May 7, 2018

GLI Members Take Spring Break Journeys for Empowerment

Over the course of the 2017–18 school year, we’ve brought you updates on the now-six-year-long Pad Project initiative. Landmark moments for the project this year range from a visit to Oakwood by renowned social activist Gouri Choudhury to the mounting excitement about the funding of their Kickstarter and the premiere of their documentary. Most recently, their film Period. End of Sentence. took home an award at the Cleveland International Film Festival! 

During this past spring break, the Pad Project travelled to New York and overseas to India on a journey you might not have heard about yet. Since a major goal of GLI (Girls Learn International)—the student group behind all of this incredible work— is the empowerment of girls’ voices … we thought we’d let the girls speak for themselves this time.

Below, find two articles taken from the April edition of The Gorilla, our high school’s student newspaper. You’ll also find a gallery of photos taken by Phu Tranchi, Oakwood’s Director of Experiential Learning, who was—in addition to GLI leader Melissa Berton—one of the faculty members who accompanied students and parents on the trip to India, as well as his wife, Oakwood English teacher Melanie Berkey, and their son, Oliver, Oakwood class of 2029.

Thank you to our student writers, and congratulations to all who have participates in The Pad Project!



On March 9th, the leaders of GECO, accompanied by Melissa Berton and her daughter Helen Yenser (’13), a Pad Project founder, boarded a plane to New York. Our final destination: the United Nations’ annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), where we would premiere the Pad Project documentary.

CSW is a two-week conference where global leaders come together to discuss the empowerment of women and girls, and the governmental and social barriers that prevent gender equality.

Each year there are two themes for the conference: a priority theme, and a review theme from a past CSW. This year’s priority theme was “challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.”

The review theme, from the 47th annual meeting, was “participation in and access of women to the media, and information and communications technologies and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women.”

Both themes provide a working framework for deciding goals and legislation to further the empowerment of women.
NGOs bring their perspectives to the table and advise Member States on the best course of action in different circumstances.

As official delegates, on a par with NGOs and Member States, our badges gave us access to the UN building. We could attend events hosted by Member States or sit on the floor of the UN and listen to delegates outlining the challenges facing women and girls in their countries.

While we heard incredible presentations at the UN, the best part may have been the headphones that allowed us to hear simultaneous translations of presentations in almost every language.

Each day we attended events both at the UN and around New York City focused primarily on the empowerment of women and girls living in rural areas.

As the week progressed, it became clear that across the world, the greatest challenges that rural women and girls face involve access to hygiene products (menstrual, dental); access to quality education; and, increasingly, the dangers of human trafficking and gender-based violence (GBV).

Some of the most impactful events we went to were centered around human trafficking and GBV. We heard from two survivors of Boko Haram kidnappings.

They were only sixteen and seventeen years old, but in their lives have witnessed their parents and siblings killed in front of them.

Both of these girls were taken from their homes and brought to Boko Haram camps where they were treated as the soldiers’ “wives.” While they were able to escape captivity, many other girls were not as lucky.

Empowerment of women in rural areas was especially relevant to us, since we have been working on The Pad Project for so long.

We even applied to host our own event at the CSW, where we premiered The Pad Project documentary “Period. End of Sentence.” and held a Q&A after the film.

The response to the film was overwhelming; we could not have been more excited to premiere this project to an audience of this caliber.

Oakwood students first learned about rural girls’ lack of access to menstrual products at the CSW over six years ago, so to be hosting our own event was to bring this project full circle.

We learned so much that one unforgettable and impactful week, and we are so grateful to Oakwood for working with us to make this happen!



After years of raising money to purchase a pad machine, a group of Oakwood students and faculty members of the Oakwood chapter of Girls Learn International (GLI) embarked on a journey to India.

Over the past six years, GLI has held bake sales and launched two Kickstarters, together raising 60,000 dollars to buy one of these pad machines for Kathikhera, a village outside New Delhi.

We were there to see the machine at work and share our documentary film with the girls who had been at the center of it all.

Melissa Berton, Helen Yenser ’13, Charlotte Silverman, and I spent two days of our trip in Mumbai, two days in New Delhi, and three days in Jaipur.

In Mumbai and Jaipur we walked around, learned about the rich history of India, and immersed ourselves in a culture completely different from our own.

Our most important days, though, were spent in Delhi.

Our first day in Delhi was spent at the Action India headquarters. There, we met with a group of girls who belong to a GLI chapter in Delhi.

When we arrived, we introduced ourselves to each other and spent some time getting to know one another.

We drank tea, laughed, and took lots of pictures together.

Young women who used to participate in GLI and who now attend a nearby college also joined us to present their inspiring play about sexual consent.

The next day we went with the Action India team to visit Kathikhera. About twenty women and girls, including Sneha, whose story takes center stage in our film, were there to greet us when we arrived.

We watched the documentary with them and they loved it!

We spent the rest of the day discussing further steps for the Pad Project in Kathikhera and beyond, spending time all together for an amazing meal in Sneha’s home and getting a tour of the village from a few of our kind co-workers and new friends.

GLI is an international organization dedicated to furthering the education of young women around the globe.

A lack of cheap and accessible sanitary products is one obstacle to education: when women and girls in developing countries are unable to afford necessary products such as tampons and pads, they often end up missing a significant amount of school every month, eventually falling so far behind that they have to drop out.

It costs the same amount to buy milk for a week as it does to buy pads for a week. When families are faced with this decision, they chose to buy milk because it benefits the whole family instead of only the girl.

Because girls don’t have pads, they turn to using ashes and rags, often causing infections.

A man named Muruganantham created a machine that makes affordable, biodegradable pads from locally sourced materials.

Beyond supplying girls and women with pads, it supplies a steady income and a source of independence to the women in the area who want to work on the machine.

This village has had an ongoing relationship with our partner organization, Action India, which works towards enhancing the participation of women as citizens to claim their rights and entitlements, to public health and civic services to better the environment and quality of life among the urban poor.

Just recently, Credit Suisse bank made a generous donation of 130,000 dollars directly to Action India.

With that money, Action India plans to improve the pad machine in Kathikhera with solar panels and other developments, and to continue to purchase machines for villages all across India.

With the money remaining from our campaign, we produced a 30-minute documentary (Period. End of Sentence.) to raise awareness for the issue and encourage pad machines as an effective step toward female empowerment.