The founders of Viva La Menstruation, Heavenlei and Leslie sit down with us this week to chat all things period poverty, how they’ve raised funds and helped to push for period equity, and even their experience teaching Frat Bros where the clit is located.

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Alice: Amazing, well welcome! We’re so excited to have you Heavenly and Leslie for Viva La Menstruation. Welcome to the podcast.

Leslie: Thank you. Thank you.

Heavenlei: Thank you. Thank you for having us.

Alice: I know you’re both are calling in from different places. Can you tell us and our listeners a little bit where you are?

Heavenlei: I’m currently in Walnut Creek, California. It’s located in the Bay Area.

Alice: What about you Leslie?

Leslie: I’m currently in Riverside in Southern California. Really hot right now.

Alice: So Leslie, I was just wondering, like, what are you guys? What have you guys been up to during the pandemic?

Leslie: As a group or individual?

Alice: Either group, or I think individual right now.

Leslie: Individual? Let’s see, in the past year. So, I was, are you the one calling me on facetime? I just got a message from here. I was for [inaudible] a little bit. And then I joined the Viva La Menstruation during the pandemic and it was like a really life-changing thing. I appreciated all the- I’ve known Heaven since college.

So it was it was very nice that we came together and we’re like let’s try to do something for the community. I’ve also been trying to get back into school and I don’t know if it’s good timing but on time it wasn’t because what I’m trying to do is the air- I was trying to be a pilot and, we’re closed. So, it was going back and forth until today, the schools are open and then they’re closed. So you could come back, but you’re not 6 feet to away from your instructor and it’s been a roller coaster. I were back on track and I’m trying to geared towards that for now.

Alice: That’s amazing though. So are you currently taking classes? Are you starting to fly?

Leslie: Oh, yeah. So I took a class before the pandemic and it was just an introduction class and ever since I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I actually went from the air and the instructor was teaching me how to fly, it’s a very hands-on thing and I love to travel. So I was like, I think this is my calling and you don’t really see a lot of women pilots so I can really give that way.

Alice: That’s amazing. Yeah, that’s not a career path that you really think about as a woman. Do you feel like in your classes? Are you like breaking boundaries? Are you able to talk about things that in a different way than your male cohort?

Leslie: I think so, but also like I feel like it’s a little more challenging because they just see you as like you’re just another woman trying to do this, but you’re not. It just some comments that I get here and there. Like no, I could do the same thing like in my seat. I need a little bit of like a booster because I don’t reach it, but I make it work, and then my goal is to make a difference in just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I can’t do something that a man can’t, and there’s only like four percent of woman in the aviation world.

Alice: Wow, that’s incredible. We, definitely need some more women pilots.

Leslie: Yeah, so that’s why I definitely want to go and make a difference and encourage other staff, just because of your gender doesn’t mean you can’t do something.

Alice: Wow, that’s awesome, and it kind of ties into what you guys are up to, with Viva La Menstruation. Can you talk a little bit about what it is, what is your organization?

Leslie: Yeah, of course. So, Viva La Menstruation we are trying to stop period poverty, every month we take donations, whether it’s money or actual period products like tampons pads, cups, birth control and we choose an organization at the end of the month and we donate everything to that organization.

Actually, in August I was just in New York and since I knew I was going, we took all of July’s products to New York. I would to- I forgot the organization it was in Brooklyn then it was very nice, like, very different because I really wasn’t even- I was looking for a big building it was literally a little door in the middle of nowhere and I thought this was gonna be something different, but I found it.

Alice: Wow, that’s amazing.

Leslie: So every month we take donations from family and friends and we just try to get the word out there. Tell her bosses who tell there’s, we’re hoping like, during the holidays we get a little bit more donations because people are little more generous during those days.

Alice: When were you able to start Viva La Menstruation and how did this come to be?

Heavenlei: It started in December. Sorry, my preschool teachers had gotten a, he’s minimum day. And so they thought we were having class today, but they had canceled last week. So I think they forgot. So, they all showed up ready to go. All of in the preschool is just running in here and I think, “Oh no, what’s going on here?”

Alice: Amazing. Can you talk a little bit about how did you choose to start this organization?

