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Published: 09-Mar-2017

Written by: Vicki Gabriel

In January 2017, the Mount Gambier SA AU Days for Girls team packed up 300 kits, made by their volunteers and headed to North Sumatra. We were travelling with Raw Wildlife Encounters (Raw), and contributing to the Priority Community Programs that run in conjunction with Raw. With a diverse team of eight, ranging in age from 19 years to 55+ and with our lone brave male Des in tow, we set off with a small degree of trepidation.

Our first delivery site was at Batu Mbelin where we had two distributions. Our first was in the village itself, which is very close to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) quarantine station, renowned for their rescue, rehabilitate and release work with the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan. Our second site was the district high school, where we were very well received by the students and teachers. Over 70 kits were distributed, including 3 post-partum kits for new mums in the village. A special mention to the baby of the team who did a physical demonstration of how to use your kit and had the ladies laughing and wanting to try themselves, well done Chelsea! We must thank our wonderful translator Ariesta who now also has a very detailed understanding of women’s anatomy, menstruation, incontinence, Kegel exercises and breast examinations, you're a treasure Ariesta! Ren spoke to the local ladies and ran our first distribution, she did a fantastic job of explaining the Days For Girls program and how, why and where the kits are made. Jules was just amazing with her charades and helping the ladies with a few personal issues, we were all very pleased she was with us! We found the women were very interested in the kits and we were all very humbled with their gentle and graceful thank-you's as they left.

We were incredibly lucky to visit and tour through SOCP and The Haven to see the amazing work they are doing there. It is heart-breaking to see so many displaced animals in one facility but as time goes on, the orangutans are either being readied to release or are being vetted and kept as healthy as possible with the intention to move them to The Haven eventually. It was a privilege to visit both sites and to have time to talk to Asril and Ian about their plans and visions for these beautiful animals. We all walked away with a greater understanding of the issues surrounding sustainable palm oil, community/animal conflict and the environment.

Our second delivery site was in the beautiful village of Batu Katak on a Friday night. We had a wonderful translator in Zhionna Lidya Pencawan, and once again there were lots of laughter and smiles. There were a lot of ladies present and we found their concerns about their periods, health and well-being were very similar to our own at one stage or another. Over 70 kits were again distributed, with 2 post-partum kits being handed out. We also had a couple of lovely R&R days of trekking, monkeys, orangutans and river tubing, bliss!

Our third delivery site was in the lovely village of Batu Rongring. We had two distributions here, one at the regional high school and one in the village itself. Thank-you to Vera for her help with translating and also Jessica McKelson for translating and her behind the scenes work helping us. Both distributions were very well attended and we were all pleasantly surprised! Sadly, we didn't have enough kits for those who came but we are making plans to make sure there will be another delivery to this site in the next 6 months. A big thank-you to Jompul who had the 70+ kits in a suitcase on the back of a motorbike and transported them over an hour to get them to us. This was our most challenging day as we had a lot of ground to cover between sites and it was done with us all sitting in the back of a small truck. By this delivery we were much more relaxed and confident in our presentations, and it must have rubbed off to the ladies in the village, they were rowdy, laughing and ready to chat the afternoon away!

We had started our day early helping to plant trees and build a fence with the children at the local primary school, Raw Wildlife Encounters has started a conservation class where the local kids will learn about the environment, their culture and heritage. This village is slowly being opened up to eco-tourism and we were incredibly lucky to be able to stay there while the area is still pristine and beautiful. This was a real treat and staying in lodges with no electricity and no running water was surprisingly relaxing! We walked through rivers, swam in waterfalls and watched some beautiful wildlife amongst the trees, a magical place to stay.

Our fourth and last delivery site was in our 'home' village of Tangkahan. This village holds a special place in our hearts and we were thrilled to be able to show and share it with our families. Once again our kits were well received by the students at Tangkahan English Club and we had local ladies come along to the outdoor class delivery as well. As well as the students of TEC, we were also able to give kits to the teachers this time. Thanks to Miss Leny for translating for us again.

At each delivery we would break into small groups after the kits were handed out and, led by one of our team, and go through the process again to cover any misunderstandings or uncertainties about the kits. We found this to be the best time for quiet questions from those who were shy or didn’t feel comfortable speaking up in the big group. It was great to see the whole team embrace their groups and to watch the interactions between the younger women, the older women and the team. I know most of us learnt something new somewhere along the line! We will endeavour to keep in touch with each area and will be getting a review in April regarding the kits, the women’s thoughts on the kits and any improvements or feedback they have.

We spent our last few days in Sumatra washing and feeding the elephants of CRU, river tubing, waterfall chasing and eating by the river. It was a lovely way to end a successful Days for Girls expedition and we look forward to returning one day to continue our association with Sumatra, Raw Wildlife Encounters and the beautiful people of North Sumatra.

A special thank you to everyone in our team in Mount Gambier, Penola and Adelaide. Whether it was sewing, washing, cutting or fundraising, it was always done with a smile and with love. To the fabulous team of January 2017, Chelsea Gabriel, Mandy King, Tracey King, Renee Pluckhahn, Des & Geraldine Pluckhahn & Julie Walker, you’re all amazing people and it was an honour and pleasure to be able to deliver these kits with you.


Vicki Gabriel

Click here to find out more about Days For Girls, Mount Gambier .

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