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Sarah Kuponiyi: I launched Alora Reusable Pads to addres period poverty

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Sarah

Sarah Kuponiyi is a passionate youth leader whose work cuts across gender equality and sexual reproductive health. She is also a 2019 nominee for 120 under 40 New Generation of Family Planning Leaders, recipient of Sustainable Solutions Africa 30 under 30 2019, and Cohort 15 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) emerging Leaders Program West Africa.

The founder of A Well-Informed Adolescent (AWA) Initiative, an organisation creating and managing Safe Spaces that ensure young people can achieve their potential by enabling them access to essential services. She recently launched Alora Reusable Pads, a social enterprise to address period poverty by creating eco-friendly menstrual hygiene products freely distributed to in-school and vulnerable girls and sold at affordable prices to the public.

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As a Beijing +25 Eagle (women advocate) for UN Women Nigeria, she uses her skills to advocate for upholding of human rights for sexual and reproductive health as the key to ensuring that women and girls can be equal and free to make decisions in all spheres of their lives, without discrimination, violence, or coercion, and with the assurance of their dignity upheld. She shares her inspiring journey, her passion for development work, and endorsement of different Government parastatals in this interview.

Childhood Influence
No, I don’t think my childhood prepared me in any way for what I do now, but I can say it’s part of what inspired me or should I say it is one of my why(s) in doing what I do now. Growing up, was an awesome experience; I had a lovely family, hardworking and sacrificial parents. Life itself was not so smooth, not so rough; it was a beautiful as well as hard journey. Becoming an adolescent, I realised I was a lone ranger and hardly had friends, there were issues around self-identification and family challenges I had no one to share with; my parents were not available for those kinds of talks and I always bottled them in.

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I was at the receiving end of my parent’s emotional breakdown when they separated and there were days I felt like running away; if there were safe spaces then that I could trust and go to it would have been helpful, but I sucked it all in same with my siblings. But all right now, I look back at my teenage self and I can say I am proud of that girl, the woman I have become is proud of the young teenage girl I was; she survived the lassitude of life, rode the rough waves graciously and got ashore unscathed, like not all adolescents could have been strong enough to pull through without losing hope or sight of the goal.

Inspiration Behind A-Well-Informed Adolescent Initiative
What I went through growing up, like I explained earlier, inspired me to start the A Well-Informed Adolescent (AWA) Initiative, which started as a community-based project in 2018 to provide adolescents in rural communities an inspiration to live beyond their present definition. The idea is for them to aim high and think big and not let their background define them. As the name of the organisation, I am eager to have adolescents, who are well-Informed about the stage of life they are in, help them answer all the burning existential questions they have about their life, their overall health, their career, provide them guidance and tools they need to make informed choices by themselves.

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We achieved this through the use of Multisectoral programmes that link health to education, recreational activities, skills acquisition, youth club activities, school-based campaigns, safe space services, advocacy, and peer health education. Over the years, the organisation has grown to be more encompassing.

We also work to reduce gender-based violence by educating women and young people about harmful gender norms and practices that contribute to Gender-Based Violence in our society. We address issues around sexual violence; educate women and young people about their sexual reproductive health and rights. We provide parenting support programmes, school-based dating violence prevention programs, & community-based interventions to build equitable gender norms & attitudes in boys & girls. We provide sustainable livelihood programs for young women and girls through economic skill training and acquisition programmes.

Nonetheless, our core focus still remains investing appropriately in the health and development of young people and we continued to strive towards improving the health and development of this unique population sub-group

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Inspiration Behind Alora Reusable Pad
As a younger girl who stayed with her father, I could not afford to buy sanitary pads for myself due to how pads were unaffordable for someone like me, nor was I able to ask him for such due to the culture of shyness and silence. Likewise, working on school health outreaches made me realise this situation has not changed and the story is what cut across all regions of the country. Nigeria is one of the countries that place a heavy tax on menstrual products. Without access to proper menstrual products, many girls miss classes and older women are unable to attend work.

A pack of sanitary pads cost an average of $1.30, even as an estimated 44 per cent of Nigeria’s population (87 million people) lives in extreme poverty earning less than $1.90 per day, women and girls may delay urination and defecation, but it is not possible to stop menstrual flow.

