Brittany Carpenter (left) and Emma Weiss (right) in Haiti

Remember that class in elementary school where they separated girls from the boys, and talked about menstruation? If you were a girl in the class, you probably giggled to hide some of the awkwardness, but you learned a lot, too.

Now imagine that you didn’t have a class like this, your female relatives never talked about menstruation – and pads and tampons weren’t available in any store. What would happen when you had your period? Would you know how to handle it? Would you even be able to attend school?

Four students in the AA1 program’s Art of Science class tackled this sensitive issue with ProjectP, an adaptation of a program that SUNY Broome alumna Allie Schmidt helped implement in Uganda. Two of the AA1 students – Brittany Carpenter and Emma Weiss – took the program to Haiti, where they put it into action.

ProjectP in Haiti

“We taught women and girls about puberty and why the body is going through changes,” Carpenter explained.

“Even adult grown women were asking us questions. They don’t have classes like we do here on puberty,” Weiss added.

Carpenter, Weiss and teammates Sarah Sherman and Hector Lopez adapted the iRise program to teach girls and women about their anatomy, menstrual cycle and reproductive health. They also created kits to that the women could sew their own reusable menstrual pads; in this, they were aided by local sewing groups who tested the template and patterns, donated materials and supplies, and made some pads to share with the girls. They also created a website, https://www.projectp.org/, to share their work, as well as the patterns and templates for homemade menstrual pads.

Making menstrual pads

Carpenter and Weiss joined the Health for Haiti class this January to implement the project. Working with an amazing translator – SUNY Broome alumna Esther St. Louis – they delivered the program in three communities, reaching more than 75 girls and women, Professor Jennifer Musa said. To help explain anatomy, they brought models from the college’s biology department.

“We learned that most girls, especially the ones at the orphanages, knew nothing about their period and that it is often very frightening and shameful for them,” Dr. Musa said. “None of the women and girls we worked with knew the correct anatomy, so the models were very enlightening for them.” 

All four students are former classmates; they attended Johnson City High School, and learned about the AA1 program from fellow JCHS grad Stella Safari. In her senior year of high school, Weiss decided to come to SUNY Broome to discover her interests and options. It worked; she plans to transfer to New York University, Cornell University or Ithaca College and major in clinical psychology.

“It’s challenging. It definitely opens your eyes to the vast education you can receive,” Carpenter said of the AA1 program, which allows students to complete their associate’s degree in a single year. She’s not sure of where she’s transferring yet, but plans to major in biology and ultimately physical therapy.

While Carpenter worked with a nonprofit in high school, Health for Haiti marked the first time that she and Weiss could travel to another country to work with people in need. The opportunity to put their project in place was deeply meaningful, they said.

And while Haiti and the United States have cultural differences, some scenes remain the same – such as the embarrassed giggles in puberty class.

“Even here in the U.S., you kind of laugh,” Carpenter said. “They were just as immature as I was when we first learned about it.”

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