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Pe Stop-or how a Romanian NGO is fighting period poverty

December... the month of the magical holidays and the end of a crazy year. We are dedicating this month to women who impacted the world, empowered us and other women to follow our dreams, and fight for them.

Today we are presenting you Irina Vasilescu, the founder of Pe Stop, an NGO in Romania that provides menstrual products to women in need. Period poverty still hits strong in many parts of the world. We admire and support organizations that took it upon them to fight against period poverty.

We had the pleasure to interview Irina and get insights about how an altruistic initiative can help so many women in need.

*Scroll down for the Romanian version

Tell me about yourself, who is Irina behind the Pe Stop?

I did a Bachelor’s and Master's degree in Psychology at the University of Bucharest. Coincidentally, my first job was with an NGO, which was followed by other jobs in NGOs and over time it became very clear to me that this was what I was meant to do with my life. I worked in 3 NGOs before I started with Pe Stop. I founded Pe Stop while I was working full time at the Seneca Association. At that time, I received a scholarship to go to the US, where I first handedly learnt how NGOs work and I thought: ok, if their department in the States trusts me, maybe I should trust myself too. So I resigned from Seneca and started working on Pe Stop full time. I lived on savings for 4 months, after which we managed to get Pe Stop on its feet and we received some funds. This allowed us to pay salaries and carry out our activity.

Furthermore, 2 years ago I started to be interested in psychotherapy and now I am training to become a psychotherapist.

How did you come up with the idea to create Pe Stop?

I saw a report about an American girl doing this in her small town. Monthly, she met with her friends and made packages of menstrual products for homeless women.

Then I wondered if anyone does this in Romania. When I found out that no one was doing it I decided to take initiative. I did a market study to find out how many menstrual products a person uses in a month and then I created some packages. I went to the central train station of Bucharest with these packages, where I knew there were several homeless people and I shared them. A few weeks later, Alexandra appeared and we started working together to create what is currently Pe Stop.

We want all people, in need of menstrual care products and accurate information on how to take care of themselves during menstruation, to have access to these things.

Who is part of the Pe Stop team?

The team consists only of volunteers, except for me. I am the only person employed, but in spring we will receive Norwegian funds. This allows us to employ 2 more people. We currently have 26 volunteers who help with everything: from packaging, acquisition, distribution, field trips for fundraising campaigns. They are the ones that make this NGO possible. Without volunteers, we couldn't have achieved so many things.

What does a Pe Stop package contain?

The package contains the following basic products: menstrual pads, disinfectant gel and masks (disposable or reusable). Depending on the funds for that month, we add underwear, wet wipes, dry wipes and condoms.

Who are the people who receive the Pe Stop Packages?

We help people living in vulnerable environments, often surrounded by poverty, who need constant support: from homeless people, to people living in abandoned houses or ghettos.

Their lives are extremely difficult, and the lack of menstrual products is an additional, but major obstacle that very few people think of.

For example, a poor woman who has no water and cuts her children’s too small and worn out clothes to make cloth pads, sees menstruation as a much greater obstacle than a middle-class woman, who has cramps for a few days and sends her boyfriend to buy her pads.

At the time when there was a social life, before the pandemic, these people endangered their social life and access to school, because they avoided leaving the house during menstruation for fear of staining and being ridiculed.

The more vulnerable a person is, the more obstacles regarding menstruation are amplified that otherwise seem minor.

What was the impact of Pe Stop in the lives of these women?

In January 2021 we celebrate 3 years of Pe Stop. During these 3 years we distributed between 8000-9000 packages. From 9 packages / month in 2018, we now are at 350-400 packages / month.

Usually we are helping the same people. We always try to reach the same people, because if we only go once and then leave, the impact is minimal. We are always concerned about sustainability, knowing that those women can depend on our support. We also hold menstrual hygiene courses where we can, also from the perspective of sustainability, in case something happens and we can no longer reach them. Ok, you no longer have pads, but no one can take the information on how to take care of yourself properly in any situation. If you receive the information once, it stays with you. We are currently working on making this impact as sustainable as possible.