Heavenlei:  Anyway, so we started Viva La Menstruation is because menstruation is something that is very important and it doesn’t get a lot of attention. I know like in my experiences there’s sometimes where I’ve missed school, I’ve missed work, whether it’s because I had really bad cramps or because I bled through my pants, or because at that time I couldn’t afford menstrual products.

I know the university that I went to, they didn’t offer free menstrual products, like in the bathrooms and so I would use toilet paper or whatever I could find. And I remember one day, I worked in like one of the student offices and I bled through like the paper towels and I bled through my pants and I bled on like the office chair and I was like, I need to go home. Like I was so embarrassed, I was so devastated, but then you start to realize that this isn’t just like an individual problem. You’re not the only one that this has happened to like- when we do polls on our Instagram about who has bled in public, we have so many stories of people bleeding everywhere in public.
So, that’s when you realized like, it is something that’s important and then when we started donating to these organizations and these shelters, a lot of them say, like you’d be surprised that they get a lot of food donations, they get a lot of clothes, they get blankets but it’s like people forget that homeless people also menstruate. And, so when people are donating they forget that “Oh, we should also donate menstrual products”. And whenever we donate to these places, they always tell us like, “these are the least amount of things that we get donated” like, “we don’t get these donations”.

Leslie: If you think about it, you see a homeless on the street like, they still have a period but just because they don’t have a house and have no food, the period still it may continue. So, they could barely afford to eat, how they can afford period products?

Heavenlei: Yeah. It’s just like, at that point, like, they have to decide. Like whatever money like they get, you know, like, are they going to buy food, or are they going to buy a pad? Most of the time they’re going to buy food like they’re hungry. So they use whatever they find, there have been stories of where they use dirty socks. They try to use the same tampon, which is very dangerous because they can get toxic shock syndrome, they can get a lot of other diseases by trying to use the same tampon or pad. They use toilet paper rolls, like hard cardboard, they try to use that.

Some people just free bleed.  There’s a story in one home of them and said that when she’s on her period she will try to sit in one spot. So she doesn’t have to keep getting up and having it run down everywhere and she’ll just sit there until her periods are over. And like, when you think about that like that’s very hard to do, especially when you’re homeless, especially when people are trying to kick you out of wherever you’re like squatting and it’s a real period poverty likes a really big problem and it’s not getting a lot of attention. And so that’s why we wanted our nonprofit organization to stand for something to help those who don’t get that attention, who don’t get that extra help and to just kind of be there for them and be like, “We see you, we know that we’ve been there, we all bleed”. So that’s kind of why we did it.

Alice: That’s amazing. And so you guys have been around for almost a year now. So you’re giving every month to different charities. I love that you do somewhere different each time. That’s really cool. And then also I saw that you guys are also leading workshops. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Heavenlei: Yeah, so we started doing workshops. One of the first workshops we did, we were actually invited by a fraternity at Sac State and they asked us like, “Can you guys come and teach us about menstruation?”

Leslie: And then I had no idea. Like, how are we teach these boys what to do?

Heavenlei: It was like such an interesting invitation because we’re like, you have to learn about menstruation. And then we also post a lot about like, we’re really big advocates for domestic violence and sexual assault and they also were like, “Can you also say on sexual assault in their?” because that’s something that’s very important, especially in college.

Sexual assault is something that’s very important and should be talked about. So we held our first menstruation and sexual assault workshop at Sac State, it went so well. One of the first activities we made, the guys do is we passed out blank, sheets of the female reproductive system and we told them to label it and it was so funny like you see like the guys trying to help each other. And some of the girls came because it’s an open event. So [inaudible] come and girls are just writing it down and they were like hiding your papers from the guys, like ” Oh no, don’t look at it”. And then we pass out stickers to whoever got a right on [?] and when we show them, they’re like “Oh, okay. That’s what that is”. And I’m like, oh my goodness, but it was so fun because they were just like, they looked at us, like, “We’re really going to fill this out?”. I’m like, let’s label it. So that was fun. We taught them about menstruation. We talked about the pain. We talked about what menstruation is like actually, like how does a blood come out? Why, what is that blood from? We taught them all of this and then we touch base on sexual assault the statistics, personal stories, all of that kind of stuff we did, like a questionnaire at the end and we gave them different scenarios of sexual assault taking place and whether is this sexual assault or is it not? Is this consent? Or is it not consent? And they were all very active in it. And then even at the end, they ask so many questions which to me was so impressive because they actually asked questions like they wanted clarification, they wanted to know thing and afterward, they came up and like, asked if they could hug us because they’re like, “This was so great, Thank you so much!”

