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I hope to leave behind a well-informed, equitable society where girls and women’s voices are heard and valued- Child Safety Advocate, Founder VARSH

Meet Aworanti Salvation Grace, a fearless force at Obafemi Awolowo University, where she’s not just a fourth-year Philosophy student but also a powerhouse of activism and leadership.
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Meet Aworanti Salvation Grace, a fearless force at Obafemi Awolowo University, where she’s not just a fourth-year Philosophy student but also a powerhouse of activism and leadership. Hailing from Ila Orangun, Osun State, Grace is on a mission to redefine the status quo. Former Vice President of the OAU Student Union and Executive Director of VARSH Foundation, she fearlessly confronts sexual abuse, gender discrimination, and societal inequality head-on. With a fire ignited by personal conviction and familial influence, Grace is blazing a trail for youth empowerment and social justice, leaving an indelible mark wherever she goes. In this exclusive interview with Temitope Kareem, she shares her passion for girls and women. Excerpts.

Can you share with us a bit about your background?

I am Aworanti Salvation Grace, a 400-level student in the Philosophy department at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State. I hail from Ada in Boripe Local Government, but I was born and raised in Ila Orangun, Osun State where I completed my primary and secondary education at Camila Primary and High School. I am a dedicated advocate for responsible leadership. As the former Vice President of the Obafemi Awolowo University Student Union and with involvement in various student political organizations, I have demonstrated a commitment to service and community engagement. Additionally, I serve as the Executive Director of VARSH Foundation, a non-governmental organization dedicated to combating sexual abuse, child abuse, and gender discrimination.

What inspired you to pursue your current path in activism, politics, and founding an NGO?

My journey into activism and politics stems from a deep personal passion. I wanted to be the voice I needed to hear as a child. My inspiration and civic education came from my father, who instilled a strong political consciousness in our family. I also started my NGO because of my passion for social change, growth, and empowerment.

What specific issues or causes does your NGO focus on addressing?

My NGO, registered with the CAC as Voices Against Rape and Sexual Harassment (VARSH) Foundation, addresses sexual abuse, gender-based violence, and gender discrimination, focusing mainly on women and girls. We are also committed to championing SDGs 4, 5, 10 and 16.

As a final year student in a Nigerian university, how do you balance your academic responsibilities with your activism and NGO work?

Balancing academics and activism has been challenging, I must say. Especially because I need to combine reading, maintaining my grades with school politics, and ensuring my NGO progresses. Initially, studying philosophy wasn’t my priority, and I aimed to just get by. However, I recently discovered the beauty of the course and have been making intentional efforts to balance my studies with my NGO work, which is my true passion.

Can you describe some of the projects or initiatives your NGO has undertaken since its inception, and what impact have they had on the community?

VARSH Foundation has led various projects addressing sexual abuse, reproductive health, child abuse, and gender-based violence. We’ve reached 7 states, 9 higher institutions, 28 communities, over 150 schools, and more than 50,000 young people. Take “Menstrual Hygiene Week” for example, we reached 9 schools and 1 community gathering where we lectured the students, girls, and women, listened to them, and spoke to them like we were friends. We also gave out 1200 sanitary pads donated by Segun Aina to female students in the schools we visited. Although we are dedicated towards the girl child and women, we also know the importance of gender equality. That’s why during the “International Day of the Boy Child”, we reached out to boys in 2 schools, one in Ife and one in Ilorin to teach them that their emotions are valid. We also taught them how they can be a better version of themselves. Another notable project of ours is Project RECH(done 9 editions), each edition targeting a rural community where we reach everyone in that community from schools to churches to mosques to markets and house to house educating people on child abuse. Our impact includes empowering and equipping individuals in every society we touch.
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VARSH at Menstrual Hygiene Week 

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VARSH at the International Day of the Boy Child

How do you envision the future of your NGO, and what are your goals or aspirations for its growth and impact?

I envision VARSH Foundation as a global community with footprints in all nations, influencing various spheres, and inspiring every young person to raise their voices. We are already on earth and can’t wait to see what the future holds.

As a human rights activist, what are some of the key issues or challenges facing Nigeria today, and how do you advocate for change in these areas?

Nigeria faces numerous socio-political issues, which I believe are interconnected. Some of the issues include corruption, bad leadership, marginalisation in politics, insecurity, poor human capital development, inflation, debts, and many more. I focus on mobilizing and educating others to join the struggle, particularly on women’s issues, including marginalization in politics and leadership and gender-based violence. My work centres around raising our collective voices for change. I believe one person cannot do it all. There is a Yoruba adage that says “Ajoji owo kan o gberu dori” which literarily translates to “just one hand can’t lift a heavy load from the ground to the head”. Therefore, I believe we all need to use our voices if we want to see the positive change we all clamour for.

What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve encountered in your journey as a student activist and NGO founder, and how have you overcome them?

Hmmmmm. I can’t say the journey has been smooth. I mean both as a student activist and as an NGO founder. Cultural instincts and traditional stereotypes about women have been significant obstacles. I am a woman myself, Overcoming this required patience and mastering the ability not to let negative opinions affect me.

Can you share any memorable experiences or successes you’ve had in your activism or advocacy work thus far?

Advocacy has been incredibly rewarding. It has really built my resilience, and confidence, and broadened my perspectives. Every project I’ve undertaken has been a success, with tangible and consistent impacts.

How do you engage with and mobilize youths to support your causes and initiatives?

I leverage social media to engage and mobilize youths. Apart from my founding team, over 900 volunteers have connected with us through social media and through our community outreaches. I am glad that many youths are now interested in lending their voices for a positive change for the nation.
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As you approach graduation, what are your plans for continuing your activism and NGO work beyond university life?

Advocacy is a lifestyle for me. It’s not just something I ventured into to pass the time. I plan to acquire more educational skills in gender and social issues. I believe pursuing a master’s degree will help to further amplify my advocacy.

Can you discuss any partnerships or collaborations your NGO has formed with other organizations or stakeholders to further its mission?

VARSH Foundation has partnered with various traditional councils, the Ministry of Women Affairs, FIDA, and other youth-led organizations in Nigeria to advance our mission.

What advice would you give to other young people who are passionate about social justice and activism but may not know where to start?

Being Passionate about social justice is very important, it will drive you. But I must tell you that passion alone is not enough. Start by doing your part, start from somewhere. No one has it all figured out. And if you keep saying you have passion without putting in the work and starting from somewhere, then your passion might die on the way. uel your passion and remember to practice self-care when the work becomes overwhelming.

Can you share any lessons or insights you’ve gained from your experiences as an activist, NGO founder, and student leader?

A key lesson is that when the time for social change comes, no one can stop it. However, we must build people’s consciousness and sustainable systems beforehand.
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What are some of the values or principles that guide your work and decision-making as an advocate for human rights and social justice?

My core values include empathy, integrity, justice, peace, solidarity, and responsive leadership. I also strongly believe that everyone should have principles and values guiding their life journey that they can’t compromise on.

Looking ahead, what legacy do you hope to leave behind through your activism, NGO work, and involvement in politics?

I hope to leave behind a well-informed, equitable society where girls and women’s voices are heard and valued.

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