Tell me more about these menstrual hygiene courses

We organize free menstrual hygiene courses for people from vulnerable backgrounds and paid courses for families who want to teach their children about menstruation. The income from the paid courses finance the free ones.

The menstrual hygiene course lasts an hour / an hour and a half and is suitable even for people who cannot read or write. This course contains basic information where women learn three main things: what is menstruation and why does it happen? How can I take care of myself during this period? What are the products that I could choose?

We provide these answers through games and images, by trying to create a safe space for confidentiality and relaxation. This allows for questions to be asked that normally would not be, as menstruation is considered to be a taboo.

You mentioned menstruation as a taboo. How big do you think this taboo is in Romania?

I think that in Romania menstruation is a big taboo but at the same time very subtle.

We were surprised during a paid course with children from middle-class families, where the mothers asked us not to mention certain things. I mean they wanted these children to learn about menstruation but they didn't want us to show them a pad, and one of the mothers even admitted to hiding her menstrual products from her little girl. But dude: that's the idea!

Unfortunately, the degree of ignorance is quite high and not only in vulnerable environments, but everywhere. This is one of the consequences of the lack of sex education in Romanian schools.

What menstrual myths have you encountered over time?

The most interesting myth, which I heard from several sources from different geographical areas is the myth of the 3 wood fences/ trees. If you stain 3 pieces of your wooden fence or 3 trees with menstrual blood when you first have your period, the period will always last for 3 days and you won’t have pain. I met 60-year-old women who said they did this and that it worked in their case.

Other common menstrual myths were the myth of the tampon (which makes you lose your virginity by tearing the hymen ) and the myth of washing (excessive local washing must be done during menstruation).

What are your future plans?

Our main goal is to consolidate and implement some changes that will remain in society. We want menstrual care products and information to be available to everyone, so we try to influence a change within the system. We want to expand into one or two larger cities (currently active in Bucharest and in rural areas). In the spring, we will start two projects in the rural area with the help of Norwegian funds. We are currently looking for an office where we can carry out our activity, this being one of our major needs.

We also want to expand our range of courses. Currently we only provide menstrual hygiene courses but we want to expand towards sex education and relationship hygiene.

How can we get involved in Pe Stop?

You can get involved through these initiatives:

  • Donations by bank transfer with which we buy monthly packages for vulnerable women.

  • Free redirection of 3.5% of the income tax or 20% of the profit tax of your business that would otherwise go to the government

  • Donating menstrual hygiene products to one of the cafes that we collaborate with in Bucharest: Energiea, Have a Cigar, J’ai Bistrot, Paninaro

  • Register as a volunteer to help with shopping, assembling and distributing packages

Romanian version of the interview

Buna Irina. Povesteste-mi despre tine.

De cariera sunt ONG-ista, este tot ce stiu sa fac de cand am intrat in campul muncii.

Am facut facultatea si masterul de Psihologie la Universitatea din Bucuresti. Intamplator, primul meu job a fost la un ONG, dupa care au urmat job dupa job, in domeniul ONG si mi-a fost foarte clar ca asta mi s-a dat sa fac in viata asta. Am lucrat la 3 ONG-uri pana sa incep cu Pe Stop. Am inceput Pe Stop pe vremea cand lucram full time la Asociatia Seneca. In aceea perioada am primit o bursa de mers in State unde am invatat de la alte ONG-uri cum se face treaba asta cu ONG-urile si cu organizarea comunitara si am zis ok: daca departamentul lor din State are incredere in mine poate ar trebui sa am si eu. Asa ca mi-am dat demisia de la Seneca si m-am ocupat de Pe Stop full time. 4 luni am trait din economii, dupa care am reusit usor, usor sa punem Pe Stop pe picioare si am primit niste finantari cu care am putut sa platim salarii si sa ne desfasuram activitatea.

De vreo 2 ani am inceput fiu atrasa de psihoterapie si in prezent fac o formare in psihoterapie pentru a deveni terapeut.

Cum ti-a venit ideea sa creezi Pe Stop?

