By Lizzie Knothe
For the last few months, I have been working with Lily, specifically on a special project called “Pulseras de Poder” or “Power Bracelets” These bracelets help explain the menstrual cycle. The bracelets are straightforward and simple: 28 beads for the 28 days of the cycle, 3 different colors to determine neutral time, ovulation, and menstruation, along with a moveable charm to allow for counting the beads to keep track of the days. No need to read nor write, only to remember to move the little charm each day.
Working with women and girls on this project has been a huge learning experience. Almost everyone I speak with is familiar with the concept of what is known here as “la regla” or the menstrual period, yet not everyone is comfortable talking about it. Statistics show that nearly 90% of women here in Nicaragua lack menstrual education, or view their period as a disease. 1 in 4 girls in Nicaragua will become a teen mom, yielding one of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world. Lily is set out to change this. I have the privilege of teaching women about their bodies, and sharing Lily’s mission that everyone has a RIGHT to a healthy life, and that healthy life happens with empowerment through education.
I always like to make a few things clear when talking about the menstrual cycle. These would be the things I would like to leave as a message to the women and girls of Nicaragua:
1. Periods are normal. They are a sign that your body is healthy.
2. Periods are POWERFUL. With periods come responsibility. It is our responsibility as women to take good care of ourselves, be prepared, and be safe.
3. Simply because a girl has received her period does not make her an adult. Yes, periods can be viewed as a rite of passage from girl to woman, but many outside factors are involved in becoming an adult, such as emotional maturity, financial independence etc.
4. Women are in charge of their own bodies and decisions. The choice to have unprotected sex resulting in a pregnancy is a choice, but it requires 2 people and therefore should result in shared responsibility.
5. Motherhood is a beautiful, powerful thing. However, motherhood is not the sole purpose of women, and being a mother is not the only thing that defines a woman. Waiting to be a mother until she is ready, or deciding motherhood is not for her does not mean she has any less value as a human being.
Women and girls, every day that I speak with you, I am in awe of your strength.I empathize with many of the difficulties that come with being a woman, particularly a woman living in a culture dominated by machismo values, however, there are some things I could never empathize with. To those things I say: remember you are strong, you are worthy, you are brave. You can do hard things, and don’t let anyone ever tell you differently. The Lily Project cares about you, and lastly, you are enough.
Yes she can!
We have met and helped so many wonderful girls at our clinics. But every so often we meet a girl like Ingrid who brings joy to our work. In the villages we serve, more than one-third of girls will have her first child before she turns 18, so Ingrid sticks out. She is 17 and instead of becoming a mom, she dreams of being a doctor so she can improve the health of her community. We know one reason Nicaragua has such a high rate of adolescent pregnancy is girls don't see how they can have a future that is different from the norm - which is why we are determined to show them...Yes They Can!
We are committed to help fund Ingrid's university education and mentor her throughout her program. The good news is tuition is free for public universities in Nicaragua. But for families who live on less than $2/day, it is the cost of everything else - housing, food, books, computer - that keep it out of reach. It won't take much, less than $2,500 a year, to get her to her dream.
Check out Ingrid's video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=go9VizCBiPE&t=7s
Normally, I don’t make a big deal about birthdays. They come and go each year; but, this year is special, and I wanted to write you all and tell you why. If you’ve been following us at The Lily Project, I’m sure you’ve heard a little about me. As you know, the name Lily came from my mother who passed away from cervical cancer in 2008. In 2013, when we first thought of a way to help women in Nicaragua overcome this terrible disease, it was a BIG dream. And you all know about dreams: they come and go. But you know what? This dream stuck around, and it turned into a reality.
As of July 2017, we’ve served over 5,000 women. We accomplished that with just one small team over a two-year period. Of those 5,000 women, we saved more than 120 lives by delivering a simple low-resource therapy to them directly in their villages. And I’m not talking about just a couple of villages. We’ve visited and developed relationships with ladies, young and old, in more than 60 villages throughout Northern Nicaragua. That means more than 10,000 women and girls have been exposed to the sexual health and empowerment education we’ve delivered as well. Now, as we roll into 2018, we’ve added a new team, and we’re expecting to double these achievements over the next year.
So what does all this have to do with birthdays? Well, on September 28th, I will turn 29. Yes, the infamous last year of my 20’s. Everyone has told me that this final year of a special decade will bring reflection and change as I prepare for my 30’s. Well, its true…and it has already begun! When I think about the thousands of women I’ve encountered –so very similar to my mother- and I think about the hundreds that have been saved, I’m so thankful to have this opportunity to give back, to help, to reach out to the ones in need. Most importantly, I’m grateful to have the support of all of you. You all have made this dream into a reality. While my hands have been busy, your open hearts have been full of love and support for my people -the women and girls of my country- and you have enabled me to carry out our mission to save the ones in need. I know at times its not easy. The world is a big place. Yet, you all have been there for me. I cannot thank you enough, and I look forward to sharing the great things we’ll accomplish together over the next decade.