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Like a phoenix, Oluwatobi Raji  is rising from the ashes of adversity and inspiring others to do so through her story. She  is a Gender Based Violence (GBV) Advocate with focus on child safety,  and has over 6 years work experience in the humanitarian field. She founded Every Child Initiative in 2019, a nonprofit that educates the public on preventive measures to child sexual abuse and rape of minors using social media and grassroot advocacy as a tool to disseminate her message. Oluwatobi was raped at age 8 by her maternal uncle and survived multiple counts of rape, ten times by ten different persons between age 13-19 years. She as well ensures safe space for vulnerable children living on the street via her partnership with 1 to 2 orphanage homes spread across 36 states in Nigeria.

The  bachelor’s degree holder  in International Relations  and Diplomacy from Iscom University, Cotonou, Benin Republic also earned a Professional  Higher Diploma in Aviation Management from Lagos Aviation and Maritime Business School, Lagos, Nigeria and graduated with distinction. Oluwatobi worked as a Survivor Advocate/Field Officer with Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), Ministry of Justice, Lagos, , with successful effective arrest of domestic and sexual violence offenders in Lagos State, Nigeria.

She currently work as a Volunteer Project Manager at School On The Street Initiative ; a nonprofit that provides access to quality education for orphans and underprivileged children with an establishment of a free tuition school at Iyana-Ilogbo, a rural community situated at Ifo Local Government, Ogun State, Nigeria.

She has impacted over 3000 parents, teachers, guardians and over 5000 children via her house to house sensitization, rural rugged campaign, community sensitization program and face to face counselling. She has taken child safety advocacy to over 5000 households and 20 communities. Oluwatobi volunteers with over 7 local and international non-governmental organizations and this has added to her wide wealth of knowledge in the humanitarian field. She also works as an on-call Professional Caregiver with Flying Doctors Nigeria (FDN), to specifically care for COVID-19 patients. She shares her inspiring story in this article.

 

Childhood Influence

Growing up wasn’t  really fun, though I had a pleasant time with myself as a child. I grew up in a family of 5, with a father whose religion was love for all. I am the first child of my family but my experiences as a child are the passion for in depth love to serve humanity. I grew up having a father, whose only language was love. As a child, the only language I grew up to understand is humanity while my religion is love. After my father’s death, life became hard and miserable with nothing and no one to lean on. We were left in the hands of close friends, who only gave their best as they could to assist us. My childhood experiences made me vow to ensure adequate safety for children in my little capacity.

Inspiration behind Every Child Initiative

Every Child Initiative is a nonprofit founded in January 2019 and advocates against child sexual abuse and rape of minors. The initiative’s primary focus is on ;preventive measures using social media and grassroot advocacy as a means in disseminating my message. The passion was born out of my concern on child safety and my personal experiences. I realised creating safe space for every child is everybody’s business, so the need to speak about child safety was very necessary. In January 2019, we carried out an house to house sensitization, educating parents and children preventing meausres to child sexual abuse and rape. Also in January 2020, I called upon some concerned individuals and advocates to join me in facilitating a Rural Rugged Campaign.

The campaign was organized in strategic local communities of 7 States in Nigeria, same day and time using indigenous languages to disseminate our messages. I have also facilitated the rescue of at least 3 persons off the street to a safe place, 2 children with a pregnant youth inclusive between March 2019 and October 2019.

The Journey so far

It has been quite demanding with several responsibilities, which includes mental tasks, physical energy and financial contributions. The journey so far comes with so many responsibilities, which sometimes results in self-denial of basic needs/amenities. There are moments of discouragement and loneliness but my focus to achieve a set has indeed given me continuous push never to relent.

Being a survivor of sexual abuse, and finding closure

I was sexually violated (Raped) at age 8 by my maternal uncle (My mother’s younger brother) and was threatened by my mother not to tell anyone, which continued till I was  14 to 15 years of age. This horrible and shameful experience opened and gave access to other perpetrators, as I was raped again by 10 different men, 10 times between the ages of 13 to 19years. It wasn’t easy at all for me, each passing day at those points in my life, my only wish was death. I attempted suicide over 5 times as a child and same as an adult. I never received any medical or psychosocial support, which later led to post traumatic stress disorder, depression, low-self-esteem, emotional and hormonal imbalance, suicidal thoughts, aggressiveness, anger and failed relationships. I was able to pull through, when I found my voice to speak out after 22 years of silence. I got support from an ex-partner, he introduced me to his doctor, who later recommended a psychologist and a reputable medical facility to seek help. Just like others, the relationship with this fellow also went down the drain due to the above mentioned and some other contributing factors. Sincerely, I am still healing because I lost everything in my life including family and loved ones, due to the past event in my life.

Volunteering for several organization & giving back during the pandemic

I currently work as a Volunteer Project Manager at School On The Street Initiative; a nongovernmental organization with an establishment of a free tuition school for underprivileged children at Iyana-Ilogbo, a rural community close to Ifo in OgunState. The free tuition school was set up during the Covid-19 pandemic to give back to the community. Also during the Covid-19 pandemic, as a trained member of the Nigerian Red Cross Society, I volunteered to sensitize the community on preventive measures to infectious disease. I also got relief materials of 100 cartons of Lifebuoy &Lux soap from Unilever, Lagos to give out to the community members of Abule-Iroko, as well as sensitize them on personal hygiene. I also received textbooks of about 400 from a reputable non-profit organization, which was donated to 530 underprivileged children in the community. Again during the Covid-19, I was able to impact a life by fundraising for an underprivileged pregnant lady to get delivery items and other baby resource materials.

