Nollywood actress Steph Isuma, popularly known as Calabar Chic is the founder of Pad Our Girls, a self-funded project she is using to provide free sanitary pads to underprivileged school girls cross the country on a monthly basis.
The foundation was founded after her encounter with a young girl, who told her a story that reminds her of her childhood. She shared the story with The Nation.
I’ve always involved myself in social advocacy projects that help improve the lives of vulnerable and underprivileged people, but my POG initiative is one very personally and emotionally important to me. I met a young girl (Tolu) in Lagos, whose story moved me to tears. At first sight, she reminded me of myself, growing up and how I sold pure water and palm oil on the streets growing up those days in Port Harcourt. But I was more concerned that she was hawking cooked groundnut on a hot weekday afternoon when she should be in school.
She told me she would rather not go to school during her menstrual period to avoid getting stained and laughed at by her classmates. Her parents can’t afford to buy her sanitary pads so she would use old rags, cotton wool, old newspapers and other unhygienic materials just to manage her period. This brought back memories of my teenage years and how difficult and uncomfortable it was for me as a young girl like her who couldn’t afford it. It was at that moment I knew I had to take this up.
I decided to help as many girls, especially those living in urban, but poor communities, who simply cannot afford sanitary pads, month after month. The girls miss out on crucial learning for at least three to five days monthly while their male counterparts further on. So, the POG initiative was borne out of the need to ensure that the average Nigerian girl has access to sanitary pads and also the knowledge necessary to ensure proper menstrual hygiene management and also to raise awareness on the challenges school girls face regarding menstrual hygiene.
Since kicking off this project, I have been very determined to do it with or without help. So every month I set aside some funds with which I purchase sanitary pads in large quantities and I visit the girls in different schools where I share the pads and also educate them about their bodies and proper menstrual hygiene management. I enjoy the sessions with the girls mostly because I make it very interactive and answer their questions.
I am hoping that in the future, the high cost of sanitary pads can be subsidised or made very affordable for those who cannot afford it, because apart from the girls’ absenteeism from school, their health and general wellbeing is also at risk. Those unhygienic materials they use most times are contaminated by infective organisms thereby exposing them to avoidable reproductive tract infections.
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