Am vazut un reportaj cu o fata din America care facea asta in oraselul ei. Se intalnea lunar cu prietenele ei si faceau impreuna pachete cu produse menstruale pentru femeile strazii.

Apoi m-am intrebat daca face cineva asta la noi, in Romania. Am aflat ca nu, prin urmare m-am decis sa iau aceasta intiativa. Am facut un studiu de piata, pentru a afla cate produse pentru menstruatie foloseste o persoana pe parcursul unei luni apoi am creat niste pachete. Am mers cu aceste pachete la gara unde stiam eu ca sunt mai multe persoane fara adapost si le-am impartit. Cateva saptamani mai tarziu a aparut si Alexandra si am inceput sa lucram impreuna pentru a crea ceea ce este in prezent Pe Stop.

Vrem ca toate persoanele care au nevoie de produse de ingrijire menstruala si de informatii corecte despre cum sa se ingrijeasca in timpul menstruatiei sa aiba acces la aceste lucruri.

Cine face parte din echipa Pe Stop?

Echipa este formata numai din voluntari, cu exceptia mea. Sunt singura persoana angajata, insa vor mai fi inca 2 persoane angajate din primavara cand o sa intre niste finantari organizate de fonduri norvegiene. Avem 26 de voluntari care ajuta cu tot: de la asmablat pachete, achizitie, distributie, mers pe teren pana la comunicare de fundraising. Ei fac ca acest ONG sa fie posibil. Fara voluntari nu s-ar putea face nimic.

Ce contine un pachet Pe Stop?

Pachetul contine urmatoarele produse de baza: absorbante, gel dezinfectant si masti (de unica folosinta sau reutilizabile). In functie de fondurile din luna respectiva adaugam lenjerie intima, servetele intime, servetele uscate si prezervative

Cine sunt persoanele care primesc pachetele Pe Stop?

Ajutam persoane care traiesc in medii vulnerabile, inconjurate de cele mai multe ori de saracie, care au nevoie de un sprijin constant: de la oameni fara adapost, la persoane care traiesc in case abandonate sau ghettouri.

Vietile lor sunt extrem de grele, iar lipsa produselor menstruale este un obstacol in plus, major, la care foarte putina lume se gandeste.

De exemplu, o femeie saraca care nu are apa si care taie hainutele care le-au ramas mici copiilor ca sa isi faca carpe pe care sa le foloseasca pe post de absobante, vede menstruatia ca pe un obstacol mult mai mare decat o femeie middle class pe care o doare burta 2 zile si isi trimite iubitul sa-i cumpere absorbante.

Pe vremea cand exista viata sociala, inainte de pandemie, aceste persoane isi puneau in pericol viata sociala si mersul la scoala, deoarece evitau sa iasa din casa in perioada menstruatie de teama de a nu se pata si a fi ridiculizate.

Cu cat o persoana este mai vulnerabila, cu atat orice obstacol care pare minor de obicei, se amplifica in cazul ei.

Care a fost impactul Pe Stop in viata acestor femei?

In ianuarie 2021 facem 3 ani de Pe Stop. In decursul celor 3 ani am distribuit intre 8000-9000 de pachete. De la 9 pachete/luna, in 2018, am ajuns la 350-400 pachete/luna in prezent.

De regula sunt ajutam aceleasi persoane. Incercam sa ajungem la aceleasi persoane mereu, pt ca daca dam doar o data si apoi plecam impactul este minimal. Mereu ne preocupa sustenabilitatea, sa stim ca acele femei se bazeaza pe sprijinul nostru. De asemenea tinem cursuri de igiena menstruala acolo unde putem, tot din perspectiva sustenabilitatii. In situatia in care se intampla ceva si noi nu mai putem ajunge la el, ok, absorbante nu mai ai, dar informatia despre cum sa te ingrijesti corect in orice situatie nu ti-o poate lua nimeni. Daca primeste informatia o data, ea ramane cu tine. Lucram in prezent la a face acest impact cat mai sustenabil.

Spune-mi mai multe despre aceste cursuri de igiena menstruala

Noi organizam cursuri de igiena menstruala gratuit pentru persoanele din mediile vulnerabile si contra cost pentru familiile care vor sa isi invete copii despre menstruatie. Din banii proveniti din cursurile platite le finantam pe cele gratuite.