 

My Certifications, fellowship and momentum

I am a trained anti-corruption personnel from Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) Nigeria in conjunction with and Foreign Corrupt Practices Commission, a Global Youth Ambassador (GYA) with Their World (United Kingdom) 2018 – 2019, African Changemakers Fellow, 2018, United States Government, Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI RLC) 2017 Fellow, Accra, Ghana, African Young Leader Fellowship Program (AYLFP) 2019 Fellow, Accra, Ghana, Young World Leader For Humanity, 2018, My Body Is My Body Ambassador, Sheffield (United Kingdom), conferred Ambassadorial Honor at the International Youth Diplomacy Conference (IYDC) 2019 Accra, Ghana, Ambassador for Africa Project Against Suicide, 2020, World Literacy Foundation (WLF) Ambassador, Colombia, 2020 &am 2021, World Peace Icon Ambassador, at World Institute For Peace 2021.

I am also a member of the Nigerian Red Cross Society, Lagos State branch. She is an Advance First Aider by rank with successful records of emergency response, as a trained emergency first aid team (EFAT) member such as pre-hospital care, flood, fire, accident, election standby, Ebola virus, measles and the COVID-19 pandemic. I was a frontliner (Ebola Response Staff) during the Ebola epidemic in Nigeria and worked with the Federal Ministry of Health (PortHealth Services) for 1 year at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos. I was also a frontliner during COVID-19 outbreak and worked as a Community Search Volunteer on contact tracing with the Federal Ministry Of Health at Alimosho LGA, Lagos State.

On the society and how to treat survivors of Domestic Violence and Rape

The society has so much concentrated on what we call The Blame Game rather than condemning the evil act of rape. 80% of the society still believes that survivors are the architect or causes of their problems. Some people even say to survivors, for this to have happened to you, then you are possessed. This myopic reasoning has empowered perpetrators to develop growth and expand their territories. Survivors of domestic violence and rape must be given adequate respect, regardless of whoever is involved. Domestic Violence and Rape is no longer joke and should be treated with zero tolerance. Until society takes up full responsibility for condemning the act, we won’t achieve a goal or victory.

To Young Girls who want to speak up but scared of being judged

My advice to young girls is to associate with positive minded individuals, whom they can trust well enough to discuss their issues with. They can also reach out to organizations who have existing structures and professionals who can attend to them.

Challenges of my work

As a child safety advocate, I advocate for both boy and girl child. This is due to my understanding that both genders are vulnerable, while the girl child has the larger percentage of vulnerability. When I started advocacy against rape, some people reached out to me to stop talking, so my chosen career won't hinder me from getting married or make friends and family dissasociate from me. This and so many sayings only fuel my energy in doing more. I have been threatened both offline & online social media, I have also received threats of being kidnapped, gangraped and making it public to shut me up. It has been a journey of the last breath, meaning I vowed to ensure my best is invested even if it means giving my last drop of blood. I see this to be a service to humanity, which I have never seen any man who serves humanity in vain.

 

3 women who inspire me to be better and why

There are amazing women I encountered their stories not-in-person but online, such as Dr Helen Paul (Nigerian Comedienne) whose birth was from rape. Joyce Mayer who was raped repeatedly by her father, Pastor Terry Gobanga (Kenya) who was kidnapped and gang raped on her wedding day. These three amazing women stories inspired me to live above my past, impact in lives and make living worthwhile. I also decided not to dwell in the past, make lemonade out of life given lemon which will in return produce beautiful fruits.

Being a Woman of Rubies

Oluwatobi is a gold that has gone through the process, she is a rare gift and unique being. My calibration carries a special identity which fosters so many happenings in my life (No Regrets). I only found mercy and grace in the sight of my creator, which made me stand out despite my rough journey.

 

On  educating children early

Educate children on the identification of body parts from age 3, Educate children on the correct names of body parts from age 3, Teach children identification of a sexual perpetrator and sexual abuse, Teach children keeping secret of any form is wrong, Educate children that, their body belongs to them, no one has a right to see or touch and same thing goes to them. Educating children early enough will not only preserve but keep them safe from this heinous crime.

 

The beauty  of being  a legal practitioner is understanding the plight of those you defend, and advocating for them. Not many Lawyers can mult-itask and deliver successfully  both ways, but Toyin Ndidi Taiwo-Ojo is breaking boundaries in her profession as a Lawyer and Human rights activist. She is not only “walking the talk”, but also lending her voice to the voiceless, vulnerable and marginalized in the society.

The amazing  legal practitioner is also the  founder of Stop The Abuse Against Children and Women Foundation, popularly called Stop the Abuse foundation. The seasoned negotiator and mediator bagged her law degree from the Obafemi Awolowo University, also known as the Great Ife . She has worked in various notable firms.

She was one time welfare secretary of the NBA Ota, Ogun State branch and currently a member of the NBA national NHIS committee, she was also at one time the Personal Assistant of the wife of the Executive Governor, of Kogi state , position she held until she resigned in 2017 to face her advocacy passion squarely. A human rights advocate, she sits on the board of some notable charities in the country and has great passion for vulnerable children, women and the environment.

She shares her inspiring journey, and tips on the right way to report cases of violence and abuse.

Childhood Influence

Growing up with a widowed grandmother in the village, it was all too easy to understand the hardship that women and children face especially in a deeply patriarchal society. Also , seeing my grandmother stand up for herself and persuading her kinsmen to sell land for her when it wasn’t the norm to do so prepared me for this future.

