THE Pin Pals patchwork quilt group who meet each Monday in Bishopstown GAA Club share a bond that is more tight-knit than any design in their magnificent quilts.
The group started meeting back in 2011 because one of them couldn’t find a piece of material she needed to complete her quilt. Now they meet because they are a sisterhood, supporting not alone each other but also school girls on the other side of the world.
“When I heard about girls left sitting on cardboard in their room in an orphanage for several days each month or confined to huts and labeled “unclean”, I wanted to know how the Pin Pals could help”, says Mary O’Regan from Ballincollig.
It was at a meeting of the Southern Branch of the Irish Patchwork Quilt Society in 2016 that the Pin Pals first came across the work of an organisation called Days for Girls. This not for profit global movement provides school girls in the Third World with a kit containing eco-friendly, colourful and washable cloth sanitary pads.
Hazel Armstrong, who is originally from Co. Waterford, came to the meeting to encourage members to get involved in the making of the kits.
“It took me a week of sleepless nights to try and figure out how to make the kits as there are no other volunteers in Ireland doing it. There is incredible attention to detail and it’s necessary to follow exact instructions”, says Mary.
“All of us in Pin Pals said we would sign up for the project with Mary but we didn’t know what we were letting ourselves in for”, laughs Assumpta Lydon., from Passage West.
“I was on quality control”, says Mary.
“We did feel that the instructions were ridiculously strict considering that we were doing it for free. However we came to understand that Days for Girls wanted everything to be right as the kits were being sent out to young girls”, acknowledges Assumpta.
Each kit is made up of an attractive drawstring knapsack containing two multi coloured, waterproof shields and eight cloth liners.
The shields have wings which fasten securely onto underwear.
The kit also provided the school girls with two pairs of bought underwear, soap, facecloth, menstrual chart and non verbal instructions.
“We all found something we were good at in making up the kit rather than making mistakes”, Siobhan Miller Stone, from Passage West points out.
“I’m the queen of the overlappers (a form of seam)”, jokes Assumpta.
“The materials are very expensive so we couldn’t afford waste”, says Mary.
There was a few swears and dark mutterings every time Mary approached with her measuring tape and ruler but the group’s painstaking efforts paid off.
“We got approval for every single item in the kit on our first attempt. Days for Girls told us that this was unheard of, and never happened before”, Mary proudly acknowledges.
Founded by American environmental engineer, Celeste Mergens in 2008, Days for Girls has worked tirelessly to perfect the kits and to provide health education for girls. Feedback from women and girls in Third World countries was vital to ensure that the kit would be acceptable in communities around the world “When people in Ireland hear what we are doing they want to know how they can help. People in the Irish Patchwork Society donated materials and bought things we needed like facecloths”, Assumpta points out.
“Men, women and children bring back the hotel soaps to us whenever they are on holidays”, says Mary.
Back in April 2018 a group of transition year students from Mount Mercy College in Bishopstown volunteered to help with the making of the knapsacks.
“They were a fabulous group of girls with a wonderful teacher. They even gave us a facilitator fee which we used to buy the flannel for the pads”, Mary points out.
The Mount Mercy girls were as enthusiastic about making the kits as the girls in the Third World countries are about receiving them.
“The girls are given the kits and empowered through education on how to use them”, says Mary.
Getting the kits to the girls who need them can be a headache but Mary is very resourceful. Herself and her husband Pat foster dogs for the Cork Dog Action Welfare Group.
Mary managed to persuade a Cork DAWG volunteer to take three boxes of the kits with them when they were bringing dogs to a shelter in England to be re-homed. The boxes were subsequently collected by a Days for Girls volunteer who is due to travel to a school in Northern India shortly.
“It was a privilege to work together as a group using our skills to help young school girls”, Siobhan points out.
Assumpta acknowledges that the Pin Pals has been a lifeline for her since her husband, Peter, died. Their youngest son was only eleven years of age at the time.
Mary Hynes came up with the idea of the patchwork quilters coming together to share their materials and expertise. They have gone on to share their memories, their laughter and their tears.
Over the years, the Pin Pals have gone on a road trip to America, celebrated each other’s birthdays, and generally have a whale of a time together.
Covid-19 has put a temporary stop to their gallop but the Pin Pals are looking forward to the day they’ll be up and running again.
“Monday will always be our favourite day of the week”, says Mary simply.
……………………… Mary O’Regan : (087) 6682641 www.daysforgirls.org