Background: The Kwek Society, an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) organization with a 5- person board of directors, including two Citizen Potawatomi kwe’k (women), provides menstrual supplies to Native American girls attending rural schools and strives to build and maintain an active community committed to supporting the health and academic success of Native American girls and the well-being of all Native American women and girls. In my private (non-governmental) capacity I founded The Kwek Society last year.
I am enrolled Citizen Potawatomi living in Arlington, Virginia (my Native name is Ojindiskwe/Bluebirdwoman), and also an elected legislator for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a human rights lawyer.
The Kwek Society has a formal partnership with the Central Consolidated School District in Northwestern New Mexico, which serves Navajo Nation students. Through our partnership, The Kwek Society furnishes menstrual supplies to CCSD schools.
This is a report on our end of April 2019 site visit to the CCSD schools. Lisa Witt, a Kwek Society Board member who resides in Albuquerque, joined me for the CCSD site visit.
Purpose of our visit: The purpose of our visit was to meet with our key contacts at CCSD to better understand how the period supplies (pads, tampons, first-period/moon bags, period-education books, and underwear) we have been providing CCSD students through nurses and health aides are being distributed and whether the supplies we are sending meet the specific needs of the students at each of the CCSD schools.
As you will see from exploring this website and can read in an article about the founding of the Society that appeared in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s HowNiKan (January 2019 edition, p. 12), we also serve students at schools in Oklahoma and South Dakota. As I write this, we support a total of 22 schools and local organizations, with at least 2 more schools (Sovereign Community School in Oklahoma and Red Cloud Indian School in South Dakota) partnering with us by August 2019. Reports on our current work are posted to A Mighty Girl’s website and on Today.com. The Kwek Society’s approach is to speak directly and often with our contacts at our partner schools to understand the specific items their students need and are comfortable using — we strive to keep updated about what the particular student population we are serving needs from us.
Another goal of our site visit was to put faces to names to enhance future coordination. The Kwek Society has an agreement with the CCSD Superintendent to serve all CCSD schools (except the Early Childhood Center) — that’s 15 schools, with many terrific health aides and nurses to get to know! Our initial introduction to CCSD came through Navajo Nation Delegate Amber Crotty; we were pleased to meet with her during our CCSD site visit to brief her on our work with CCSD and other school districts and to discuss the possibility of expanding to other schools serving Navajo Nation members and their fellow students.
Substance of our Visit and Takeaways: On April 29, 2019 we started our site visit by meeting with Director Laura Huish, Coordinator of Student Support, Student Support Services, and key CCSD health nurse contacts Cathy Manus, Carla Garcia and Melissa Christianson to thank these women for their ongoing assistance in coordinating our shipments of period supplies to CCSD and to receive their input about our donations to date. After that meeting, we visited the Kirtland Area elementary, middle and high schools with Cathy Manus and Carla Garcia. The next day, April 30, 2019, Cathy Manus served as our guide in visits to each of the Shiprock and Newcomb/Naschitti Area schools. We were able to speak with most of the CCSD school health aides and nurse contacts, and met some school principals, a number of counselors and one CCSD coach. We had not been providing supplies to Career Prep High School in the Shiprock Area but after meeting with Career Prep’s principal, health aides and other staff, we agreed to begin providing both menstrual supplies to students and infant care supplies, when these are available to us and/or our finances allow.
We saw where our supplies are being kept, reviewed inventory levels and spoke with staff about their approaches to ensuring that students have the menstrual supplies they need and are comfortable about obtaining them during the school day. We were pleased to see that, in most of the schools, pads and tampons are available in the health office bathrooms so students do not have to specifically ask a school nurse or health aide for what they need. The shared consensus among CCSD personnel was that The Kwek Society is providing what CCSD elementary, middle and high school girls need; we were received warmly, thanked profusely, and left eager to share with our donors just how valued The Kwek Society-CCSD relationship is. We spoke in some detail with CCSD staff about pad and underwear sizes, to ensure that all students have what they need.
Elementary and middle school staff expressed particular interest in receiving additional first-period/moon bags from us. These are cloth bags that some of our Potawatomi women and other seamstress friends make for us; we fill them with a few menstrual supplies and a card stating “It’s Time to Celebrate.” We were told that the students appreciate the bags’ small size — they are small enough for students to fit discreetly in their pocket or backpack — and go a long way to reducing anxiety of students anticipating their first periods and of older students who are concerned that they may find themselves at school without needed supplies.
In each of our meetings with health aides and nurses we stressed that we wish them to make our supplies available freely to students and to ensure that students take as much as they need in these last few weeks of school to take them through the summer months. That message was enthusiastically received. During our visit, we identified schools that need immediate re-supply before end of year and on May 5, 2019 we put in Amazon orders that should reach students by mid-May.
We look forward to returning to CCSD and its engaging personnel and students for a follow up visit during 2020. We invited CCSD personnel and students to follow us on Facebook (The Kwek Society), Twitter (@KwekSociety), Instagram (soon-to-be-live at “thekweksociety”) and online, and to reach out to us as needed. We expect press releases to issue from both CCSD and the Office of Navajo Nation Delegate Amber Crotty so our visibility in the community is enhanced.
Interested readers can find out more about us, and about ways you can help us #endperiodpoverty in rural Indian Country by visiting other parts of our site or by emailing us at email@example.com.