Ensuring dignity remains intactThrough Phillipa Dean’s The Dignified Girl Project, girls receive undergarments, much-needed basic hygiene products
Since she was a teenager, Phillipa Dean, involved herself in charity work, and it’s no surprise that in her mid-30s she continues to do her part to volunteer wherever she can. It was during a recent counseling session with an unemployed mother who as experiencing financial challenges that she witnessed the woman break down — in what seemed to be the “straw that broke the camel’s back”.
“Do you know what it’s like to not be able to buy your teen daughter a new bra?” Dean recalled the distraught mother asking her. “ was like … is this woman serious? She was very serious.”
Following her session with the distraught mother, Dean said she made a promise that night that she would do something about it, and form an organization to ensure that young women received new bras and panties. The Dignified Girl Project was the result. Dean would provide undergarments, which are basic needs, to girls in need between the ages of six and 17 years old, quarterly.
Dean spent just over $1,000 of her own money to purchase intimate garments for her first distribution ranging from training bras and singlets to extra-small, small, medium, large, extra-large and 2X to cover the gamut of sizes.
It was in August 2017, that she and her team of volunteers took to streets in the East Street community with 100 bags of bras and panties to distribute free of charge to girls.
“When we did that initial walkabout we thought 90 bags was a lot — but it didn’t go very far, especially when we came upon homes where there were more than like five women and girls living there,” she recalled.
During that first distribution she said they quickly realized that the need was great, and for more than just new undergarments. She said it became apparent that basic hygiene products — toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, sanitary products — were also needed. Dean and her team decided to take on the challenge of adding feminine care products to the original packages.
“Often we think about the shelter and the food and the water and the clothing that we put on children, but we rarely think about the intimates. They’re basic needs. And they need new ones regularly — not just when it’s September, and it’s’ time for school,” said Dean.
“So I was like this is a basic need, and no mother should have to shed tears over this, and no young girl should have to be concerned that when she’s changing for [physical education] that someone’s laughing at her torn bra. I made a promise that night in that session, that I would do something about it, and form an organization that would make sure that young women had new bras and new panties. And once we did our first distribution and got feedback, we realized that more was needed. We got bombarded. I was shocked. The response is what kind of confirmed for me that the need was great.”
In January, The Dignified Girl Project held its second distribution. That time, Dean engaged the assistance of other organizations, rather than engage in another walkabout.
“After the first walkabout during which it was very hot, we realized we lost so much time because people were stopping us and talking, so we didn’t get a very far reach and time got away from us very quickly, and I was like to do this every quarter is going to be very taxing physically.”
She also realized the danger a walkabout could be to a team comprised of women. They decided to engage church groups, community groups and civic organizations to assist them.
“They know the women in their communities, they know the needs more so than we do, so I was like why not get a list of legitimate non-profit organizations that are working directly with young women, get in contact with them, tell them about our program and see if they’re willing to partner with us in being distribution centers. They receive from us an inventory every quarter, and they commit to distribute without discrimination and without charge, these feminine care packages to young women that need them.”
The persons in charge of the distribution centers are given the okay to make the switch and adjustments as they see fit, to packages according to a girl’s size.
“If we prepare a bag that is a medium and has a 36B or 36C cup, we say to the organization, if no one you work with directly fits this panty and bra size, find someone outside of your organization within the community who needs it, and can use it. So even though we pack them, and they may not fit a particular girl who has a need, we do believe there is someone out there that they can find that will fit it, and if they need it, give it to them,” said Dean.
During their second distribution they gave out 120 packages through the Bahamas Crisis Centre, Bahamas AIDS Foundation, S.T.R.A.W. Inc., F.O.A.M., The Art of Etiquette, and Changed Mentorship.
The Dignified Girl Project has a third distribution planned for April.
“I feel good about it, but I think I will feel better about it when I am able to have a greater impact or reach, because right now we’re seeing the need is great, but then the sponsorship and financial support is not matching the need. I don’t think it will ever match the need, but I just need it to match sufficiently so we could have a good impact,” said Dean.
As the program prepares for its next distribution cycle, they received a financial boost from CIBC FirstCaribbean.
Marie Rodland, CIBC FirstCaribbean’s managing director said The Dignified Girl Project resonated with them.
“We know that personal hygiene and clean clothes help to boost self-esteem,” said Rodland.
Dean said her long-term goal is to reach at least three Family Islands.