The Tooele Valley Rotary Club has reached across the world with a service project that has touched the lives of over 1,500 girls in India.
And it continues to grow.
Rosemary Hullinger, a Tooele Rotarian, traveled with a group of fellow Rotarians from Utah to Agra, India — home of the Taj Mahal — to initiate a program that teaches young women about maturation and personal safety.
Hullinger has made four trips to India since February 2016.
Tooeleans Mike Wells, Karlene Wells and Shauna Hoffman have traveled to India with Hullinger to help implement a Days of Girls program for girls in the public schools near Agra.
Days of Girls is an international program that teaches girls about menstrual health and provides them with a reusable feminine hygiene kit. The program originated in Kenya in 2008 when volunteer workers in an orphanage realized that girls in the orphanage lacked the education and supplies for proper hygiene. Today, the Days of Girls program reaches girls in over 125 countries.
Hullinger completed a training in the Days for Girls program before she headed off to India with a Rotary team that was doing polio vaccinations in 2016.
While in India, Hullinger found out that girls from low income families attending public schools do not receive any education on maturation and could not afford feminine hygiene products.
“It is a taboo subject there,” Hullinger said. “They just don’t talk about it. As a result, when girls start menstruating, they think they are sick or dying.”
Without money for hygiene products, girls are left to use whatever material they can find, like old rags and cow dung, according to Hullinger.
“Some mothers in India think this is how it was for me and my mother, it will work for my girls,” she said.
Girls stay home from school while menstruating, causing them to fall behind and miss exams, according to Hullinger.
“A lot of the girls would fall behind and drop out of school,” Hullinger said. “Between 60 to 70 percent of the girls dropped out before finishing school.”
Hullinger’s idea to bring the Days of Girls program to India almost got shut down before it started were it not for the influence of a Rotary connection.
Hullinger was is in India on a humanitarian service trip with Sharee Sharma, an India-born Salt Lake City resident and a fellow Rotarian.
Hullinger shared her idea to train girls in public schools on maturation with Sharma.
Sharma in turn shared one of the Days of Girls hygiene kits and Hullinger’s plan for education with Rahul Wadhwa, a member of the Agra Taj Mahal Rotary Club.
“Sharee told Rahul that he had a ‘crazy lady’ with him that had an idea,” Hullinger said. “After hearing the plan and Sharee trying to get Rahul to look at the hygiene kit, Rahul told Sharma to put it away — that he could not look at it because this was a taboo subject.”
But Sharma insisted, telling Wadhwa they were Rotarians and he had given his promise to Hullinger that they would do this, Hullinger said.
Wadwha eventually agreed to help. He talked to principals of schools around Agra and arranged to have girls bused in from surrounding schools to a school sponsored by the Agra Rotary Club for the maturation education program.
Initially the program was taught by Rotarians, in English with visual aids from Days of Girls, also in English.
“We had to work through translators,” Hullinger said.
The Days of Girls program includes anatomy, information on the menstrual cycle, personal hygiene, self defense, and sex trafficking.
Today, the Rotary-led teams are training native teachers to present the program and the visual aids have been translated into Hindee.
A total of 40 schools are involved with 80 teachers trained in the Days of Girls program.
“We’ve had a great response from the girls and their mothers,” Hullinger said. “Some of the mothers come to the training to get the information for themselves.”
Hullinger estimates that around 1,500 to 2,000 girls have been through the Days of Girls education program.
When Hullinger started the Days of Girls program in India, she would take feminine hygiene kits made of colorful reusable cotton and flannel with liners, shields, two pairs of panties, and a bar of soap, all in a cloth bag.
Hullinger and her fellow Rotarians have now trained women in India how to form small businesses to make and sell the kits.
“We’re trying to help them be self-sufficient,” Hullinger said.
With education and properly supplied for feminine hygiene, girls enrolled in public schools are able to stay in school and finish their education, according to Hullinger.
“Without an education and out of school, the girls are entered into an arranged marriage at a very young age by their parents,” Hullinger said. “It’s tradition. It’s the way it is done. With an education, the girls don’t marry until they are older and their education makes a big difference in their opportunities.”
As news of the Agra Days of Girls program travels through India, other cities in India have asked about bringing the program to their girls, according to Hullinger.
“Other Rotary Clubs will be working with other schools in India to provide the Days of Girls program to more schools in India,” she said.
Days of Girls in India isn’t the only service project that the Tooele Valley Rotary Club is involved in, according to Lorina Bishop, club president.
Locally, the Tooele Valley Rotary Club gives dictionaries to schools for every third grade student. They provide a dinner at least quarterly for the homeless at the Tooele United Methodist Church.
The Tooele Valley Rotary Club also holds an annual “Heads, Shoulders, Hands and Toes” golf tournament to raise money to provide vouchers for boots and coats for children in low-income families.
Internationally, the Tooele Valley Rotary Club supports a school in Puerto Penasco, Mexico.
For people interested in learning more about Rotary, the Tooele Valley Rotary Club meets at 12:30 p.m. on Mondays at Tooele Technical College.