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Meet the Girl Scout Fighting Period Poverty

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Sarah Mercado partnered with UNICEF and Save the Children Fund to educate communities throughout the world about sustainable feminine hygiene so girls can stay in school.

By Emily Benson, Photos courtesy of Sarah Mercado 

Period poverty affects women throughout the world. The exorbitant cost of period products, combined with the prevalence of vaginal infection, has become a pressing issue often overlooked by the international community. For her National Gold Award, Girl Scout Sarah Mercado tackled this little-known issue head on.

Mercado, who earned her award with the Girl Scouts of Central Texas, first learned about this global issue in 2014.

“Once I did more research, I found out how prevalent [period poverty]is,”  Mercado says. “Girls can miss up to 20 percent of school a year and some end up dropping out [of school]entirely. That stuck with me.”

Pads and tampons are considered luxury goods in certain areas of the world. While some countries are now passing legislation to make pads and tampons free for students, many women in developing countries are unable to obtain safe, affordable menstrual products. According to a CNN report, the average Tanzanian woman allocates nearly 10 percent of her salary toward sanitary pads each year. Many Tanzanian women resort to using rags and other handmade cloth products, which are not absorbent enough to withstand period flow and can often result in urinary tract infections because of the inability to wash them properly throughout the day.

“I learned about the UNICEF WASH program, where they go to communities around the world and teach them about [washable pads],” Mercado says. “When I found out about it, I wanted to help. [UNICEF] helped me partner with Save the Children Fund. I was enabling the community that had already learned to make sure that they are properly taking care of themselves.”

Mercado was already sending supplies but wanted to help facilitate workshops in person. With the assistance of Save the Children Fund, Mercado instructed classes in rural Bolivia, teaching how to sew washable pads, which can easily prevent infection. By encouraging family members and men to attend these sessions, Mercado helped destigmatize discussions about basic feminine hygiene in affected communities.

“I speak Spanish, so I was looking for where in the world I [could] help,” Mercado says. “I wanted to impact these communities on a personal level. Speaking their own language is one way to do that. I was willing to go anywhere in the world, but I ended up going to South America.”

Mercado is currently attending the University of Texas and will spend the next year as an ambassador for Girl Scouts of the United States of America, inspiring young women throughout the country to be more proactive. A young entrepreneur, she has her sights set on honing her business smarts to one day run her own nonprofit.

“I’m currently studying business in college,” Mercado says. “My logic is that I want to make my project into a nonprofit in the future. I want to understand the business side so I can [continue to] help these girls.”

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