Inspiration behind Stop the Abuse Against Children and Women Foundation

 I have always offered pro Bono legal services to indigent people but my vision became clearer in 2015 when a young boy of six years named Promise was stabbed by his mom with a broken bottle as a sort of punishment for allegedly “ defiling” a two years old girl. There and then, I knew I had to do something. Most parents were ignorant of acceptable methods of disciplining, kids were being subjected to the most ludicrous form of abuse in the name of punishment, being raped and maltreated and sometimes needed rescue from even their own parents!

Being a legal practitioner, human rights advocate and managing it all

Honestly, it has been God but having a supportive husband has made the journey easy.

Impact of Stop the Abuse Foundation since Inception

 Oh wow! Stop The Abused was a registered in 2018 and has rescued over 30 young girls from physical and sexual abuse. We have also rescued women from domestic abuse. Our food drives, economic empowerment interventions have affected more than 5000 families and it is still counting. Stop The Abuse Foundation is also keen on advocacy and sensitization and more than 10, 000 persons have been affected through our grassroot mobilization. The far reach of our constant appearances both on TV, newspaper, radio and social media on advocacy and sensitisation cannot be overemphasized

 

What the Government should do to support the Gender Based Violence sector

 I think the government should support critical stakeholders by providing Funds! A gender purse should be set up with critical stakeholders and philanthropists to run it just like CACOVID was set up during the covid crises of 2020.

Most shelters run by private owners are poorly funded. As of now in Nigeria, the cost of justice for survivors is very high! Within Lagos alone to rescue a child, one must be thinking of spending between 40,000 to 50,000 naira at least from providing vehicles from arrest to logistics of investigations with the police. When the suspect is arrested, one also must provide the vehicle to court and a lot of other sundry things. Government should be deliberate and help to see that our laws are more robust in tandem with current realities. This brings us to the issue of access to justice delivery. Countless adjournment makes the victims oftentimes give up but if cases were treated speedily, it would encourage victims to seek for redress in court.

Challenges of my work

Attitude of the society towards gender-based violence is a big challenge. The culture of silence being encouraged by our people is one example, victims of gender-based violence are not “supposed” to speak up talk less of fighting for justice especially when the perpetrator is a family member, their extended family believes that the victim speaking up will break the “unity” of the family. This brings us to victim blaming. The general belief that it must have been what the victim wore or did that seduce the rapist is another sociocultural challenge. Our people see anyone who fights for other women as an oversabi, the challenges are too numerous

Other projects and activities

We currently apart from rescuing victims and offering legal, paralegal, and psychosocial interventions free of charge. We also do food drives and economic empowerment for widows. We are currently looking at building a transit shelter for children. We are also planning a skills acquisition center to help indigent women who are survivors of domestic violence to become economically empowered so as to fend for themselves and children.

 What do you enjoy most about your job? The thing I enjoy most is the smile I get from survivors after a rescue! The smile often carried the whole message of gratitude, hope and relief. Knowing that you have made a difference in the life of someone who has given up hope is quite exhilarating.

3 women who inspire me and why

My grandmother Blackie Ekwutoziam Awana is my first role model, she taught me that women can be anything they want to be! From being widowed at an early stage and quite illiterate, she questioned the tradition of not selling land to women in her hometown even when the woman had the money. She is an unsung hero. Women all over the world striving for a better life, keep inspiring me to be a better version of myself.

To women in abusive marriages  who are afraid to flee

The covenant of life is far greater than the covenant of marriage.

Steps to take to seek justice for cases of domestic violence and rape

For a rape victim, the first is to speak up, do not let anyone shut you up. Speak your truth. If it is a recent rape incident, do not clean yourself(vagina) up and if you must, clean up, use a white handkerchief, tie the handkerchief in a clean white nylon, then go the hospital before going to the police. Call a human rights organization. Better still, call the human rights organization first to give you moral support as you fight for justice.

Being a Woman of Rubies

Honestly, my joy is to see more women and children free from all these indignities.

Mental Health is often misunderstood, especially by those  who have never suffered from it. It is not well prioritized in our society as people are not well informed on what Mental Health actually looks like. Dedoyin Ajayi is changing that narrative.

The psychotherapist with a specialty in Emotional Health and a diploma in Professional Counselling is using her social media platforms to advocate and educate the society on Mental Health.

She’s also a certified Neuro-linguistic practitioner from the Academy of Modern and Applied Psychology. Dedoyin has a thriving counseling practice with an average of thirty hours per week, vested into both virtual and physical counselling sessions. She currently serves in the capacity of a consultant therapist three organizations, and specializes in helping individuals with suicide ideations, depression, childhood trauma, existential crises, and personality disorders.

She shares her inspiring journey exclusively with Esther Ijewere in this educative and insightful interview

Childhood Influence

It started when I was 7 years old. I remember that I’d fantasize about having an office where people came to cry. I’d give them a handkerchief and calm them down. As soon as they felt calm, they’d go outside and pay my secretary. I never quite understood the picture my imagination was painting, but I knew it was my very first inclination towards preparing me for my present career path

Why I pitched my tent in the  Mental Health sector

As a child, I had a profoundly small stature and I was bullied a lot because of this. It created a deep seated low self esteem that led to feelings of bitterness, resentment and inadequacy. I recall that I badly wanted to talk to somebody that wasn’t family. I knew something was terribly wrong and I needed help. I however didn’t know who to turn to. This helpless feeling drove me to a decision: being that person for other people. I wanted to be able to have the listening ears I didn’t have. This led to a voracious research about the mental health sector. My findings were very discouraging at the time, seeing as therapy wasn’t widely accepted and in some cases, even still being stigmatized. I however couldn’t deny the deep longing within me, to tread this path and here I am.

