Diane Farr Recounts Inspirational Trip to Uganda with Her Teen Daughters to Deliver Period Panties (Exclusive)

The 'Fire Country' star recently traveled with her two teenage girls to deliver more than 5,000 pairs of period panties to girls in Uganda

<p>Diane Farr</p> Diane Farr on Uganda trip

Diane Farr

Diane Farr on Uganda trip

My daughter, Sawyer, chose Uganda for her “10-Year-Old Trip” when she was just 5 years old.

It would take us another decade to get here, but at 15, she's standing outside the auditorium of a government-run boarding school with me and her identical twin sister, Coco. Two hundred African teen girls are cheering inside for our arrival — which is not what Sawyer originally had in mind when we planned this adventure.

A "10-Year-Old Trip" was my idea to get my young kids interested in travel. Years of documentary watching before this double-digit birthday about continents and countries as well as food, music, oceans, deserts and clothing also freed me from having to watch children’s TV (which I hated even as a child).

My son Beckett chose Austria to better understand World War II. My daughter Coco picked beaches around the world but eventually decided on Australia to see Bondi and the 12 Apostles. But Sawyer knew right at age 5 — she wanted to go to Africa and see the animals.

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<p>Mukuye Edward Julius</p> Diane Farr and daughters on Uganda trip

Mukuye Edward Julius

Diane Farr and daughters on Uganda trip

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Most countries in East Africa have “the big five” (elephants, lions, rhinoceros, giraffes, leopards) but we learned only three still have Silverback Gorillas. Sawyer chose Uganda to see all of these. What we didn’t realize until applying for the gorilla permits needed to enter Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is that the place lives up to its name. Visitors trek two to eight hours to find the Silverbacks and therefore must be a minimum of 15 years old, which left Sawyer a choice of waiting five years to go.

She could either pick another country and give up on seeing the Gorillas...or wait five more years. Without hesitation, she chose to wait.

<p>Mukuye Edward Julius</p> Diane Farr's daughter on Uganda trip

Mukuye Edward Julius

Diane Farr's daughter on Uganda trip

That's when I met a fellow mom running a nonprofit in Uganda. Dr. Heather Wipfli’s son is the captain of my son Beckett’s water polo team as well as a professor of global health at the University of Southern California (USC) and co-founder of Energy-In-Action (energy-in-action.org) with her oldest son, Ray.

Over the past 10 years, they have implemented community-based programs including learn-to-swim camps to help prevent drowning — the leading cause of death in Ugandan youth. When my son asked if he could join his teammates and Dr. Wipfli to teach swimming and water polo on Lake Victoria in Uganda this summer, I had an ask for her — mom to mom. 

“If my son travels with you, is there something my twins and I can do for girls in Uganda?”

<p>Mukuye Edward Julius</p> Diane Farr and her two twin teenage daughters on Uganda trip.

Mukuye Edward Julius

Diane Farr and her two twin teenage daughters on Uganda trip.

“Period poverty” or the lack of menstruation materials (and underwear in some regions) forces girls to drop out of school after puberty. So I wrote to celebrity stylist Karla Welch who works in couture, with the world’s top designers, and also co-founded The Period Company. Her goal was to make reusable period underwear at a price point available to all American women. I asked if I might personally bring her product to Ugandan girls with no resources at all. Without knowing me, Karla immediately agreed to give me thousands of pairs at cost.

Nine months later, I’m racing to a school outside the capital of Kampala. Two passenger vans filled floor to ceiling with The Period Company panties carry Sawyer, Coco and me along with the local Energy in Action team.

We are both hours and days behind because importing donations to Uganda has proven difficult and expensive. Despite amassing letters from schools and a member of parliament detailing our donation — the novelty of the “fancy” and “high-end” underwear caught the attention of customs officers. Even though this is the largest shipment of donated period panties ever in this country, we were asked to pay thousands of dollars in taxes and fees or they were sending them back.

<p>Mukuye Edward Julius</p> Diane Farr's daughter on Uganda trip

Mukuye Edward Julius

Diane Farr's daughter on Uganda trip

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I’d love to tell you that we stole our panties and that’s why we’re racing out of town. But this is a story about female empowerment. First, there was an attempt to educate customs officers on menstrual underwear. Which in fairness, were new to me until Sawyer and Coco went through puberty. Underwear with a built-in pad, that you don’t discard after a single use or ever need to change, that can go directly into a washing machine was a dream product even to me with the resources to buy products.

But in a country where menstruation can be the end of a young woman’s education, the lifecycle of this new product is a game changer: the Period Company panties last eight years.

Just two pairs can carry a girl — whose family can not afford to feed her if she is not enrolled in a government-run school — from her first cycle through high school graduation. Given the positive impact this could have on thousands of girls, after days of presenting, pleading and even a special hearing, I eventually just paid the added taxes on the donation. But even then bureaucracy takes time and with no goods to deliver, still, we went off to see the animals. 

<p>Mukuye Edward Julius</p> Diane Farr's daughters on Uganda trip.

Mukuye Edward Julius

Diane Farr's daughters on Uganda trip.

The gorillas were bigger and quieter than Sawyer imagined. In our gorilla family, there was a 2-year-old and a one-month-old. The babies wrestled like mine did but without making any sound (am I the only mom who dreamed of this?) While the adult family members huffed at each other to say where they were moving (which was thrilling to hear).

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While walking alongside them it seemed as if Sawyer left herself. When the Silverback walked, she walked. If he sat, she sat. I found myself filming her more than them. Then at the exact minute our hour with them was up, they walked on and we turned for home.

I thanked Sawyer for bringing us here. She said, “It was everything I hoped it would be and a little bit more.” Two days later while on our safari drive, we received word that the Energy in Action team finally had possession of the underwear. We raced back to the first boarding school to deliver them. 

<p>Mukuye Edward Julius</p> Diane Farr's two twin teenage daughters on Uganda trip.

Mukuye Edward Julius

Diane Farr's two twin teenage daughters on Uganda trip.

As Sawyer enters the assembly hall with hundreds of period panties in hand, Muslim, Christian and secular girls cheer for her. When our team follows her inside the students break into song. Here at this first school, Sawyer and Coco listen quietly and smile often as I explain how to use and care for the panties. As I wrap up, Afrobeats fill the room. The Energy In Action team immediately leaps off the stage to join in on the instant dance party. While the twins and I politely sway along like spectators. This is only acceptable for a moment until we are pulled into the crowd, too. My daughters almost instantly held hands with the Ugandan girls while they danced.  

At the second school, Sawyer and Coco took the microphone from me to give product directions to their Ugandan peers themselves. By our last school visit, the twins began on opposite sides of the assembly room and also handed out panties themselves, stopping to talk about both hygiene and hip-hop music along the way. When they’re done — everywhere we go — a dance party breaks out. The joy in this culture is palpable.

<p>Mukuye Edward Julius</p> Diane Farr's daughter on Uganda trip.

Mukuye Edward Julius

Diane Farr's daughter on Uganda trip.

Sawyer began this process as wide-eyed and breathless as she was in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. But with time, she got to bring more of herself to this Ugandan experience. When all of the work is complete I ask what her favorite part of the trip was.

“The Girls. 100% the girls. We should bring something to connect with and help people everywhere we go,” she responded.

Waiting 10 years to visit gorillas may have allowed all of us to learn that the best travel experiences are made by interacting with and caring for our fellow humans.

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