The Aunties

By Lois Shaw, Executive Director


In East Africa, it’s usually the Aunties who tell young women about sex and womanhood and how to know whether a boy is worthless or worth considering.

When it gets to be about “that time,” young girls are whisked away and taught everything. In the dark shadows of those magical times, FGM often takes place. A good thing gone brutal. It’s a rite of passage; another milestone on the journey to womanhood. Girls return to the village with the dignity of knowing.

A mother receives her daughter back home with the knowledge that unspoken things are now understood, and nothing more needs to be said. The Aunties have done their work.

But change is coming—there are better ways. 

Today Africa by Design Safaris honors five “Aunties” who recently visited from Sault Saint Marie, Ontario, Canada. These Aunties—Holly, Sylvie, Diane, Jeannine and Sheree—met with hundreds of young girls in Nairobi, Kenya, over the course of three weeks to give them a gift that could change their lives. 

Days for Girls is a grassroots organization that sews delightful, colorful and reusable feminine products for girls. The supplies come in fun, over-the-shoulder bags with sensible instructions. For girls in poor communities, these products can make the difference between graduating from high school or not. If you don’t have money, water, or supplies to manage your period, you stay home. If you miss five days of school per month because of your period, you’re not going to do well academically. Days for Girls mobilizes women volunteers to sew products that meet these girls’ needs on the most practical level, allowing them to experience greater freedom of opportunity.  

When our friends from Ontario arrived with Days for Girls supplies in tow, the products weren’t what amazed me most—it was the “Five Aunties” themselves. They were four retired teachers and one retired nurse. They walked into classrooms and girls’ groups and in no time had the girls laughing, telling their stories and engaged in understanding these new products. No questions were off the table.

The girls would come arm-in-arm out of the classrooms, looking free, relieved and hopeful. For some, I wondered if this was their rite of passage, their day of empowerment.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, we’re grateful for these Aunties and the many more like them—those who come alongside our girls and help nurture them into the women of the future.

Thank you, Aunties!