kits... Basic Hygiene = Profound Change!
The thing is we can't do this alone. (FYI I reckon most things are better shared!!) We continuously need volunteers to keep our mission alive and it's not just to provide opportunities for our beautiful friends in Siem Reap, its not just about saving lives, empowering lives and breaking the cycle of poverty ... our mission is also about flicking a switch on in our volunteers so they can role-model to their friends, fam, community and networks that "service to others" is the most graceful way to get outa' our Head and into our Heart...
Annnnnyway with love (and all that REAL stuff)