So, what changed in just a few months?
Well, last summer Lilie attended Plan International USA’s Youth Leadership Academy (YLA). The YLA is a four-day program for young people to participate in interactive workshops on social justice issues such as gender inequality and climate change, learn about the Sustainable Development Goals and gain expertise in designing and implementing projects. After, participants implement their own project to create positive social impact, called a Leadership Development Project (LDP), which is supported with the help from a Plan mentor.
For the first time ever, the 2020 YLA was a virtual experience — but participants like Lilie still had the opportunity to explore new worlds together, and to see their own world from a fresh perspective. After engaging in YLA’s period poverty and stigma sessions, Lilie decided it would be the focus of her project.
“I was inspired by Plan, who introduced me to this whole world of period poverty that is not touched on in our school system and often left unmentioned when poverty is discussed,” Lilie explains. “Additionally, the environmental impacts of period products, which are mass pollutants, are not typically mentioned in efforts to protect the environment.”
Lilie and two of her friends started an Instagram account called Let’s.TalkAboutPeriods, where they ask their peers to share stories in an effort to eliminate period stigma. Then, for their school’s science fair, they pitched a project called “The Evaluation of Different Biodegradable Materials for the Manufacturing of Menstrual Products,” which would test five environmentally-friendly materials used in the diaper industry, but not in the menstrual industry.
They found that thermal plastic polyurethane is the most effective product for liquid absorption and flexibility, both environmentally and cost wise. Lilie and her friends won their school and regional fairs and came in second at the state science fair, receiving recognition and awards from USAID, CIA, U.S. Public Health Services and Cox Communications.