Being a psychotherapist, Neuro-linguistic practitioner, consultant and staying grounded

To be very honest, I’m not yet proud of how I manage it. Thankfully I have a wonderful support system in my husband and a few close friends who are to it that I rest and take my structured breaks. Sometimes I go through mental burn-outs but these episodes are becoming few and far between. I’m however learning to really prioritize my own mental needs as well.

My Mental Health advocacy on social media, and its impact so far

I became an active mental health advocate in 2018. This stemmed from a discovery I made, which was the fact that the Nigerian mental health community was grossly under-represented on social media. We have a few people doing great things but there was a huge content and information sparsity that needed to be addressed. It’s why I decided to become a voice of mental health for the Nigerian community. As for impact, the response was very discouraging at first, but I continued. The past one year has however been explosive. The feedback has been wild to say the least. I’ve had people sending me DMs, telling me how a post I made was specifically for them and this spurred them to book a session. Little by little, the stigmatization surrounding mental health is thinning out. The narrative is changing! I’m super excited.

Why the Government should support the Mental Health 

First and foremost, it’s no news that the government has been very laid back about the mental health sector, especially considering the fact that an average Nigerian today, has a pertinent issue bothering them. The need for structured emotional support cannot be overemphasized. I’d suggest that the government looks into building Walk-In Therapy Centres just the same way we have clinics. This would enable people to readily have access to subsidized mental health care. There should also be a massive Nationwide awareness sponsored by the government, with the aim of sensitizing people about their mental health. The more conversations we have about the mental health sector, the more growth we would experience as a country.

Challenges of my work

The primary challenge is stigmatization. A lot of people reach out to tell me about friends or family members they’d love to recommend therapy to, but would never be open to the idea of speaking to a “shrink” after all they are not mad.

Another issue is social support. While receiving mental health care, it is imperative that the patient has an effective support system which would further facilitate their recovery. Imagine having to go to work during a depressive phase because your boss doesn’t believe that depression is a valid reason to be exempt from work! This needs to change. All hands must be on deck to help rewrite the narrative about mental illness being a sign of laziness or cowardice.

Other projects and activities

Presently, I co-founded a mental health awareness initiative themed HEART CAFE with Olamide Ogidan-Odeseye (@larmmy). It’s a weekly meeting that is held on Twitter every Friday, where people come to unburden, network and most importantly receive psycho-educational tips that keep them up to speed about mental health. I also run a YouTube channel (Thededoyinajayi), where I get to talk about mental health issues as well as conversations surrounding relationships and lifestyle.

What I enjoy most about my job

The fulfillment that comes with seeing a client recover! Most especially suicidal clients. There’s nothing quite like it. I’d literally be grinning from ear to ear in gratitude and satisfaction.

3 women who inspire me and why

One of my major inspirations is Dr. Thema Bryant; a clinical psychologist practicing in the USA. She’s someone whose consistency serves as a major motivation.

Another woman who inspires me is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. It’s her self confidence for me. The very fact that she’s able to rock her traditional attires in foreign or westernized settings is a reflection of her healthy self perception and the strength of her persona.

The third woman is Rinu Oduala (Savvy Rinu). She displayed a unique and uncanny strength during the whole #endsars campaign, and her intelligence is phenomenal. These three women are most definitely huge sources of inspiration to me.

When a person should seek therapy

Asides mainstream mental health issues like clinical depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and so on, therapy should be sought the moment you notice any alteration in the default emotional state. Feelings of deep sadness, incessant worrying, loss of concentration at work, relationship issues, abuse of any kind, frequent change in moods, loss of interest in activities as well as a deep gut feeling that something is wrong. The truth is ANYONE can come for therapy. Even if it’s for a holistic checkup. We all could do with emotional support systems.

Nuggets on how to stay mentally and emotionally balanced

To stay mentally and emotionally balanced, the very first step is SELF AWARENESS. You can’t manage what you don’t understand. Afterwards, it’s important to be intentional about taking mental recuperative breaks. It’s a form of self-care. Going for walks, swimming, taking dance/ music lessons, exercising and so on can serve as activities you can engage in during a mental recuperative break. Another vital thing is to filter through your relationships. Humans play a major role in our mental well-being. Surround yourself with people who genuinely love and validate you. Above all, never hesitate to seek help. Very important.

Being a Woman of Rubies

My implicit faith in humanity. I strongly believe that if we have a love-themed world, everything would be more colorful and beautiful. The fact that I choose to heal the world one heart at a time, makes me a Woman of Rubies.

***Dedoyin Ajayi can be reached on social media : @thededoyinajayi on IG, @dedoyinajayi on Twitter. A detailed overview on the services she renders are on dedoyinajayi.com

 

Life they say is a series of building, and there is no good innovation without human impact. It takes a certain level of bravery to dare to be different and thrive in the STEM sector. Multi-award winning social innovator Amanda Obidike is one of the women breaking boundaries in STEM globally.

The technologist and scientist is the founding curator of the WEF Global Shapers, Ozubulu Hub and Executive Director of STEMi Makers Africa. Her role in this position is to provide leadership, strategy management and oversee the design and implementation of sustainable Community projects and STEM Education across 19 Sub-Saharan countries by preparing the next generation of Africans with STEM lucrative skills for Africa’s workforce.

In addition to STEM, she addresses thematic topics on Social Innovation, Data Science, Youth Development, Entrepreneurship and socio-economic policies. In 2020, Amanda received several awards including the Global Award for Achievement by TechWomen 100 and 30 Under 30 Inspiring Leaders of Africa.

Amanda got an opportunity to be trained by IBM in Business Intelligence/Analytics after 8 months. Upon completion, she took the initiative to serve as a knowledge panel in preparing Africans with 21st-century skills and future-focused options for an emerging workforce.