That was amazing and then, one of the sororities that was actually there, they invited us to come back and we did it last month. We went and we held a woman’s health workshop, and we talked about, you know October is breast cancer awareness month. So, we talk about breast cancer, we talk about women’s health in general, whether it’s menstruation, vaginal diseases, STIs, and STDs, how to take care of yourself, different herb supplements, things like that that you can do to just balance your overall health because what a lot of people don’t understand is your menstrual health and your overall health it all correlates like everything works together, like if you’re not eating healthy, you might have heavier periods and more painful periods. Whereas, if you’re not drinking enough water, if you’re not eating enough vitamins, you might have different period colors, different period blood textures. So it all like affects each other. So it was really fun to teach them all of these things.

Alice: Wow, that’s amazing. I love that you were able to go into a fraternity. Who would thought anyone would want that but that’s amazing, these changing times like, you guys are creating this space where people can talk about this taboo subject and get the word out which is so admirable. That’s amazing.

Heavenlei: Thank you. It was fun.

Leslie: It was also very like eye-opening because like our logo, it’s literally like people look at it and like you could tell like the older generation like I have a sticker on my phone and like one of my older aunts was, “What do you have on your phone like is that really it?” And then I have to explain to them that it’s okay like we’re in 2021 and kind of bring them back a little bit and but then there’s like some people who, “Oh, that is so cool. Can I have a sticker?”. So you see the different generations and how they react to it.

Alice: That’s so fascinating. Wow, really interesting. So, yeah, continue to break those barriers, that’s awesome. And, you’re a science teacher too Heavenly can you talk a little bit about how you talk about menstruation in the classroom.

Heavenlei: Yeah, of course, I’m a science teacher. So I teach preschool through fourth grade. It’s so fun. It has definitely been such an experience because you know kids, they’re going to ask you what, when, where, how, 20 times until they understand everything completely. It’s really exciting to see the questions they asked especially when it comes around taboo things, where, they’re probably not used to getting told about it in home. And so once they hear you say the word that is like a weird word. They’re just like also tell me more about that because then they want to know all the information because they think it’s like secret information. And so just by kind of like telling them like what menstruation is.

But one of the things I like to do with my students or even if it’s with my own nieces and nephews is first, you have to know about the body and it’s not just your body. You need to know about everyone’s body because if you just kind of focus, I know growing up, they literally would be like, okay girls, you guys are coming in this room today and the boys go in this room and we watched separate videos, you know, we watched it was called right around the corner and it was about our period and the boys like it was like my special friend or something and I was out there. I feel like we should all watch those videos. Like everybody to better understand each other, you know what I mean? And so that’s what I like to do with my students and my nieces and nephews. Let’s just talk about the body first, like this is what your body looks like and this is what your body looks like. And they all have different functions like this is how they work and this is how yours works, but you can’t even think about another person’s body unless you know, your body fully as well. And so, I think that’s like very important and some kind of reiterate to them and I grew up hiding my periods.  And not let anyone see and now my period I just like pull them on and I’m just like, this is what it is and then like my nieces and nephews are like, “What is that?”. I’m like, this is a pad so, when girls bleed you just put this on your underwear like this and it catches all your blood like a sponge and they’re just like “Tyty, am I gonna bleed?”. I’m like, when you get older girl. Yeah you are, definitely you are. And I was like, but don’t worry once you start bleeding. I’ll bake you a cake like we’ll have a party like it’s not the end of the world. Like, it’s not.

And then with my nephew’s, it’s a little different because, you know, we have like a traditional Hispanic household. And so, there are some still kind of like taboos where it’s like, women do this, boys don’t have to know about this, don’t talk to boys about this type of thing. And like, I’m just like no. And it’s so funny because my nephew, he just turned 17 and my sisters always talk to him about sex. So he better not be having sex and I even told him I was like listen, if you want to have sex, you can that’s your body, you know consent first. But you know what the clitoris is? And he was just like, “What is that?” And I was like, so since you don’t know what that is, you shouldn’t be having sex, and then he’s like, “Why don’t I understand?”. I was like no, so let me tell you and then I like was talking about it and he’s like, rolling his eyes, you know, 17-year-old boys, not wanting to hear the term of aunt and I’m like, oh no, we’re going to learn about it.

