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Divine River responds to period product pollution

Male and female, young and old came together to learn how to upcycle and make their own sanitary products in Featherston recently.

Wairarapa MP  Kieran McAnulty attended Divine River’s workshop at Fareham Creative Space, to learn how to make a pad for his partner.

“Ultimately 50 per cent of the population at some point in their lives require sanitary products, and it’s a cost thing for many people,” he said.

“It’s also not all that environmentally friendly so Divine River’s found a solution to assist with both of those.”

Divine River is a charitable business running workshops throughout the Wairarapa region.

Co-founder and chair, Lisa Joanne Birrell, said the workshop aimed to create a conversation around periods, sustainability and reusable sanitary products.

“We just want to introduce these ideas and the ways of doing these things,” she said.

The pilot programme was created alongside students from Greytown’s Kuranui College.

Students were encouraged to take part in an open forum on sustainability and period politics.

“We had 52 students who came and 20 per cent of those identified as male,” Birrell said.

“They got to understand the environmental impact of these decisions we make, and we learned so much.”

Educating young girls about alternatives to disposable period products helped them make the choice right for them.

Divine River co-founder, chair and Designer, Joanna Hehir, said she wanted to introduce girls to reusable period products.

“To make them themselves is a really good option because it means that they get to talk about it while we’re doing community workshops and it’s a really lovely feeling to get together with women of different generations,” she said.

Sustainability was also a focus, with many period products resulting in substantial waste.

“Even with reusable period products, a lot of it can still have synthetic fibres in it and microplastics,” Birrell said.

“So when we wash them, that goes into the water system, goes into the sewage, goes into the oceans and can end up in our food if we’re eating fish.”

Divine River workshops are open to everyone, with no sewing skills needed.

“It’s really great when you can show somebody in two hours how to make a pad and they have that sense of achievement,” Hehir said.

The reusable pads are made from 100 per cent cotton, with donated towels and flannels for absorbency and the leakproof layer is made from upcycled compostable plastic.

Hehir said Divine River tried to use donated fabrics that were already lying around in somebody’s wardrobe, especially the old towels.

“It’s amazing how many people say, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s great, because otherwise I was just going to have to throw them out’,” she said.

McAnulty said the government’s Free Sanitary Products in Schools Program was a success.

“I think little things like that, and what Divine River are doing, it gives the opportunity to talk about it and just realise that there isn’t any stigma attached to this,” he said.

“It’s just nature, it’s what happens.”

“We might as well get behind it and try and make it as easy as and as comfortable for people as possible.”

Birrell said the social-enterprise direction of Divine River’s workshops was important for youth engagement.

“How they can take those [ideas] and either provide these products for their own community by some sort of enterprise within the school, or that they can make social enterprise businesses out of this,” she said.

“They can make them and they can make a living for themselves, but actually can be doing something really cool for their community too.”

McAnulty said Wairarapa was the perfect springboard for social enterprise.

“We’ve got so many little towns in this valley that have phenomenal communities and a really strong community spirit, and to be able to set up something that’s going to benefit so many people,” he said.

“But in a way that brings the community together and they can within themselves become self-sufficient and sustainable, I think that’s great.”

Divine River has completed 10-week courses at Fareham Creative Space, Kuranui and Makoura College.

In term two Divine River starts courses at Carterton and Southend Schools, with introductory sessions to be run in all Carterton and Featherston schools.

public interest journalism

Ellie Franco
Ellie Franco
Ellie Franco is Wairarapa’s Local Focus video journalist. She regularly covers in-depth stories on arts, culture, people, health, and the occasional pup.

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