Having your period sucks. Period. Running to Walgreens once a month to get tampons or pads for Aunt Flo is annoying enough, but for many, it’s also a financial burden. Local 501(c)(3) nonprofit Be a Rose aims to help women break barriers, not the bank, when it comes to accessing feminine hygiene products.
When Christine Mwangi learned of the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, she also was shocked to hear that many women were struggling with lack of access to feminine hygiene products. She began researching this problem and became motivated to launch a project that would help address the issue of period poverty. In 2014, Be a Rose was born.
Inspired by Mwangi’s supportive paternal grandmother, Be a Rose set out to inspire, encourage and guide young girls and women in the midst of challenging times. While working with AmeriCorps at Bethany Christian Services, Mwangi created and piloted a workshop and curriculum on women’s health. Seventeen different countries were represented from the focus group’s participants of refugee women.
Mwangi spoke about the current lack of resources, despite being a universal need of nearly all women. “There’s not enough opportunity for women around the world, regardless of race, economic status, or education,” Mwangi said. “There’s not enough access to information regarding women’s health and their bodies.”
Be a Rose aims to fill that void by providing continual access to feminine hygiene products to various organizations throughout Grand Rapids. Partnering with businesses allows Be a Rose supplies to go directly to those in need, according to Mwangi.
“We wanted to be very intentional in how women who need our services can access us,” she said. “We found that women have various barriers that inhibit them from managing their health, or how they access their feminine hygiene products. For example, transportation, language barriers, cultural barriers, and even education barriers.”
Be a Rose has a small, but fierce staff of about 10-15, including interns and volunteers, and operates virtually. Its operating costs are low, but its reach is highly effective. In structuring the nonprofit, Mwangi made sure the system would be as inclusive as possible, given the community’s diverse demographics of women.
Partnering with Hispanic Center of West Michigan, homeless shelters, domestic abuse shelters, 70×7 Life Recovery, housing assessment centers, food pantries and inner-city schools, Be a Rose’s motto is “meeting women’s needs where women are.”
“We’ve already established that transportation is one of the biggest barriers in the population we serve, in terms of accessing services in the city,” Mwangi said. “So we don’t even put that on the backs of women who need our help. We go where they’re already going for other services.”
Though the need is evident, sometimes the topic of period poverty and lack of resources for feminine hygiene products remains a fairly silent topic. During the Be a Rose workshops, participants are encouraged to share their stories about puberty, their bodies, and their cultural beliefs. It’s through these stories that information and resources are tailored to each individual personally. The first step is getting the conversation going, according to Mwangi.
“The biggest reason to why there is a need for what we do is that the topic in which we address is very taboo,” Mwangi said. “And has been for a very long time. It’s that way across cultures – globally.”
Women’s rights, reproductive health issues and concerns have been rallied for spanning decades. For many women though, it’s a conversation they don’t have often enough. Many Be a Rose clients didn’t have a period talk until they had a period, and then when their daughter did, and so on.
“If you don’t talk to girls about their bodies and how they work, than you have a lot of side effects that result from that lack of conversation,” Mwangi said. “In addition, it’s become very complicated and complex, because people are not even addressing the topic of menstruation as it pertains to the transgender population. It adds layers on top of layers of how much there is silence of this topic.”
Through community partners like the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, this inhibiting language and cultural barriers are addressed head-on. Translators are on site to assist in the educational workshops and delivery of information and resources to those in need. Be a Rose delivers sanitary supplies to the Church of the Servants monthly food pantry as well – adapting services to specific needs.
Also utilizing her pharmaceutical background, Mwangi is able to assist with some medical knowledge as well.
“I feel so blessed that my education as a pharmacist has come in handy, because a lot of medical questions that they ask me on the spot – I am actually qualified and able to answer,” she said.
Be a Rose also recommends and refers women to local physicians and medical professionals in the area that serve patients without insurance. Uninsured women are the main demographic the nonprofit serves, and many don’t have a primary care doctor, let alone an OBGYN. Many of these women also do not have a permanent address, and their first priority is to feed their families, not have yearly preventive visits, like a PAP smear.
In today’s world, more than ever, Mwangi is aware of the need and spreading the importance and awareness of self-care and wellness. Being overworked and overstimulated via social media has led to a generation neglecting self-care.
Be a Rose is celebrating its second anniversary on Saturday, June 23 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Women at Risk International Headquarters, 2790 44th St SW, in Wyoming. The event includes brunch, a silent auction and photo booth. Guest speakers will be presenting on what historic attitudes say about women’s health, menstruation and how to move forward.
For more information, visit Be a Rose. Donations are being accepted through Be a Rose’s website, an Amazon Wishlist, and in-kind donations at product drop-off sites. Learn more about how you can help at Be a Rose’s Take Action.