During the UK’s first national COVID-19 lockdown — which started on March 23, 2020, and ran for about three months — many people dealing with a world of virtual quizzes and daily jogs decided to take up a hobby to stave off boredom.
Whether that meant power walking or picking up a sourdough starter, there was a flurry of activity. But for 20-year-old Ella Lambert, from Chelmsford in Essex, the extra time on her hands led her to help refugee women living in camps in Greece and Lebanon.
She borrowed a sewing machine, learned how to sew, and launched a sanitary pad distribution charity in March — which has now helped fight period poverty by providing over 600 refugees with essential products.
Lambert, a student at the University of Bristol, told the BBC that she suffers from awful period pains. Her experience motivated her to think about what other people around the world were going through with their periods.
“In March I had terrible period pain, I was being sick, it was awful, and it made me think, I know I'm not the only person going through this,” she said.
"The people I want to help in these camps, they're experiencing period pain and having to use random tissue paper, cardboard, socks, scraps of material, and even leaves — whatever they can get hold of," she continued.
So Lambert put a call out on Facebook for materials to make her own sanitary pads. She launched her charity in March, and by August it was ready to distribute Pacha Pads — reusable cloth sanitary pads that can be washed and used for about five years.
Nearly 2,500 pads sewn by 150 volunteers have now been sent to camps in Greece and Lebanon, she said, with four given to each woman at a time.
The organisation’s website explains that the Pachamama Project — named after the Inca goddess of fertility for Indigenous people in South America — is now building a network of volunteers to help sew, collect, and distribute the sustainable pads. “Our pads are easy to make and will, we hope, make a huge difference to people already facing unimaginable daily challenges,” the website says.
“We actively encourage young people in the UK, who may be interested in working in the not-for-profit sector in the future, to get involved with our project and build their skillset,” it continues.
Some of the people sewing the pads are volunteers who had initially been involved in call-outs to make scrubs for NHS health workers at the start of the pandemic when appropriate clothing for health staff was in short supply, Lambert explains, as that project created a lot of community sewing hubs.
The pads Lambert receives from volunteers go through quality checks and are then distributed to charities working in refugee camps, such as the Free Shop Lebanon, a pop-up store that provides clothes for free in Beirut.
In Greece, the project provides pads to two charities, Becky’s Bathouse and the Azadi Project, both based on the island of Lesvos, where the largest refugee camp in Europe was located before it was destroyed in a fire last year.
Katy Chadwick, a technical adviser at Action Aid UK, a nonprofit that works with women and girls living in poverty globally, said: "For too many women and girls and people who menstruate a lack of access to products impacts on their ability to move freely and to access education and other opportunities.
She added: "It's encouraging to see new initiatives to support the most marginalised women and girls access sustainable products."