That's the Spirit: Days for Girls Group - Coonabarabran

The Coonabarabran chapter of global women’s health initiative, Days for Girls, gathers every few weeks in a humble hall where the production of sustainable menstrual care kits for women and girls in third world countries and remote communities in Australia is just one aspect of the project. Over a cuppa and some seriously good baked treats, the group tells how the regular get-togethers connect them with not only women in third world countries, but with each other.

 

Note: This interview was conducted by That's the Spirit's JEN COWLEY, with the whole group – no individual member’s comments are singled out in the transcript. The group answered the questions collectively, with Nancy Wiese (team leader) agreeing to be the conduit for communication with the That’s the Spirit project. All participants in the group were aware of the purpose of the discussion and that it was being recorded.

These are the answers of individuals within the collective – none of the comments are attributed to any particular person in the group. 

What do you enjoy about Days for Girls?

 

Friendship. Definitely the friendship.

 

Great morning teas! (Laughing)

 

Catching up on all the gossip! (More laughing)

 

The satisfaction of doing something that’s worthwhile.

Days for Girls Group, Coonabarabran. Photo by NALAG NSW.

Were you all friends before you joined the group? 

 

Oh, no. Gosh no. But we’re all friends now. We are, aren’t we? (laughing)

 

In a town this size, you at least know OF everyone, but you don’t necessarily know them as friends. I’ve met and made friends with people I wouldn’t otherwise have really spent much time with because our lives are different.

 

It’s lovely to come into town to a group rather than just to do chores or errands or to pick up some part or something.

 

I love it. I look forward to it. It means I can get off the farm – I work with men, so it’s just great to get into town and have some female company.

 

What we’re doing for the Days for Girls (project) is great and it’s good to know what we do makes a difference, but we get just as much out of it as we give, don’t we girls?

 

It’s like with the other things we do – like Driver Reviver and Meals on Wheels and Cooinda (aged care facility). You get what you give, don’t you?

And why do you do these community-based things, like Days for Girls and other activities and causes?

 

Because you get a phone call and someone says they need you. So you go. (Everyone laughs.)

 

There is an element of that, in that you know if they’re asking they’re doing so because there’s a need, and you just respond to that need. But it’s also because it’s something that YOU need. You keep doing these things because you enjoy doing them – it satisfies a need in your life too.

 

You have to do things you enjoy and if others appreciate what you do, then that’s good too.

 

Life isn’t all just about taking things all the time. It’s about giving as well.

Do you think that spirit of giving is what helps keep regional small communities strong?

 

I think the spirit of giving exists in individuals no matter where they are – city people are good people too. But I think collectively, when we do it together, it’s more effective in a small town like Coonabarabran.

Days for Girls Group, Coonabarabran. Photo by NALAG NSW.

Coona has a way of wrapping its arms around you. We’ve been away for 13 years…

(Group: Don’t worry, we still love you!” – laughing) and we’ve come back and people see you and welcome you back. It’s almost as though you haven’t been away. It sort of envelops you. Embraces you. You know that people know you and care about you.

 

I would say that the spirit of giving is becoming a thing of the past, though. Younger people aren’t interested in that type of giving. They’re happy to run a particular function – say, something to raise money for cancer – and they do that, but they don’t want to go along to meetings and all that stuff.

 

It’s difficult for the younger ones too, because they’re working and they’re running households at the same time. We had a couple of young ones here as part of this group, but they’ve now had children, so you can understand why they can’t always come.

 

We came here to Coonabarabran 16 years ago and only knew one or two people. It’s the sort of place where, if you fell down in the street and hurt yourself, there’d be someone there not only to pick you up and help you, but who would say “Oh, that’s so-and-so’s mum or daughter” or whatever, and they’d get in contact with your family.

 

That’s a really comforting thing, knowing that there’s people around who will look out for you.

What do you think are some of the misconceptions about Coonabarabran?

 

That it’s a one-horse town. That it’s boring. That nothing happens.

 

The thing is that in a smaller community, like Coona, there aren’t as many people, but the organisations are still here so lots of people get involved.