This was her inspiration, her driving force to starting STEMi Makers Africa.

She serves as a Mentor in the New York Academy of Science, Cherie Blair Foundation, the 1 million Women in Tech, Global thinkers for Women where she lends her voice, knowledge, and serve as a role model to girls in Africa.

She currently serves on the Leadership Team of the 500 Women Scientists, USA and Trustee Board of the MAI Foundation. The amazing amazon shares her inspiring story with Women of Rubies

Childhood Influence

I never had a background in Technology and Engineering. I have always dreamed of one day leading currency operations in the Central Bank of Nigeria. Growing up, I was a curious, adventurous, and daring girl. I went to different secondary schools cutting across 3 different geopolitical zones in Nigeria, gave myself to community volunteering, travelling, and learning how to do business.

Inspiration behind STEMi Makers Africa

STEMi Makers Africa emerged when I suffered underemployment and depression in 2O18. The meaningful and lucrative jobs available required technical skills that I didn’t originally have after graduation. Nigeria also began to transfer major resources and job opportunities to skilled professionals and expatriates due to a lack of competent and domestic STEM workforce.

STEMi Makers Africa was founded to address the leaky unemployment pipeline and break the wall of Inheriting fragmented and disconnected education institutions in Africa.

If current trends continue, by 2050 some one-third of Africa’s one billion young people will lack basic proficiency in math, reading, and STEM subjects. Millions will be unemployable and unproductive. To remain competitive in a growing global economy where 96% of jobs are now automated, we are raising African talents and achievement in STEM Subjects, and Skills of the Future by empowering Educators, marginalized communities and students to be self-reliant or effectively transition from education to employment.

Impact and testimonials since inception

STEMi Makers Africa is a non-profit organization that builds diverse African talents with lucrative STEM resources, skills and currently designed a national innovation base that supports key sectors of the economy, including agriculture, energy, healthcare, information and communication technologies, manufacturing, and artificial intelligence.

We have maintained one of the greatest strategies in helping 78+ communities in 19 African countries and 30,000+ young people develop job skills, improve educational outcomes, provide opportunities to succeed and we are planning ahead not to leave the younger generation feeling displaced and inheriting a more fragmented world than we live in today. Through our innovative approach to education and capacity building, we emerged winners of the 2021 Stroeous award for Global positive Impact on Innovative Solution, became a Falling Walls Berlin Engage Finalist for Breakthrough of the Year in the Digital Education category, 2020.

Just recently, one of our Educators who was a recipient to our first STEM Integration training for Educators got accepted for a 4 year USA Teacher Exchange Fellowship, which is renewable. We recorded 51 Internship and job positions for our project Kuongoza mentees program alone for 2O21.

Journey so far

The journey has been rocky, yet tremendous. There are times we get concerned about resources, partnerships, effectively managing operations across other African countries, but we keep pushing and leaving an indelible mark that can one day inspire esteemed organizations to collaborate with us.

Managing it all

My dear! (laughs)

I believe it’s due to the value I bring and the confidence people have in me. Majority of what I represent sprung from people’s recommendations, and organization appointments. I count it an honor and do my best to serve in the best capacity I can.

Awards and recognition

I was given the Global Award for Achievement by TechWomen 100,  in recognition of leading the way for future generations of tech talent, shaping the future of the technology industry and having a responsibility as a role model to share my experiences, laying the foundations for others to follow in the wake of technology. My driving force as an African woman who was under-employed and depressed is to Build an “Africa By Us, For Us” ecosystem that prepares diverse young talents with future-focused options in STEM lucrative pathways to become more experienced for Africa’s workforce. As a social innovator, I strengthen competencies, empower the next generation of Technologists, Engineers, and Innovators by training Educators with new, research-based instructional pedagogy, hands-on resource tools to ensure their students are allowed to solve ill-defined problems, make real-world connections while deepening their content knowledge and preparing them for STEM careers.

Kuongoza Mentoring Program

Our Project Kuongoza Mentoring Program has made significant strides and supported 195O+ women aged 15-35 access new markets, work flexibly and integrate these learned skills needed for the workplace – after being mentored.

Second, the STEM Integration for Educators as an ongoing partnership with the U.S Consulate General to cultivate a STEM Workforce, streamline STEM Education and refine Educator’s instructional pedagogy where students are allowed to solve ill-defined problems, make real-world connections while deepening content knowledge and preparing them for STEM careers. We have further inculcated these educator projects across Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Cameroon.

Representation  of women and girls in STEM

Women make up half of the total of Nigeria’s college-educated workforce, but only 11% of the technology and engineering workforce are women. Research shows that girls start doubting their STEM intelligence by age 6 and continue to lose confidence as classes become less gender-balanced and more intimidating. Whatever the cause, it’s clear that parents, educators, allies and we as a community must work together to show girls that no subject is off-limits simply because of their gender.  Women and girls remain underrepresented in STEM and this is why we combine proper preparation in middle, high schools and universities, offer hands-on resources and opportunities, and provide young girls in Africa with women role models and subject matter experts in STEM.

Challenges

Resources like human resources, resource tools, access to investment and partnerships.

Other projects and activities

Mentoring Support:- Since 2016, I mentor at the New York Academy of Science, Cherie Blair Foundation, Global Thinkers Forum where I offer mentees academic, business support and invaluable life skills to thrive.

Policies:- In addressing policy concerns that revolve around governance and public administration, I serve as Assistant Director in Public Relations to the Nigerian Global Affairs Council.

Children Development and building:- I offer psychosocial development support and community management in the Royalty Children’s Network.

