Ikura/Manaakitia te whare tangata, New Zealand’s world-first period products in schools initiative, has been available to all schools since June 2021.
Concerned by the environmental impacts of mainstream period products, Wairarapa charity Divine River has been busy upcycling towels, loose fabrics, and plastics into free eco period pads to distribute to local schools.
Carterton School, Southend, Dalefield, Hadlow, St Patrick’s, and Douglas Park are some of the schools Divine River has donated products to.
Divine River has also hosted educational workshops for students in years five to eight to construct their own reusable sanitary towels and single wet bags.
Co-founders Lisa Birrell and Joanna Hehir said they are working on longer-term pilot programmes educating young people on social regenerative enterprise.
“We’re working with tamariki and rangatahi [children and young people] to look at ways to take something that would potentially go to landfill that has reached the end of its useful life and then repurpose that into something that is useful for them, or their whānau or their community,” Birrell said.
“We handed out 300 eco period pads in the past couple of weeks and that replaces 30,000 disposable pads that don’t potentially go into landfill.”
“And if we can do that on a national scale, then the benefits are huge.”
Divine River collaborated with Carterton District Council in March to convert old event flags into bin covers as part of a broader waste management scheme.
“So it’s taking those concepts and ideas of how we can take something that would just end up in landfill, and giving it a new lease of life,” Birrell said.
Year eight students from Hadlow School in Masterton said the workshops with Divine River made them more environmentally conscious, more empowered to make their own choices, and more open to discussing shared female experiences.
Deputy mayor of Carterton and Divine River trustee Dale Williams said his generation is on the way out, not in.
“The conversation’s moved rapidly on from ‘is there climate change’ and ‘whose fault it is’ to ‘let’s accept that the extremes are there and we’ve got to be doing as much as we possibly can to improve the sustainable future for everybody’,” Williams said.
“Youngsters at schools like [Carterton School], they’ve got their whole life ahead of them and they’re really aware of the world that they want to live in, and they can play an active part in it.”
Divine River has a team of volunteers who meet regularly to “stitch and bitch”.
Volunteer Theresa McClymont said getting through periods had been a perennial problem for women worldwide since time immemorial.
“When I was young, tampons were around, but they were quite expensive,” McClymont said.
“So most people used these awful pads that you attach to an elastic belt around your waist and you sort of struggled through the day and didn’t know where to put it because they didn’t have nice little bins like they do now for you to put them in at lunchtime.”
McClymont said producing environmentally-friendly alternatives with Divine River was both a sociable and worthy cause that she firmly believes in.
Through conversations with volunteers, Divine River realised their products can also benefit women suffering incontinence, a medical condition largely impacting mothers who had given birth, as well as women over 60.
Birrell said plans are underway to develop a research project with the local aged care facility and DHB incontinence nurse to create a product that could help those suffering incontinence – and “hopefully bring a bit more dignity around it too”, Birrell said.
Divine River hope to have open conversations with central government about supporting the existing initiatives with little minimal costs – and, Birrell pointed out, “working with a system that’s made great change happen for our rangatahi and tamariki, and enhance that”.
– Watch: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jQn6zL4YAo
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.