Why We Need You This Giving Tuesday!

Kaleigh Heard, The Unmentionables Co-Founder

Two years ago, I was the average grad student. I was passionate about my research (but let’s be honest, no one really wanted to listen to me spend hours excitedly telling them about how completely GAME CHANGING it would be to shift the typology and lexicon of peace operations) and completely drained by the lack of effect I was having on the world. It’s one thing to think great thoughts, but if they are not connected to reality, what are we doing? So I started a research project funded by the Canadian government, looking at the rate of survival sex amongst young male migrants around the world. And I was nauseated. It was one thing to see the ‘refugee crisis’ from an academic view point, it was quite another to see the desperation that people felt in trying to escape what can only be described as hell on earth. Boys as young as 13 were resorting to prostitution, just to feed themselves enough to make it to the next day.  The same was occurring with girls, many of both genders disappearing into human trafficking rings as they were not registered into any system. We have lost hundreds of thousands of people this way, because no one wrote down their names. 

What was even more painful for me was seeing the long-term, but entirely preventable consequences that resulted. Boys as young as 13 were contracting HIV/AIDS and other STIs, with no access to protection or treatment. Girls as young as 15 were showing up at the maternity centre in Athens 9 months pregnant. Women were being assaulted on their way to the bathroom and refusing to even make the walk to the toilets after dark for fear of who was waiting for them. Everywhere I looked, the misery of sexual exploitation, assault, and sexual and gender based violence was staring me in the face. I couldn’t look away, and I couldn’t just let it remain a ‘research project.’ 

By some stroke of luck, fate, or whatever you believe in, I grew up with a mother who is, to this day, a high school teacher who spent 35 years teaching sexual and reproductive health education to teens, the last 17 primarily teaching an Afghan refugee population. I grew up with these topics being normal parts of discussion, accepted questions, and never realized how ‘taboo’ these issues are for others. I was lucky, and that early knowledge, exposure, and freedom to engage with these health topics motivated me to do something to disseminate the information and resources that could ameliorate the circumstances I was encountering, by co-founding The Unmentionables just a year ago. 

Now, #GivingTuesday holds a special place in our hearts here at The Unmentionables. A year ago this week we launched our first fundraising campaign ever for #GivingTuesday—and YOU all helped us create the organization we know today. Just over a year ago we started out with just enough funds in the bank to fund our pilot project—delivering 1000 pairs of underwear to women on the Greek island of Chios.  Over the last 13 months we’ve taken the time to learn, adapt, and grow to meet the needs of forcibly displaced communities around the world.  TODAY, I’m beyond thrilled to say we’ve provided over 88,000 intimate health products to over 35,000 forcibly displaced people in 6 countries, launched our photography based empowerment program, UnExposed, providing young refugees the tools and opportunity to tell their own stories, and provided sexual and reproductive health education to over 2,700 individuals

The most amazing part of this progress is we’re just getting started. The generous donations YOU give during this year’s #GivingTuesday campaign will help us grow sustainably, and ensure each and every individual we serve has safe and consistent access to undergarments, feminine hygiene products, sexual health products, and related education and empowerment programs.  Above all, it will help us achieve our goal: to ensure every forcibly displaced person around the world has safe and consistent access to dignity through hygiene by 2030. 

At The Unmentionables, there is an unspoken rule—dream big, create bigger, impact further.  We don’t shy away from big challenges, and don’t back down when faced with unbelievable odds. The people we serve have faced bigger, and overcome more. We owe them our best, our brightest, and our biggest dreams. In order to make our big dreams happen, we are honoured to announce that each and every one of your #GivingTuesday donations will be matched up to $10,000, by our amazing supporter, Kimora Lee Simmons.  Kimora is passionate about providing dignity through hygiene to displaced populations around the world and we are grateful for her support!  So, tomorrow, let’s show her what this community is made of and hit our $10,000 goal!