The lack of affordable sanitary products also exacerbates anxiety and stress during menstruation and increases their vulnerability to gender-based violence and sexually transmitted infections. Alora Reusable Pads was created to solve period poverty by producing and selling eco-friendly reusable menstrual hygiene products from specialised fabrics that are comfortable to the skin, hygienic, and affordable.

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Alora Reusable Pads are made for every woman and girl. It is affordable, easy to use, comfortable, and available in three sizes with varying thicknesses to fit every woman at all times. It is made of several layers of absorbent fabrics including cotton and waterproof fabrics and it has numerous benefits such as saving you money, being very economical, environmentally friendly, safer for the body, fashionably feminine, and very affordable.

The Reception Since We Launched
The reception has been awesome; we have received considerable acceptance in the development space and government parastatals because it is a sustainable way of solving period poverty. But for individuals, we realised there is a need to do more awareness creation on reusable pads in Nigeria; it is still a new niche and awareness about this would help influence mind shift and behavioral change which help increase acceptance.

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Worthy of note is the support of the Cross River State and the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Ekiti State Governor’s wife Her Excellency Erelu Bisi, and several NGOs. We also received endorsement from UN Women Nigeria.

Being A Certified Adolescent Sexual Health Professional, Running My Organisation And Volunteering For Several International Organisations

Well, let me be honest, it’s not easy. Reward of hard work is more work but, because all I do is what I am passionate about, I enjoy it and I give it my best. I prioritise my schedules and deliverables; I have calendars and to do list, I set reminders, I delegate where necessary and most importantly I work with awesome amiable teams both at AWA Initiative and with Alora Pads. Our board of trustees, staff, volunteers, and supporters are all amazing.

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Challenges Of My Work
Time consuming, mentally stressful; my life is all about work with little or no time for other things in life. But lately, I am making a conscious effort to live a balanced life.

Challenges involved in handling gender based violence prevention at the grassroot or community is having to contend with community gatekeepers and community strongholds; let me not go there. While for young people, it is just a matter of them trusting you enough and the work becomes easier.

Three Women Who Inspire Me To Be Better And Why
Dr. Yolanda N George-David also known as “Auntlanda”, I met her while I was still in secondary school through a radio programme tagged “Sharing Life Issues.” She inspires me to do better because despite her own life issues that she could use as a legit excuse to just remain in her corner, yet she leaves everything to give her all to total strangers.

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Mrs Emilia Eyo-Effa, I met her while working at my first NGO work ever; she was the Gender Specialist currently working with USAID. Seeing her transition from jobs to jobs gives me hope that I can achieve my career dreams in the development sector. All I need to do is work hard and be consistent. She is also an amiable supporter of our organisation, she is one of our astute board of trustees who always open her arms and doors for me, to advise me using her wealth of professional experience. I am so glad to be in her circle and to have as a board of trustee for AWA Initiative.

Michelle Obama, reading her book titled “Becoming” gave me a glimpse of her life, her roots, how she came of age, her family, her life as the first lady. Reading about her triumph and disappointment made me realize I am a work in progress. I have not arrived or gotten to my final destination and that in every part of my life I keep working, keep learning, keep living and keep becoming the better version of myself always.

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To Young Women
Self Identification, Self-worth, Self-value. I would tell them to work on themselves first, evolve or commence their journey of becoming before getting entangled. I would tell them to be strong and not lose sight of their goals, not be distracted by society but rather press on and be the best version of themselves that they could be.

Future Of Alora Reusable Pad
At Alora Reusable Pads, our vision is a world without Period Poverty, where every woman and girl can have their period with dignity. Our Mission: To be a leading producer of affordable, eco-friendly, comfortable reusable pads in West Africa and to address period poverty through distribution of reusable pads and provision of menstrual health and hygiene management programs. We hope to reduce poor menstrual hygiene by 30 per cent in Nigeria (and Africa) by 2025.

Being a Woman of Rubies
I am a Woman of Rubies because I contribute to developing my communities; I empower women and girls to become change agents.

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