Blood sisters - The Red Box Project
There's a certain feeling you get when it dawns on you that something is just plain wrong. You've experienced it, I guarantee. It's a potent combination of anger at life's injustice and guilty shame that you should have known about this, but you didn't.
No good, kind soul can live with the feeling. So you rant, donate a tenner, share a few social media links. Comment. Or sometimes you roll up your sleeves and put things right.
The Red Box Project came from this exact feeling. Anna, Jo and I were sat round a kitchen table, speechless, as we learned that young women were skipping school because they have their period and don't have sanitary products.
In the UK.
In the 21st century.
In the world's 5th biggest economy.
Disadvantaged young women who need their education because it's their ticket up and out of poverty.
We'd met volunteering on a poorly thought through, chaotic initiative sending aid to Aleppo and were all on the same page: charitable projects need to be tightly researched, planned, targeted and - holy grail, this - sustainable. We also wanted a way of helping thousands of young women.
The Red Box Project goes like this:
Women from the community sponsor and stock a red box in a local school, filling it with sanitary products and spare pants.
The box provides sanitary products for disadvantaged young women throughout their entire period. Whole packets, not just one or two. Paper bags are included for discretion. Pants are tucked in, just in case.
Posters in the girls' toilet signpost the box, which is kept by an appropriate member of staff.
At Red Box HQ we manage the overall project, provide artwork, advice, support and guidance. Each coordinator is responsible for her own area or school and is pretty much autonomous. It's a kind of charity franchise set up.
Our coordinators approach local schools themselves, though we are seeing a sharp increase in schools coming to us, asking for a red box.
Fundraising is very light because the whole concept is donation based, ideally with a number of donors giving just one or two packs a month.
The project was very carefully designed to meet a specific need in a low frills, effective way. We are highly focused and stick to our key objective, no matter how tempting it is to diversify.
Our coordinators are a joy! Many have never done anything like this before and it's so good to watch them grow in confidence and develop new skills.
In fact, this is something that we didn't really foresee and which makes us so happy: the project has enabled women to blossom in their own right whilst reaching out to their disadvantaged sisters in a practical and truly kind way.
The Red Box Project is essentially community kindness, women to young women. Their education matters and so does their dignity. One year in and with over three hundred boxes in schools across the UK, we really feel that we're making a tangible difference.
Let's make this the last generation of young women to suffer the humiliation of period poverty.