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 where she leads the team in 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. 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 with Esther Ijewere.
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, it was awesome experience, 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 a journey. Becoming an adolescent I realized I was a lone ranger 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 kind of talks and I always bottled them in. 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 in 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 to pull through without losing hope or sight of the goal.
So what I do now is to provide safe space services I couldn’t get at my time for adolescents and young people alike so as to enable them share their challenges, give a listening ears to them, let them know being stuck in the dark is not forever for those going through challenges and provide them tools and resources they need to make informed choices about their life, health, career etc so that they can transit to healthy adults without letting the light of their mind go dim even as the voyage on life’s journey.
Inspiration behind “A.W.A”
So what I went through growing up like I explained earlier inspired me to start 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, to aim high and think big and not let their background define them. Like the name of the organization, 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. We achieved this through use of Multisectoral programs that link health to education, recreational activities, skills acquisition, youth club activities, school-based campaign, safe space services, advocacy and peer health education. Over the years the organization 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 programs, 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 program. Nonetheless our primary core focus still remain 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
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, neither was I able to ask him for such due to culture of shyness and silence. Likewise, working on school health outreaches made me realized this situation has not change and the Story is what cut across all region 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% 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 specialized fabrics that are comfortable to the skin, hygienic, and affordable. Alora Reusable Pads are made for every woman and girl. It is affordable, easy to use, comfortable and available in three sizes with varying thickness to fit every woman at all times. It is made of several layers of absorbent fabrics including cotton and water proof fabrics and it has numerous benefits such as saves you money, very economical, environmentally friendly, safer for the body, fashionably feminine and very affordable.
The reception since we launched
Wow, the reception has been awesome. We have received considerable acceptance in the development space and government parastatas because it is a sustainable way of solving period poverty but for individuals we realized there is 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. Notably to note is our Alora Pads has been purchased by the following;
- Cross River State Ministry of Women Affairs purchased Alora Pads for its UNFPA funded dignity packs distribution project in Cross River State.
- Ekiti State Governor’s wife Her Excellency Erelu Bisi Fayemi purchased Alora Pads for her Keep Girls in School Project for world menstrual hygiene day 2021
- NGO in Adamawa KPANG SURRI Foundation purchased Alora pads to commemorate World Menstrual Hygiene Day
- NGOs in Calabar Gender and Development Actions (GADA) and A Well Informed Adolescent (AWA) Initiative Purchased Alora Pads to commemorate World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021
- Alora Reusable Pads was invited by Federal Ministry of Women Affairs Abuja, Dame Pauline Tallen in commemorating World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021 at the Ministry Complex in Abuja.
- Official presentation of Alora Reusable pads to United Nation Population Funds (UNFPA) Calabar Sub office
- Discussion on period poverty on HitfmCalabar with Abenmire Ade where we shared sustainable solutions to addressing this menace; one of which is Alora Reusable Pad
- We are so excited as our founder and team lead got profiled by US Mission to African Union on the celebration of International women’s day 2021.
- Gate Way Excel Collage Otupka Benue State purchase alora pads for their gate way pad up project
- Alora reusable pads was endorsed by the UN Women Nigeria.
Being a certified adolescent sexual health professional, running my organisation, volunteering for several international organisations, and managing it all
(Smile) well, let me honest not easy, reward of hard work is more work but because all I do is what I am passionate I enjoy it and I give it my best, I prioritize 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.
Challenges of my work
Time consuming, Mentally stressing -My life is all about work with little or no time for other things of life but lately I am making conscious effort to live a balance life.
Challenges involves in handling Gender based violence prevention at the grassroot or community is having to contend with community gate keepers and community strong holds (laugh) let me not go there while for young people it just a matter of them trusting you enough and the work becomes easier.
Other Projects and activities
We have done various projects and here are some of them
- A Well-Informed Adolescent Campaign 2018
- A Well-Informed Adolescent Campaign 2019
- A Well-Informed Adolescent Campaign 2020
- A Well-Informed Adolescent Campaign 2021
- Women Voice Leadership Project in partnership with Child Care and Adult Protection (CCAPI) and Action Aid Nigeria funded by Global Affairs Canada
- UNESCO/Society for Family Health Spotlight Initiative potlight Initiative Project Activity 4.2.4 which is aimed at ”Strengthening the capacity of youth network (Civil Society Organisation) to carry our peer education and support young people to access Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and SRHR services” in Cross River State
Here are the Programs we run at A Well-Informed Adolescent (AWA) Initiative
- Tackling Gender Based Violence; A weekly program that offers crucial approach to poverty reduction, economic development and a key to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights.
- Friday Talk Date: In this event we provide adequate age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education to adolescents at the youth resource center
- Safe Space Activities: We provide youth friendly services that cater for the overall development of young people
- Health Programs
- Livelihood Programs
3 women who inspire me to be better and why
I have plenty women ooo but since you asked for 3 here are they
- Dr. Yolanda N George-David also known as auntlanda, I met her while I was still in secondary school through a radio program tag “Sharing Life Issues” wow 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, mehn its wow. And she first exemplified this bible verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” to me mehn Mama has plenty PhDs in Neurology, Obstetrics and gynecology, psychologist etc an OAP, a wife, mother, farmer, business mogul, caterers etc she literally made me believe I could be anything I set my mind on and work towards.
- Mrs Emilia Eyo-Effa, I met her while working at my first NGO work ever she was the Gender Specialist, currently now works 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 also an amiable supporter of our organization, she is one of our astute board of trustees who always open her arms and doors for me, to advises 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 to 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 realized I am a work in progress I have not arrived or gotten to my final destination and that in every of my life phase I keep working, keep learning, keep living and keep becoming the better version of myself always.
To young women
Self Identifcation, Self-worth, Self-value. I would tell them to work on themselves first, evolve or commence their journey of becoming before getting entangled, and 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, were 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% in Nigeria (and Africa) by 2025.
Being a Woman of Rubies
I am a Woman of Rubies because contribute to developing my communities; I empower women and girls to become change agents.
Awards and Recognition
National Gender Youth Activist for United Nations Women HQ, Beijing eagle (Women advocate) for United Nations Women Nigeria. 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) RLC emerging Leaders Program West Africa. Immediate past Deputy Coordinator YALI Network Cross River State, She is part of the Cross River CSO Gender Responsive Budgeting Monitoring Group, Cross River State CSOs Network, and Cross River State GBV/SRHR Network respectively among others.