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Dragon boats pad the way

Kyla Plaxton (left) and Jude Knowles are seeking teams of dragon boaters to raise funds for the menstrual kits girls in Africa need to stay active and stay in school. - Danielle Pope
Kyla Plaxton (left) and Jude Knowles are seeking teams of dragon boaters to raise funds for the menstrual kits girls in Africa need to stay active and stay in school.
— image credit: Danielle Pope

At first glance, dragon boats and cloth menstrual pads might not have an obvious link — at least until you meet the two women who are behind an initiative to turn a little activity into a lot of funds.

For the second year, the LIV Your Life Project is searching for paddlers (novice or experienced) to form 10 teams of racers that will swirl up the money to fund menstrual kits for girls in Malawi, Africa. Each year, 24 million girls worldwide miss school and other activities due to a lack of access to menstrual supplies. In Malawi, menstrual hygiene management is so underfunded that girls and women often reuse disposable pads and tampons, and a 2012 study by UNICEF found that 81 per cent of primary schools in the region lacked any type of hand-washing facilities. Add to that the often superstitious cultural beliefs surrounding menstruation, and young girls are met with more shame than answers when Aunt Flo pays a visit.

Back in North America, this reality shocked author and acupressurist Kyla Plaxton, who has dedicated much of her adult life to helping young women learn to understand their bodies.

“Growing up, every period would just take me out, and it was a very painful process, so I had to take my own journey through that,” says Plaxton. “Even here we still see a sense of embarrassment or humiliation around menstruation ... but if you teach women when they are young how to listen to and respect the natural process their body is going through, it can become a blessing.”

Plaxton, who has a four-year-old daughter, recently published her book aimed at helping grade schoolers learn more about their cycles, as led by protagonist LIV (Little Inner Voice) — Little Women’s Guide to Personal Power: How to turn your monthly menstruation into the biggest blessing of your life. Yet, last year, Plaxton felt inspired to do more. She partnered with Jude Knowles, manager of Gorge Rowing and Paddling Centre, and rallied 40 people to fill two dragon boats and celebrate activity. The teams raised $1,100 for the parent fundraiser Transformational Textiles and, for just $5 a kit, 220 girls in Malawi were each sent three pairs of adjustable underwear and six reusable cloth pads.

This year, the aim is to secure 10 boats of 20 people each and raise $40,000 through personal fundraising goals, prizes and an official race scheduled for May 11 on the Gorge Waterway.

“There’s nothing better than exercise for girls going through puberty, and paddling was a lifesaver for me at that time in my life,” says Knowles, who has been paddling since she was 10. “You’re outside on the water, with a community surrounding you — what’s not to love?”

Now 59, a svelte Knowles understands a whole lot more about what it takes to find good flow.

“Dragon boating is such a team sport because anyone can do it, but you have to have those 20 people working together or no one is going anywhere,” says Knowles. “It’ll teach you a lot, and it is a really obtainable challenge.”

When it comes to obtainable, Plaxton hopes people of all ages and genders will consider coming out to support the effort as a chance to reflect on their own abilities to get active.

“Puberty is such a confusing time no matter where you are, and the average age of menses has gone from 11 or 12 years old to now ages 8 or 9 becoming quite common,” says Plaxton. “I really want to find ways that I — and other adults — can be good examples for helping these girls learn about this part of themselves without a sense of shame. It’s crazy to understand the power you have inside of you — that you can create life.”

To join in the LIV Your Life Project and rally your own team of dragon boaters, contact Plaxton at 250-885-0566, or email livyourlifevolunteer@gmail.com. Entry fee to the May 11 race is $5 and pledge forms are available from Women In Need Westside Village (174 Wilson). For more information, visit ilovemyperiod.com. M

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