‘Flow’ addresses major puberty concerns of young girls ― Raquel Daniel

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Raquel Daniel is an educator and impact strategist passionate about improving education in Nigeria. She works directly with children in marginalized communities in Nigeria focusing on education and sexual and reproductive health for adolescent girls through Beyond the Classroom Foundation which started in 2011.

Raquel is a graduate of Education from the University of Lagos with a certificate in Social Sector Management; a Coca-Cola Scholarship through the Enterprise Development Centre of Pan Atlantic University Lagos.

In the last 8 years, Beyond the Classroom Foundation has provided free sanitary pads and trained over 10,000 girls on sexual and reproductive health. Through the Back to school project, BTC has provided free school supplies to over 7,000 children in public primary schools in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo States and also trained 2,000 children on basic digital literacy skills.

Recently, her nonprofit enrolled 107 orphans and internally displaced children to school in Abuja, renovated a Primary School in Lagos and raised over $15,000 for the COVID-19 Relief Drive that donated free groceries to over 600 families across Lagos, Abuja, Ogun and Oyo State in Nigeria.

Raquel has received numerous awards including the 2016 Honour Nigeria Community Development Award by Trinity House, the 2015 Young Women of Change Award, 2014 Le Roche Exemplary Leadership Award by the past Governor of Lagos, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, and was a nominee of the Global Foundation Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2013.

She was the volunteer lead at the first World Economic Forum on Africa held in Nigeria in 2014, Raquel is a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum, a Royal Commonwealth Associate Fellow, a Climate Reality Leader, a two time Mentor of the Queens Young Leaders Program and alumni Fellow of the Carrington Youth Fellowship Initiative of the US Embassy Lagos, TechCamp Leadership program South Africa and the LEAP Africa Social Innovators Program (SIP).

Prior to starting the Clarity School for Nonprofits, she doubled as the Admin/HR lead at the Secretariat of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council and the Executive Assistant to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Industry, Trade and Investment (in the office of the Vice President).

Raquel is a gifted communicator, and a recognized philanthropist, she brings enormous expertise, insight, and energy to all her projects.

In this chat with Esther Onyegbula, she talks about her passion for children, how education drastically changed her life and other sundry issues

No doubt the pandemic has witnessed a surge in domestic and sexual violence especially against young girls, as an educator what would be your advice to young girls on how to protect themselves?

For as long as I can remember, girls have been advised and taught to protect themselves against violence of all kinds. As an educator, I have flipped my own script. My attention is not only on the women but also on the men that violate and abuse women.

I am not neglecting my role as an educator to teach girls to care and protect themselves, I am only expanding my education to teach men not to rape, abuse or disrespect women. We need to teach boys from an early age that violence will not solve problems and that they need to protect girls.

As parents, we also have an obligation to talk to our boys about consent, just like we teach girls to say NO and mean it. We also need to show an example at home as parents not to bring up children in a toxic environment with domestic violence.

A lot of girls grow up accepting violence and abuse in a relationship because they saw their mother endure that while they were young. The boys also grow up watching their fathers hit their mothers and believe it is okay to hit women.

A lot of this has to start at home and then to our schools. This is not a one-off conversation but one that must be had repeatedly as they grow up. Let’s raise our boys well. So we don’t have to try to fix grown-up men.

What measures do you think the government can put in place to improve the sexual and reproductive health of adolescent girls especially in rural communities?

There are few measures the government can take. Some of them include; provision of educational materials in schools and expanding on the current Biology curriculum to include in-depth teaching on sexual and reproductive health education.

This is because lack of knowledge about reproductive health and adequate information about the physical, psychological changes that take place during puberty, menstruation and pregnancy is connected to so many teenage health problems.

The government can also provide access to youth-friendly health services and counselling in schools which is vital for ensuring the students have a safe space to discuss their sexual and reproductive health challenges.

A lot of schools receive donations of condoms for the students as a means to decrease adolescent pregnancies. I will ask that making sanitary products available is also an effective strategy for reducing teen pregnancies the decrease in the drop-out rate of girls in schools.

In addition, we need better toilet facilities that are clean and maintained in our public schools. Poor school sanitation facilities have been cited as a factor that can push girls out of school. Governments simply need to ensure that every government school has clean water and decent toilets.

In what specific ways did your childhood prepare you for what you do now?

My background in many ways prepared me for the work I do now. First, I would most likely not be running a nonprofit if I hadn’t lost my parents as a teenager, lived on the street, gone without food for several days and not have sanitary pads to manage my period. You know how they say “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger”.

I am the first in my family to ever go beyond Secondary School. It was my late father’s dream and even though he died just after my sixteenth birthday, I did my best, against all odds, made it to and graduated from the University.

Looking at my life now, I see why I am so passionate about children going to school and girls having access to sanitary pads. Getting an education drastically changed the trajectory of my life and I want that for other children. These experiences are largely the reasons that influenced me to start this work.

