Military communities work to rescue from Ukraine to Africa

In times of crisis, it can be easy to feel helpless. Between the ongoing pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine, and ongoing issues such as poverty and unrest around the world, everything can sometimes seem bleak. How can we help? And how can we do it in a way that is truly impactful and not a matter of empty indulgence?

An organization at Yokota Air Base and a couple are working on it.

Pad Project meets everyday needs taken for granted

Pads and tampons are daily necessities, but in some parts of the world menstruation is still a taboo subject or the products are not so readily available.

The Pad Project, part of the non-profit organization Too Little Children with chapters around the world, aims to help meet the needs of menstruating people by sewing reusable sanitary pads.

Air Force wife Rhionnia Keddo is the branch president of Yokota Air Base, where Project Pad has been active for five years. Although she doesn’t consider herself a seamstress, Keddo took over the chapter because she didn’t want to see it disappear from the base.

She runs the Pad Project on Yokota with the help of Jesse Lautar, a spouse involved in grassroots religious groups.

Every second Friday of the month, volunteers gather at Yokota’s East Side Chapel to sew waterproof fabric pads. The organization also coordinates “pad party” events where people can have a night of making the products at home with materials provided by The Pad Project.

“They’re fun to make and people can make them a social event while filling a need,” Lautar said. “It’s also satisfying to know that you’re helping through a tangible and necessary project rather than a large donation where you don’t know exactly where your money is going.”

Last year, the Yokota Chapter of the Pad Project produced about 600 sets, with two pads per set, for women around the world. Towels are shipped through parent organization to Nepal, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Cameron, Uganda and more. Once received by the Pad Project, the volunteers bring the pads in person and provide demonstrations and sex education.

The Pad Project is also accepting monetary donations to help cover shipping costs and underwear donations, as volunteers doing demonstrations of how to use and rewash the pads realized some recipients had no no real underwear.

The Pad Project only accepts towels made from the pattern provided, intentionally designed for comfort and to be hand washed, dry quickly and prevent bacterial growth inside the towel.

The product is as lovingly homemade as it is practical, Keddo said. Sending something hand-sewn from vibrant fabrics sends the message that menstruation is not only natural, but also nothing to be ashamed of. This is especially important in communities where a period is culturally shameful or considered “dirty” and where those who menstruate are asked to stay home.

In some parts of the world, hygiene products are used to obtain sexual favors by men so that those who need it are obliged and can go to work or school, Lautar said.

“It’s sad that something natural for a woman is taken advantage of, keeps her poor or prevents her from getting an education,” she said.

Keddo and Lautar also pointed out that towel making can be a good family activity to open up the conversation about periods and sex education as a natural thing if parents don’t know how to have these discussions.

To host a tampon-making party, donate underwear or fabric, or attend a monthly meeting, contact Keddo via the Facebook page of the Protestant Women of the Chapel Where the Facebook page of the Yokota Pad project.

(Left) Volunteers make tampons. (Right) Volunteers demonstrate how to use the pads.

From Japan to Ukraine

With the help of family members living in Eastern Europe, a couple from Yokota Air Base helps with basic needs and supplies to reach scarred Ukraine.

Staff Sgt. 753rd Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintainer and crew chief Brian Contos and his wife, Patrycja Fischer, raise funds to provide groceries, clothing, first aid kits and bedding to Ukraine.

Fischer, originally from Krakow, Poland, collaborated with his older brother Sebastian, still residing in Poland, in refugee relief efforts. Although she was still worried about him, she saw this as an opportunity to help.

At first, Sebastian reached out to neighbors to collect food and daily use items to load into a truck and drive to the border. Now he has created a well-structured network of daily deliveries.

Through a link on the Yokota Community Facebook page, Contos and Fischer are raising funds to send to Sebastian to buy groceries, hygiene items and basic necessities for families in Ukraine.

“Within 48 hours of sending money to his brother, the supplies are delivered,” Contos said. “We have the connections and the ability to get there quickly and we wanted to help.”

Not only is it close to Fischer’s childhood home, but the couple married in Poland. Contos said you can see Ukraine from certain points in the city where they got married, so it means a lot to them personally. There is an intimacy of borders in Europe that Contos likened to watching a war unfold in Florida from Georgia in the United States.

Sebastian and Contos both use Facebook to post photos of deliveries and notify donors. So far, the couple have raised over $4,000.

Contos said that while he understands people’s hesitations about donating through a social media link, they can ultimately provide more help that way rather than buying items in Japan and spending money. money for shipping. He said $20 could provide enough groceries to feed an average family for four days.

Technology plays a unique role in the conflict in Ukraine and how those affected receive help. Many have started buying items online from Ukrainian-owned Etsy shops with no intention of receiving a product. People are also booking Airbnb stays in Ukraine and paying with no intention of visiting so Ukrainians who own these properties can still make a profit.

Additionally, Fischer owns and operates Blossom Bath, his home-based business. Since the first attacks on Ukraine, all proceeds from the soaps and bath bombs she sells have gone to her brother’s efforts. This month, Blossom Bath is selling a special Ukrainian flag bath bomb.

As Americans in Japan, grassroots people are doubly separated from Ukraine, culturally and geographically, but Contos and Fischer want to remind everyone that we are all bound by basic humanitarian needs.

“These are humans in an extreme situation right now,” Fischer said. “Some people had to flee; others had to stay behind. It shouldn’t be relevant which country it is. This is creating a huge humanitarian crisis.

Groceries and supplies in Poland ready for delivery in Ukraine. Photos courtesy of Sebastian Fischer

Connections:

Yokota Pad Project

Protestant Women of the Chapel

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