Gender Issues:- I offer pro-bono technology services to women Entrepreneurs, to help them incubate, innovate and commercialize their ideas and also serve on the 500 Women Scientists Team.

3 women who inspire me and why

Tobiloba Ajayi is transforming the face of cerebral palsy in Africa through advocacy, counselling, capacity building, referral services, and educator training. I am inspired by the work she does in the Let the CP Kids Learn, a foundation she founded out of a desire to change the prevalent narrative about the intellectual capabilities of Children with Cerebral Palsy

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is showing us that it is possible to dream, and excel. She became the first woman and African to be Director-general of the WTO in March 2021

Melania Trump continues to serve as an ardent advocate for children and devotes her time and efforts to helping young people navigate the many issues they face in an ever-changing society. In 2018, she announced BE BEST, an awareness campaign that strives to promote a world for children based on healthy living, kindness, and respect.

Nuggets on how to be successful in STEM as a woman

  • Be fearless. Be free to Dream. Be free to collaborate. Be free to ask questions. Be free to excel and Be free to succeed.
  • There may be hurdles in the journey but please maintain focus. STEM is a wonderful decision anyone can make. Feel free to reach out to the peers you admire or professionals in STEM who could share their stories, tips and advice that can help you in the field.
  • Get yourself a mentor and advisor.
  • Volunteer with community led organizations who are driving STEM Education.
  • We need more women in STEM fields. ILO stated that Women are 30% more likely than men to lose their job as a consequence of automation and low STEM skills.
  • There is a lot we can do in this field for our better livelihood, economy and improving retention of young women in STEM Careers.

Being a Woman of Rubies

Proverbs 31:10 says “Who can find a virtuous and capable woman? She is more precious than rubies.” A Woman of Rubies is full of wisdom and strength. She is an enabler, a teacher, a friend, a community mobilizer, tenacious and kind. Yes, I am a Woman of Rubies.

You can reach out to Amanda via the links below

Twitter @amandachirpy

Instagram @amandachirpy

Linkedin Amanda Obidike

Facebook Amanda Obidike

 

 

 

 

 

On the 8th of August, 2021 and to mark the one year anniversary of the tweet chat #GetTalkingWithEsther, hosted by Esther Ijewere, Kemi Oyesola, a coach, director of How2think Global Consultancy, and survivor of domestic violence was invited to speak on the topic “Leave to live: My Domestic Violence Experience.”

It was a moment of real truth and baring her journey, her mistakes and most importantly, her recovery and rebirth process.

Kemi Oyesola, our guest at the popular tweet chat dropped a lot of nuggets that had attendees reacting in awe.

Here are excerpts from the conversation and how it all went down.

 

This tweet chat was a moment of learning and unlearning and one thing that was constant in our guest’s response is the God-factor and how much role your thoughts play in shaping your life.

Those who attended the tweet chat testified to how much they learned when the Host asked them to mention what stood out for them. Here’s what they have to say about it.

Coach Kemi Oyesola is a living proof that you can rise from any hopeless situation. As long as you can find the strength, courage and determination to do so.

Find out more about the rest of this insightful tweet chat via the Twitter handle of the host or simply follow the hash tag #GetTalkingWithEsther on Twitter for updates on the next one.

Sarah Kuponiyi is a passionate youth leader whose work cuts across gender equality and sexual reproductive health. She is also a 2019 nominee for 120 under 40 New Generation of Family Planning Leaders, recipient of Sustainable Solutions Africa 30 under 30 2019 and Cohort 15 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) emerging Leaders Program West Africa.

The founder of  A Well-Informed Adolescent  (AWA) Initiative, an organisation where she leads the team in creating and managing Safe Spaces that ensure young people can achieve their potential by enabling them access to essential services. She recently launched Alora Reusable Pads, a social enterprise to address period poverty by creating eco-friendly menstrual hygiene products freely distributed to in school and vulnerable girls and sold at affordable prices to the public. As a Beijing +25 Eagle (women advocate) for UN Women Nigeria, she uses her skills to advocate for upholding of human rights for sexual and reproductive health as the key to ensuring that women and girls can be equal and free to make decisions in all spheres of their lives, without discrimination, violence, or coercion, and with the assurance of their dignity upheld.

She shares her inspiring journey, her passion for development work, and  endorsement of different Government parastatals  in this interview with Esther Ijewere.

Childhood Influence

No, I don’t think my childhood prepared me in any way for what I do now but I can say it’s part of what inspired me or should I say it is one of my why(s) in doing what I do now.  Growing up, it was awesome experience, had a lovely family, hardworking and sacrificial parents. Life itself was not so smooth not so rough; it was a beautiful as well as hard a journey.  Becoming an adolescent I realized I was a lone ranger hardly had friends, there were issues around self-identification and family challenges I had no one to share with, my parents were not available for those kind of talks and I always bottled them in. I was at the receiving end of my parent’s emotional breakdown when they separated and there were days I felt like running away, if there were safe spaces then that I could trust and go to it would have been helpful but I sucked it all in same with my siblings but in all right now I look back at my teenage self and I can say I am proud of that girl, the woman I have become is proud of the young teenage girl I was, she survived the lassitude of life, rode the rough waves graciously and got ashore unscathed, like not all adolescents could have been strong enough to to pull through without losing hope or sight of the goal.

So what I do now is to provide safe space services I couldn’t get at my time for adolescents and young people alike so as to enable them share their challenges, give a listening ears to them, let them know being stuck in the dark is not forever for those going through challenges and provide them tools and resources they need to make informed choices about their life, health, career etc so that they can transit to healthy adults without letting the light of their mind go dim even as the voyage on life’s journey.

