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An interview with Oghenekaro Omu – Providing free sanitary aid for underprivileged girls in Nigeria

In a lot of developing countries, women and girls feel self-conscious when it comes to discussing pretty much anything related to menstruation. Young girls speak about sanitary hygiene only in relatively safe spaces.

According to a 2016 UNICEF report, one in ten girls in Sub Saharan Africa misses school during her menstrual period due to her inability to access sanitary products. This of course applies to Nigeria where there is a general silence around menstruation, allowing negative beliefs and perceptions on the issue linger.

All of this is what pushed Karo Omu, a brand specialist to start Sanitary aid for Nigerian girls Initiative (SANG) in January of 2017. She wanted to make sure underprivileged girls in Nigeria got access to not just sanitary products but training on sanitary hygiene as well. “Sanitary aid for Nigerian Girls is an organization that was founded with the main aim of bridging the gap between young females from very poor backgrounds and their access to basic menstrual materials.” She said.

After learning about the increase in prices of sanitary products in Nigeria on twitter around this time last year, she immediately figured that she had to do something about it.  “The rising cost of sanitary products in Nigeria also drove my interest in starting this movement. Hence, the SANG’s campaign on twitter”.

Karo and her team raised over a million Naira for the initiative last year from crowd sourcing from social media. “Yes, we raised that much. We made sure to reach out to different public schools in Lagos, Ogun, Kwara and Oyo state” she said, explaining the projects embarked on. “We also visited IDP camps in Abuja, Jos, Borno and Benue. Also an orphanage in Jos and a school for autistic children in Festac.”

With outreach efforts, sanitary aid for Nigerian girls is indeed making a difference as they have reached about 6000 women and girls in different parts of the country. Not just distributing pads to them, but teaching them menstrual hygiene management.

Speaking on the culture of silence around discussing menstruation and menstrual hygiene, Karo says it will take a while to change the mindset of women who believe that periods are shameful because such a thing has been culturally infringed in them. “There are loads of stereotype attached to Menstruation matters that have been taught to these girls of which will take time changing their mindsets” she clarified.

“But for some myths about menstruation that they share with us, we successfully debunked a number of them. One of which is the idea that you should never dispose your used pads in the bin but burn it. We even made up a chant that goes: “don’t wash it, don’t burn it, and don’t flush it!” they interestingly recite it and also practice it” she told us.

Karo realized early when starting the initiative that it was not a one man job. She put together a team of brilliant women who helped make their projects successful. “Cynthia, Gabby, Ify, Alexa, Tolani, Tifè and Midé are my team members. They started along with hundreds of volunteers across the world and have helped us reach about 5000 women, so far. We are also crowd funded: a number of beautiful people voluntarily contribute funds and/or pads to us on a monthly basis towards our cause. Midé has been phenomenal especially with most of the leg work”. She said speaking on SANG’s operating model.

SANG has partnered with Brands like Microsoft and stand to end rape on projects. Karo admits that crowdfunding is not maintainable and she is open to affiliating with more people and getting sponsors. “Crowdfunding is not sustainable so we are actively looking for sponsors to partner with” she told us.

On what the rest of the year looks like for sanitary aid, Karo says they intend on reaching more women. “This year our goal is to reach 3,700 more girls and young women in need of sanitary materials”. “We also hope to adopt reusable pad and/or menstrual cup options, depending on how safe they turn out to be after been tested” she said.

According to Karo, SANG is also open to public participation. Anyone who feels drawn to the cause and wants to contribute can reach out. “All our details are on the website: www.sanitaryaidng.com or you can send an email to help@sanitaryaidng.com”.

Speaking on what the future holds regarding advocacy for sanitary hygiene and women empowerment, Karo says she is very positive. “I am very optimistic about the future of Sanitary Hygiene in Nigeria, we have plans to partner with the ministry of health and education to ensure the awareness of menstruation matters, provision of free access to sanitary products and healthcare. A lot of our plans are still in the works but the intention is to get pads out and lobby for pads and other hygiene products to be cheaper”.

Karo is indeed making a difference in Nigeria’s menstrual hygiene space. Perhaps her initiative will propel a larger movement geared towards this under looked cause.

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