 

Not everybody gets involved…

 

Well, no, not everybody. But a lot of people are involved with many things. That’s what makes it hard for young people too, to a degree – their lives are so full that they simply can’t be involved with everything. And sometimes they might think there’s an expectation that they get involved in everything.

 

They also need to put their own stamp on things. Take the CWA that I’m involved with in (a nearby village) – they’re mostly farmer’s wives, and a much younger group, and they’re really energetic and very active. They hate the formality of meetings but they understand the need for structure and that a certain amount of formality has to go on, but they make it fun. It’s much better than it was in the previous era, when things were very formal – we sang the national anthem, and all that crap.

 

Yes! It’s not appealing to young people, all that structure. I’m a Rotarian as well, and we’ve done away with a lot of that stuffy structure. We know we need to be more inclusive. Fortunately, Rotary clubs are autonomous, so each individual club can decide how it runs.

 

I think that’s a debate we really need – some people like the tradition, and a lot of people feel comforted by tradition, which can be good to a certain degree. But those of us that are in community-based organisations that rely on membership, well we all need to look at what the people who aren’t coming along would need from the club or organisation, and try to meet those needs. Or at least look at what interests them.

 

Doing away with tradition doesn’t always work. Change for change’s sake isn’t necessarily a clever way to do things.

Going back to Days for Girls, what do you think is the benefit of being involved in this group?

 

Being here is a win-win, no doubt about it. The women who eventually will be given the things we’re making here have a great need, and it’s nice that we’re able to help with that need. But we’re also benefitting because we’re doing something productive but also enjoying the company of the group.

 

There’s no pressure, there’s no hard and fast parameters. There are no rules about joining. You can be anything – any age or religion or creed or colour or nationality or whatever. We’re here to enjoy each other’s company and to produce something for people who are in need.

It’s also really fun, and you are surrounded by all these lovely different colours (of fabric). I don’t think people realise just how colour can affect you. Say if we had all blacks and greys and browns, I’ll bet we wouldn’t be nearly as happy and chatty as we are! 

 

The colours really do boost you. There’s been a number of times that I’ve dragged myself in here thinking, I’m absolutely buggered, you know? But then you’re here for half an hour and you’re running ‘round and chatting and doing things and you’ve forgotten everything else and you’re feeling much more energetic.

 

One of the really nice things is that you don’t have to be able to sew to be part of the group or be productive. There’s lots of other jobs, so anyone can come and be part of it.

Days for Girls Group, Coonabarabran. Photo by NALAG NSW.

And there are all kinds of people involved – all walks of life. We have one lady who’s over 90 and she still comes, and we also have some younger ones too, young mums.

 

People who can’t come for whatever reason – work or other commitments - will often pop some money in the bank for us, and that’s really important too. It also means that people feel they can contribute even if they can’t physically come to these days. There’s something for absolutely everyone to do.

How do you think being involved with the Days for Girls project has impacted your world view?

 

There are so many different aspects to Days for Girls.  Through the product we’re making, we’re also engaging women in other countries to be able to learn more, to stand up for themselves and to be productive. And that’s in their own country.

Days for Girls is very strong on starting what they call “enterprises” (micro businesses), and that the enterprise is sustainable. That’s their top priority. That gives women – and men are getting involved too, especially in Cambodia – an opportunity for training and learning. The program helps give them skills in how to do the books, how to organise things and manage people and be a leader in their community, and to make their own money – then they can employ other people.

Days for Girls Group, Coonabarabran. Photo by NALAG NSW.

It’s a whole thing – a holistic approach. We’ll never run out of a need to make these (feminine hygiene) kits but it’s about teaching them how to use them and the hygiene aspect of it and all that goes with that.

The primary aim in the beginning was to keep girls in school, and to encourage them to get an education so that they can then have rights and so forth. Education is everything, no matter where you are. So it’s not just sending sanitary products.

 

We’re educating these girls so that maybe, you never know, they might not be forced into marrying these old men, and maybe they won’t have as many children, and maybe those children will actually survive and thrive. So that would help stabilise the population.

 

Also, once women are educated, they can push for the right to vote.

 

Educate a woman, you educate a family. Educate a man and you educate… a man! (Laughter.)

And we’re doing all that from right here in Coonabarabran… over morning tea!

*This interview was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the introduction of social distancing measures.

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