Inspiration behind  “A.W.A” 

So what I went through growing up like I explained earlier inspired me to start A Well-Informed Adolescent (AWA) Initiative, which started as a community based project in 2018 to provide adolescents in rural communities an inspiration to live beyond their present definition, to aim high and think big and not let their background define them. Like the name of the organization, I am eager to have adolescents, who are well-Informed about the stage of life they are in, help them answer all the burning existential questions they have about their life, their overall health, their career, provide them guidance and tools they need to make informed choices by themselves. We achieved this through use of Multisectoral programs that link health to education, recreational activities, skills acquisition, youth club activities, school-based campaign, safe space services, advocacy and peer health education. Over the years the organization has grown to be more encompassing we also work to reduce gender based violence by educating women and young people about harmful gender norms and practices that contribute to Gender Based Violence in our society. We address issues around sexual violence; educate women and young people about their sexual reproductive health and rights. We provide parenting support programs, school-based dating violence prevention programs, & community based interventions to build equitable gender norms & attitudes in boys & girls. We provide sustainable livelihood programs for young women and girls through economic skill training and acquisition program. Nonetheless our primary core focus still remain investing appropriately in the health and development of young people and we continued to strive towards improving the health and development of this unique population sub-group

Inspiration behind Alora reusable pad

As a younger girl who stayed with her father, I could not afford to buy sanitary pads for myself due to how pads were unaffordable for someone like me, neither was I able to ask him for such due to culture of shyness and silence. Likewise, working on school health outreaches made me realized this situation has not change and the Story is what cut across all region of the country; Nigeria is one of the countries that place a heavy tax on menstrual products. Without access to proper menstrual products, many girls miss classes and older women are unable to attend work A pack of sanitary pads cost an average of $1.30, even as an estimated 44% of Nigeria’s population (87 Million people) lives in extreme poverty earning less than $1.90 per day, women and girls may delay urination and defecation but it is not possible to stop menstrual flow. The lack of affordable sanitary products also exacerbates anxiety and stress during menstruation and increases their vulnerability to gender based violence and sexually transmitted infections. Alora Reusable Pads was created to solve Period Poverty by producing and selling eco-friendly reusable menstrual hygiene products from specialized fabrics that are comfortable to the skin, hygienic, and affordable. Alora Reusable Pads are made for every woman and girl. It is affordable, easy to use, comfortable and available in three sizes with varying thickness to fit every woman at all times. It is made of several layers of absorbent fabrics including cotton and water proof fabrics and it has numerous benefits such as  saves you money, very economical, environmentally friendly, safer for the body, fashionably feminine and very affordable.

The reception since we launched

Wow, the reception has been awesome. We have received considerable acceptance in the development space and government parastatas because it is a sustainable way of solving period poverty but for individuals we realized there is need to do more awareness creation on reusable pads in Nigeria, it is still a new niche and awareness about this would help influence mind shift and behavioral change which help increase acceptance. Notably to note is our Alora Pads has been purchased by the following;

  • Cross River State Ministry of Women Affairs purchased Alora Pads for its UNFPA funded dignity packs distribution project in Cross River State.
  • Ekiti State Governor’s wife Her Excellency Erelu Bisi Fayemi purchased Alora Pads for her Keep Girls in School Project for world menstrual hygiene day 2021
  • NGO in Adamawa KPANG SURRI Foundation purchased Alora pads to commemorate World Menstrual Hygiene Day
  • NGOs in Calabar Gender and Development Actions (GADA) and A Well Informed Adolescent (AWA) Initiative Purchased Alora Pads to commemorate World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021
  • Alora Reusable Pads was invited by Federal Ministry of Women Affairs Abuja, Dame Pauline Tallen in commemorating World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021 at the Ministry Complex in Abuja.
  • Official presentation of Alora Reusable pads to United Nation Population Funds (UNFPA) Calabar Sub office
  • Discussion on period poverty on HitfmCalabar with Abenmire Ade where we shared sustainable solutions to addressing this menace; one of which is Alora Reusable Pad
  • We are so excited as our founder and team lead got profiled by US Mission to African Union on the celebration of International women’s day 2021.
  • Gate Way Excel Collage Otupka Benue State purchase alora pads for their gate way pad up project
  • Alora reusable pads was endorsed by the UN Women Nigeria.

Being a certified adolescent sexual health professional, running my organisation, volunteering for several international organisations, and managing it all

(Smile) well, let me honest not easy, reward of hard work is more work but because all I do is what I am passionate I enjoy it and I give it my best, I prioritize my schedules and deliverables, I have calendars and to do list, I set reminders, I delegate where necessary and most importantly I work with awesome amiable teams both at AWA Initiative and with Alora Pads.  Our board of trustees, staff, volunteers and supporters are all amazing.

Challenges of my work

Time consuming, Mentally stressing -My life is all about work with little or no time for other things of life but lately I am making conscious effort to live a balance life.

Challenges involves in handling   Gender based violence prevention at the grassroot or community is having to contend with community gate keepers and community strong holds (laugh) let me not go there while for young people it just a matter of them trusting you enough and the work becomes easier.