What inspired Beyond the Classroom Foundation?

In my first year in the university, I felt the need to mentor and educate young girls about the things that I went through and still going through at the time and I started the Girl Talk Initiative, which was a religious program for teenage girls.

I ran that project for a while and alongside teaching girls about Jesus, we also ran another project that provided over 1500 free sanitary pads to girls in slums who could not afford it and taught them basic menstrual and personal hygiene.

My team and I did this for a year until one day on my way to school, I saw a young boy walking to school with torn uniform and shoes. Seeing him that morning, drew my attention to the public school system. I quietly followed him to his school where he was almost beaten because he had no socks.

I promised to bring socks for all the children in the school and I kept to that promise. After distributing the socks, I suddenly noticed the appalling state of the public school and later found out that the school is not only in a bad state but has a lot of uninspired teachers and children who are demotivated to learn. Beyond the Classroom Foundation started a few months after this encounter.

Why is it focused on education and sexual and reproductive health for adolescent girls?

We are focused on education and sexual and reproductive health for adolescent girls because that is what I am most connected to. After my late father told me no one in my family had gone past secondary school, it shocked me. I instantly understood why he is so passionate about having us to go to school.

He was practically obsessed with it. So when he passed, I made it my own dream to ensure I go beyond secondary school and I did. And now that I have a degree, I have seen how important it is which is why I am so passionate about getting children whose parents cannot afford to put them in school, back to school.

When I was living on the street, I use to take tissue paper from a restroom toilet to manage my period. I did walk into the eatery, head straight to their restroom, change and run off. Using tissue gave me lots of blisters on my thigh and made it so uncomfortable for me to walk.

Somewhere along the line, I started using cloth pads to save cost and that, just like the tissue hurt me and completely killed my self-esteem. I was always afraid my pad will fall off. When I finally had the means, I started to provide free sanitary pads for other girls because I know exactly what it means not to have one.

How has the journey been since you started Beyond the Classroom Foundation?

The journey was really tough when we started. It was like starting any business, there were challenges on all fronts especially with fundraising, innovation and plans for sustainability. Looking back now I see the wisdom in getting a mentor early and connecting with a community of people in the same sector.

I believe collaborating with others would have eased my load, as it was a new terrain I was navigating. I also made a lot of mistakes, running too many projects at once and trying to solve every problem that we encountered.

Eventually, I got some training at the Enterprise Development Centre of Pan Atlantic University and two sponsored Social Sector training, one in South Africa another in Nigeria by the United States Embassy in Lagos. It was after I gained clarity and became focused on our mission that the work became easier.

Right now, even though we are still a small team, the work is not as tough anymore and we are making more impact than when we started years ago.

Did your experiences inspire your new book? Tell us about it and the impact it will have on adolescent girls.

Absolutely! My experiences and my late father inspired this book. Whenever we visited a school to educate them on menstrual hygiene and distribute free sanitary pads, I end up talking about my dad. There is no way I can tell my menstruation and puberty story without mentioning him because he taught me all that I know.

When I decided to write “Flow” I knew it was also time for the world to hear a positive story about fathers. This is a book that every girl can relate to. It also serves as a guide to help them navigate through the world of puberty.

In the book, I spoke about how my late father taught me about menstruation, I also shared my personal experiences, gave practical advice and information on managing menstruation. My goal is for this book to address the major concerns every young girl goes through during puberty.

How is this book fighting period poverty?

Periods are something women and girls have been having for thousands of years. It is the reason you and I are even here. And yet around the world, there is still an element of shame associated with a woman’s monthly cycle. Which is probably why many women say they feel uncomfortable talking about their periods.

This leads to women suffering in silence when it comes to their periods and thus they provide little or no information to growing girls in their homes. In my work with Beyond the Classroom, I have seen that few girls, especially in rural communities, have access to the necessary information they need to prepare themselves for menstruation and manage their periods when it arrives.

For this to change, parents and our schools must provide resources and information that girls can access. This will help them understand rather than feel scared about what is happening to their bodies during puberty.

Period poverty is when women and girls cannot afford proper sanitary products or do not have the information and facilities to use them correctly. This can put their health, education, and well-being at risk. My soon to be launched book, FLOW, is fighting period poverty in the area of menstrual education.

Recently your organization raised over $15,000 for the COVID-19 relief Drive that donated free food items to over 700 families across Lagos, Abuja, Ogun and Oyo State in Nigeria how were you able to achieve that?

Yes, we did reach over 700 families with free food items in Lagos, Abuja, Ogun and Oyo States. But we didn’t do it alone. It was a collaboration with several amazing organizations. The world is moving too fast to keep pace alone.

Which is why we are constantly seeking partners to work with us at Beyond the Classroom Foundation. Through my work as a nonprofit coach, I tell emerging nonprofit leaders, “If you want to advance your mission with ease, collaboration is an important piece you should take into consideration”.


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