And so like now I like told him and was funny because then that Christmas, my family bought me a bunch of like clitoris and vagina like socks. But just like teaching them those little things is like, you can’t fully understand your body or your friends body or things until you fully understand it. And I think that’s important for a lot of people always try to say it’s inappropriate, but it’s not, it’s natural unless you, yourself are trying to sexualize or objectify something. Then that’s honestly like a “you” problem that’s a personal problem because when you teach Anatomy, when you teach body, when you teach science and how things work, it’s not about being sexualized, or those kind of things, it’s about facts. And it’s about how things work and that’s how you need to look at it.

Alice: Wow, that’s amazing. I love that you’re able to bring both sides to the classroom. I definitely remember being shuttled away into a separate classroom, and we had to like all just sit there and whore but the way you’re able to teach is just like, these are the facts, this is the body understand both, which is amazing, and like that’s how we should be doing it. So, for our listeners, how can I get involved? How can they get involved with Viva La menstruation? How can they get involved with helping to fight period poverty?

Leslie: We were actually just talking about this not too long ago. There’s been a lot of people who have been reaching out on how to get more involved and we’re thinking of just having them. It’s not like a membership for like become members. I joined like an emailing list where we could tell you what we’re doing and we just want people from different places if they want us to donate to that place, like we could rely on them that we’re going to give you a product and you’re gonna do the donation in our name.

Alice: That’s awesome.

Heavenlei: And then we also offer like we do donation boxes, where we drop off boxes where people can drop off donations to whoever wants one. So, for instance, in Patterson, California, there’s a dispensary there and they’re hosting a donation box. So, like when you come in and you can buy like your weed, your CPD can also drop off period products. And then there’s also one in the sorority. They have one and they’ve been using it at their school. There’s one at the Cal State East Bay Housing Office and their housing office they have one and like Leslie said a lot of people have been reaching out to us.

One lady who lives in Seattle, Washington. She reached out and she wants to know how she can host a donation box. There’s been people in the Bay area and we tell them that you can use these donation boxes, collect products and say you want to send them back to us. So we can donate, you can do that as well or if you know a place and you want to donate to that place with all the donations you collect in that box, you’re more than welcome to donate them to your community because that’s what it’s about. It’s just having people in that community taking care of each other because the only people that are going to take care of your community is the people in the community., it’s you. And so getting people involved in their own communities, something that we really want to do, and we really encourage. And so whenever anyone reaches out, we’re just like, yeah, of course, I like, do you want us to go to your community? Do you want us to help out in your community? Like, what is it? I know right now we are having a poll and we’re asking people where should we donate to next? Do you want us to come to your community? Do you know a place of shelter? And so those are definitely things that we want to do in, or at just community organized.

Alice: Amazing. And so people can find out about you on Instagram? Can you give us your handle? Do you guys have a website?

Leslie: We are currently like we have a website but we are trying to secure our name first before we make it official and due to the pandemic they’re just the courthouse, been very behind. So we haven’t heard back then in the next actually in a few months, but everything’s like already setup we’re just ready to like press that launch button but right now, we’re just using Instagram social media. We’ve recently made a TikTok as well. The surname Viva La menstruation.

Heavenlei: So we have Instagram TikTok and Facebook, and we also have an email so, all four of those things are easy ways for people to get a hold of us.

Alice: Incredible. Well, thank you so much, girls. It was amazing to get to talk to you today

Leslie: Thank you!

Heavenlei: Thank you for having us. This is really so fun.

About the author

Alice Cash is the Marketing Manager for Jubilance by day and an award winning Theatre Director by night.  Leading the podcast Weekly Woman, she loves her candid conversations with women from all over the world about how they live and the amazing things they are doing to make a difference. Alice is also the editor of the bi-monthly newsletter the Jubilee, a blog dedicated to the power of female wellness especially concerning menstruation.  She’s worked in France creating theatre pieces and taught drama and filmmaking to women and children in Haiti.  She graduated from Georgetown University and holds two master degrees from NYU and The New School.  Alice has traveled to  40+ countries, including Tibet.  She is a New Yorker and can often be found in Central Park, searching out the best bubble tea, or directing a play, you never know where she’ll show up. @alicesadventuresinwonderworld
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