Ashley Lori is the founder and convener of Pad-Up Africa, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) seeking to provide sanitary pads for girls in schools across Africa. In this exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP Friday Editor, RUTH TENE NATSA, she speaks on the need for every girl to have access to sanitary pads rather than using unhygienic substitutes, she also speaks on her dreams to spread the vision across Africa in support of the girl child… excerpts
Why should girls be afforded pads monthly?
For the fact that it a natural phenomenon and should be cared for at that number of days in order to prevent most diseases caused by unhealthy alternative means of sanitary pad so as not to result to high rates of infertility later on in life or even worse.
Are you saying there are parents who fail to provide this basic necessity?
There are parents who fail to provide the girl child the basic necessities due to the fact that they cannot afford it or they just don’t feel the need to, as it appears to them as a waste of the little they have. How do you expect a parent who cannot afford three meals a day or who didn’t use a proper sanitary napkin to bend over backwards to provide for her daughter, you see that the awareness needs to get to all ages, classes, ethnic and religious groups if we want to attain a success story
What would be the role of government in addressing this challenge?
Our government obviously has a role to play such as including these awareness into our educational curriculum, putting a box of sanitary pads in all government schools and public toilets, creating the availability of changing rooms and clean water including hand sanitisers. I believe these will go a long way in helping this movement.
What is Pad-Up Africa About?
PAD-UP Africa is a project geared towards the sensitisation of female students in schools that cannot afford sanitary pads. So, we sensitise them on menstrual hygiene and also give them free sanitary pads. We are currently trying to kick for sustainability, because as it is, we will not be able to keep the project, which caters to the needs of over 1000 girls in the FCT alone. We have 60 schools here in Abuja and in each school we have over 2000 girls. Meanwhile, we intend to cover up the internally displaced camps too as well as spread our wings across Africa, God willing. This is why we say Pad up Africa because we intend to go global, we intend to go to Ghana, Zimbabwe and as many parts of Africa as we can, but as it is, we are short.
What inspired this project?
I recall that when I was in secondary school, I got free sanitary pads from one of the producing companies. I guess they were sample pads, because they were usually five in a pack, but then we didn’t see them again. But then, recently, I was driving home, when I saw some secondary school girls lurking, in fact trying to hide behind a tree by the roadside and out of curiosity I stopped to find out, why they were hiding. It was then, I learnt that one of the students was stained and even wanted to use newspaper as her sanitary pad. That kind of beat me that in 2018, there were still people using Newspapers. So I asked the girls, if they had used newspapers before and they said yes, they said in the absence of newspapers they used plantain leaves and that made me cry. Thereafter I took them to a super market where I got them some sanitary pads and asked about their school and later, I visited the school to sensitise them on the havoc caused by use of newspapers, nylons or rags and there after gave them sanitary pads.
How then has that become a full blown NGO
My initial visit then was to just one class with a population of over 70 pupils. Thereafter, I was able to reach out to over 300 girls, but then I realised that was going nowhere. So, I reached out to my family and friends for donations. Recently, I connected with a snapchat user by the name Joy who runs a lingerie boutique, she saw my post and there after she included my programme as one of her corporate social responsibilities, where she supports the project with N50, 000 monthly.
And is that enough to supply the number of girls you want to reach out to?
A pack cost about N250 and at that cost we are able to get a little over 100 packs and that is not even up to a class. Also, we want to reach out to IDPs. I have also met a woman from the camp who says she uses ashes to wrap in her dirty cloth and absolves the blood. She said the use of ash is to avoid stains as often times their husbands would not touch or eat their foods once they learn women are on their periods, in fact they are treated like it is a taboo.
What have been your major challenges since you began this project?
Funds. Truth is the schools are welcoming and the girls are happy and want to share their stories, but sadly, funds remain a huge challenge. We have been to Paiko in Gwagwalada, where we realised that women even sit on holes to menstruate. The women sit by the fire through this period. The husband in the meanwhile eats from the alternate wife, sadly, the further we go, the worse the situation. So, I feel the need for more sensitisation, because reaching all those places and giving them sanitary pads and sustaining it is quite a challenge for me.
Have you sought for partnerships?
I am looking at partnerships with stakeholders, donors and even sponsors and generally looking at the whole bundle of help I can get so that I can reach out to these girls.
Why not seek some pad producers to sponsor you?
I intend to do that, even though I have written to a number of them including Always, Procter and Gamble, Sister Love in Tanzania, Simple and a number of others, but only Simple gave us an invitation to come and share our experience and that comes up on October 24.
How many girls do you currently supply?
Currently about 1,462
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