This woman wants more girls in the Arctic to have what they need for their periods

A woman from the Kitikmeot region in Nunavut is organizing to have packages of menstrual pads, tampons and underwear shipped to girls in the Arctic who can't afford to buy them.

Hovak Johnston is originally from a small community called Umingmaktok — an abandoned hamlet between Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk. She said there are a lot of girls and women in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories who feel ashamed when they're on their period. 

That's why she started the "Arctic teen pad challenge." After posting about it on Facebook a week ago, dozens of people from across the country are planning to send packages that include pads, tampons, underwear and tissue (used as toilet paper) to specific people in need across the territories.

Johnston is collecting their addresses. She said she's received requests for the packages for 121 people in 18 communities, including Paulatuk, Ulukhaktok, Hall Beach, Iqaluit and Gjoa Haven.

"I find a lot of people forget about the Arctic," Johnston said. "We have people in our own country struggling that we can help."

When you're hungry, toilet paper or laundry soap ... are the last things people will buy. - Hovak Johnston

Johnston said she knows some women and girls who have to use toilet paper instead of pads or tampons — or they have to go without altogether.

She said some don't have the money for a lot of underwear or for laundry soap to wash them. She also said that once a month, some of them are missing school for something that's completely out of their control.

Low-income families have different priorities, she said.

"When you're hungry, toilet paper or laundry soap or whatever are the last things people will buy," Johnston said. 

Johnston said she sent two small packages from Truro, N.S. — where she now lives — to communities in the Arctic and it cost her $68 including shipping. She's hoping others will see it as a small cost to help people get access to products that seem so basic for many across the country.

'A special box I would want to get'

Johnston was sent to residential school in Cambridge Bay when she was seven. She was there until she finished high school, and said she had to go through a lot of things on her own. That included getting her first period just before she turned 10. 

"It's a special box that I would want to get when I was their age," she said. 

Hovak Johnston

"I would have really appreciated extra pairs of underwear, some pads, tissue and just a treat — that's why I added chocolate in [the packages]," Johnston said with a laugh. 

Crystal Martin-Lapenskie, originally from Hall Beach, is helping Johnston, who she first met in Yellowknife a few years ago when she received a traditional Inuit tattoo.

She said when she saw Johnston post about the "Arctic teen pad challenge," she immediately messaged her. 

"When you're somebody who's coming from the South, you don't have that understanding of the many socio-economic challenges that the North faces," Martin-Lapenskie said.

Martin-Lapenskie not only sent packages to girls in need, she also passed  the names of three teens in Hall Beach along to Johnston. She said they are "so thankful."

"They say ... it's not something that you want to ask, you know, your other family members for," she said. "This here, at least it's anonymous and they'll get something to, hopefully, boost their dignity."

Johnston said, right now, she's specifically asking for donations of disposable pads and tampons.

Multi-use menstrual items — like Diva cups, reusable pads or period-proof underwear — won't work for some of the girls in need, she said, as they don't always have the privacy they'd like or the safe water they need to clean those products.