Annie Alley recently joined Dignity Period’s board of directors. We sat down with her to discuss why menstrual hygiene in Ethiopia is an important issue for her, how she was first introduced to the organization, and what she hopes to accomplish as a member of the board.
Dignity Period: What was your first impression of this organization and cause?
Annie: The thing that drew me, and still draws me to the organization is, frankly, how ridiculous it is that girls are prevented from going to school because they don’t have menstrual hygiene supplies. It seems like such a trivial reason not to go to school. Especially considering that they are lucky enough to be in families who support girls’ education – which isn’t a given in Ethiopia; many girls never get this chance. But for girls who do, the least we can do is remove the barriers to their success in school.
Here’s another thing: I’m a communication professional, and I’m struck by how easily people, especially women, grasp the need that Dignity Period is trying to address. It’s a fundamental need, and a shared experience. We all just “get it” without a lot of explanation. This is powerful.
How did you get introduced to Dignity Period?
Well, I’m from Seattle originally and had a connection with Minerva Strategies, a consultancy that works with Dignity Period on their fundraising and communications. While living in St. Louis, I partnered with Minerva to work with Dignity Period. Now that I’ve returned to Seattle, I want to continue my involvement in a volunteer capacity.
I have two kids, one boy and one girl. Rowdy is 11 and is very involved in sports. Ruthie, who’s 8, is a great student, and a great little writer. She loves school and loves being one of the “smart kids.” The thought of her getting her period and school becoming a bad place, or a place of embarrassment, is devastating.
Besides being very involved in my kids’ school and sports teams, I am a partner at an integrated marketing public relations firm called Firmani + Associates in Seattle. We work with a variety of clients in healthcare and other industries. Between the two, I stay happily busy.
What is it that you’d like to contribute as a member of the board?
I really want to help raise awareness of the issue and the need, and the work Dignity Period is doing. It is so much more than just giving pads. Girls everywhere will experience the embarrassment surrounding their periods. It is inevitable. But what people do not seem to understand and need to know, is that girls in Ethiopia feel bad about their periods intrinsically. They feel shamed for having periods, as if it is a result of something bad rather than natural processes.
Dignity Period helps girls learn about their bodies, and they learn that getting their period is natural. DP also teaches boys what girls are going through, and that menstruation is a natural process, not something to shame girls for experiencing. If you think about decades from now, when these kids are 20, 30, or 40, this work will have an impact on the pervasive cultural shame, maybe even eliminate it entirely. That is long-term change; that is generational change.
I also think, because of the relatability of the cause, Dignity Period has the potential to move outside of St. Louis and become a nationally known organization. When you talk to women, all of us get it. And we want to reach out and help. The potential is there and I would like to help lay the groundwork.
With so many competing organizations doing good work, why do you want to support Dignity Period?
There is an obvious multiplier effect. You support a girl who will be able to stay in school and do well. She will have the opportunity to achieve her goals as a leader, mother, professional, member of her community – whatever she wants to do. She will teach others, and the impact keeps growing, keeps moving outward.
Plus, I love Lewis and Helen Wall! I met the Walls at the early stages of the organization’s development and their story is amazing. They are two very accomplished professionals who spent time in Ethiopia during Lewis’s Fulbright grant. While they were there, they met Freweini, learned about her work, and wanted to get involved. If you meet any of these three people – Helen, Lewis, or Freweini – and listen to what they want to do, what they want to accomplish for girls in Ethiopia, you can’t help but want to get involved. And if you think, “Well I’d love to get more involved, but I’m so busy already,” they leave you no excuse; Helen and Lewis have a lot going on, but they take the time to make a difference in these communities. This is an example we can all follow and be inspired by.