Cursul de igiena menstruala dureaza o ora/ o ora si jumatate si este potrivit inclusiv persoanelor care nu stiu sa citeasca sau sa scrie. Acest curs contine informatii de baza unde femeile invata 3 lucruri mari si late: ce este menstruatia si de ce vine ea? Cum sa ma ingrijesc in aceasta perioada? Care sunt produsele pe care as putea sa le aleg?

Aceste 3 idei le povestim prin joculete si imagini, incercam sa creeam un spatiu sigur de confidentialitate si relaxare in care persoanele cu care lucram sa poata pune intrebari pe care in mod normal nu le-ar pune, considerand menstruatia un subiect tabu.

Ai mentionat menstruatia ca un subiect tabu. Cat de mare crezi ca este acest tabu in Romania?

Cred ca in Romania menstruatia este un tabu destul de mare dar in acelasi timp subtil.

Am avut o surpriza la un curs platit cu niste copii din familii middle class la care mamele ne rugau sa nu mentionam anumite lucruri, Adica ele voiau ca acesti copii sa invete despre menstruatie dar nu voiau sa le aratam un absorbant, iar una dintre mame chiar a recunoscut ca isi ascundea produsele menstruale de fetita ei. Dar dude: asta e ideea!

Din pacate, gradul de ignoranta e destul de mare si nu doar in mediile vulnerabile, ci peste tot. Aceasta fiind una dintre consecințele lipsei de educatie sexuala in scoli.

Ce mituri despre menstruatie ai intalnit de-a lungul timpului?

Cel mai interesant mit, pe care l-am auzit din mai multe surse, din zone geografice diferite este mitul celor 3 uluci/copaci. Daca atunci cand iti vine menstruatia pentru prima oara, manjesti cu sangele menstrual 3 uluci/ sau 3 copaci, menstruatia va dura mereu doar 3 zile si nu o sa ai dureri. Am intalnit femei de 60 de ani care au zis ca au facut acest lucrur si ca a fost adevarat in cazul lor.

Alte mituri uzuale despre menstruatie intalnite au fost mitul tamponului (care dezvirgineaza) si cel al spalatului (spalarea locala excesiva care este necesara in timpul menstruatie).

Care sunt viitoarele voastre planuri?

Principalul nostru plan este acela de a ne consolida si de a implementa niste schimbari care vor ramane in societate, acolo unde este nevoie. Ne dorim ca produsele si informatiile despre ingrijirea menstruala sa fie disponibile tuturor, prin urmare incercam sa influentam o schimbare la nivel de sistem. Vrem sa ne extindem in una sau doua orase mai mari (momentan activam in Bucuresti si in zona rurala). Vom demara in primavara doua proiecte in zona rurala, cu ajutorul unor fonduri norvegiene. In prezent cautam un sediu in care sa ne putem desfasura activitatea, aceasta fiind una dintre nevoile noastre majore.

De asemenea vrem sa ne extindem paleta de cursuri. Momentan facem doar cursuri de igiena menstruala dar vrem sa ne extidenm spre educatie sexuala si igiena relatiilor.

Cum ne putem implica in Pe Stop?

Va puteti implica in cauza noastra prin intermediul acestor actiuni:

  • Donatii prin transfer bancar cu ajutorul carora cumparam pachete lunare pentru femeile vulnerabile.

  • Redirectionarea gratuita a 3.5 % din impozitul pe venit sau 20% pe impozitul pe profit al afacerii tale care altfel ar merge catre stat

  • Donarea de produse pentru igiena menstruala la unul dintre localurile din Bucuresti: Energiea, Have a Cigar, J’ai Bistrot, Paninaro

  • Inscrierea ca voluntar, pentru a ajuta cu cumparaturile, asamblarea si distributia pachetelor

We admire Irina and her Pe Stop team for her courage and dedication to women empowerment and we are honored to have them in our community.

Be smart. Be (c)LIT. Fly with us!🌺🐝

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