Other Projects and activities

We have done various projects and here are some of them

  • A Well-Informed Adolescent Campaign 2018
  • A Well-Informed Adolescent Campaign 2019
  • A Well-Informed Adolescent Campaign 2020
  • A Well-Informed Adolescent Campaign 2021
  • Women Voice Leadership Project in partnership with Child Care and Adult Protection (CCAPI) and Action Aid Nigeria funded by Global Affairs Canada
  • UNESCO/Society for Family Health Spotlight Initiative potlight Initiative Project Activity 4.2.4 which is aimed at ”Strengthening the capacity of youth network (Civil Society Organisation) to carry our peer education and support young people to access Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and SRHR services” in Cross River State

Here are the Programs we run at A Well-Informed Adolescent  (AWA)  Initiative

  • Tackling Gender Based Violence; A weekly program that offers crucial approach to poverty reduction, economic development and a key to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • Friday Talk Date: In this event we provide adequate age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education to adolescents at the youth resource center
  • Safe Space Activities: We provide youth friendly services that cater for the overall development of young people
  • Health Programs
  • Livelihood Programs

 3 women who inspire me to be better and why

I have plenty women ooo but since you asked for 3 here are they

  • Dr. Yolanda N George-David also known as auntlanda, I met her while I was still in secondary school through a radio program tag “Sharing Life Issues” wow she inspires me to do better because despite her own life issues that she could use as a legit excuse to just remain in her corner yet she leaves everything to give her all to total strangers, mehn its wow. And she first exemplified this bible verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” to me mehn Mama has plenty PhDs in Neurology, Obstetrics and gynecology, psychologist etc an OAP, a wife, mother, farmer, business mogul, caterers etc she literally made me believe I could be anything I set my mind on and work towards.
  • Mrs Emilia Eyo-Effa, I met her while working at my first NGO work ever she was the Gender Specialist, currently now works with USAID, seeing her transition from jobs to jobs gives me hope that I can achieve my career dreams in the development sector, all I need to do is work hard and be consistent. She also an amiable supporter of our organization, she is one of our astute board of trustees who always open her arms and doors for me, to advises me using her wealth of professional experience I am so glad to be in her circle and to have as a board of trustee for AWA Initiative.
  • Michelle Obama, reading her book titled “Becoming” gave me a glimpse to her life, her roots, how she came of age, her family, her life as the first lady. Reading about her triumph and disappointment made me realized I am a work in progress I have not arrived or gotten to my final destination and that in every of my life phase I keep working, keep learning, keep living and keep becoming the better version of myself always.

To young women

Self Identifcation, Self-worth, Self-value. I would tell them to work on themselves first, evolve or commence their journey of becoming before getting entangled,  and I would tell them to be strong and not lose sight of their goals not be distracted by society but rather press on and be the best version of themselves that they could be.

Future of Alora Reusable Pad

At Alora Reusable Pads our vision is A World without Period Poverty, were every woman and girl can have their period with dignity. Our Mission: To be a leading producer of affordable, eco-friendly, comfortable reusable pads in West Africa and to address period poverty through distribution of reusable pads and provision of menstrual health and hygiene management programs. We hope to reduce poor menstrual hygiene by 30% in Nigeria (and Africa) by 2025.

Being a Woman of Rubies

I am a Woman of Rubies because contribute to developing my communities; I empower women and girls to become change agents.

Awards and Recognition

National Gender Youth Activist for United Nations Women HQ, Beijing eagle (Women advocate) for United Nations Women Nigeria. A 2019 nominee for 120 under 40 New Generation of Family Planning Leaders, recipient of Sustainable Solutions Africa 30 under 30 2019 and Cohort 15 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) RLC emerging Leaders Program West Africa. Immediate past Deputy Coordinator YALI Network Cross River State, She is part of the Cross River CSO Gender Responsive Budgeting Monitoring Group, Cross River State CSOs Network, and Cross River State GBV/SRHR Network respectively among others.

 

Mary Izobo is the founder of The Amazon Leadership Initiative (TheALI), which aims to empower women and girls, provide support networks, mentorship, career guidance, education and capacity development to alleviate gender inequality.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA Hons) in French Language from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria; a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland; a Barrister at Law (BL) from the Nigerian Law School, Nigeria; a Master of Laws (LLM) in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa from the University of Pretoria, South Africa; and a Master of Laws (LLM) in Rule of Law for Development from Loyola University Chicago, USA.

She is currently studying for a Doctor of Laws (LLD) with a focus on International Governance at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. She has worked for the United Nations (UN) the African Union Commission (AUC), the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), the Institute for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).

She talks about her journey in an interview with Women of Rubies.

Inspiration Behind The Amazon Leadership Initiative (TheALI)

I was inspired to start TheALI because of my passion and concern (love) for human rights particularly women and girls’ rights.

Impact on society, andTestimonials since inception.
The Amazon Leadership initiative (TheALI), is a not-for-profit organization. It was established to empower women and girls, provide support networks, mentorship, career guidance, education and capacity development to alleviate gender inequality in line with aspiration 6 of the AU Agenda 2063 and goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030. TheALI envisions a world where everyone has equal rights and opportunities – inter-generational equity.

The impact of TheALI on women and girls includes the advancement and empowerment of women and girls for the fulfilment of their rights, development and wellbeing. We do this through mentorship, career guidance, education and capacity development. We provide education for young women and girls including career guidance in their chosen career fields. We also currently mentor several girls and young women across continents as mentorship is at the heart of TheALI. We have also been able to educate and provide capacity development for young women and girls through webinars, training and informal meetings. Topics of the webinars and training TheALI have covered, include five of the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: Women and girls’ education, the girl child, women in governance, gender and generation equality, and gender-based violence. All of these webinars, training and informal meetings were well attended by individuals who are set to change the world around them. You can find the links to these webinars and advocacy work here.

We have also been able to carry out advocacy programmes for the promotion and protection of the rights and welfare of the girl child using the bottom to top approach to place a girl child at the centre of Africa’s development agenda. In 2020, TheALI collaborated with the Graça Machel Trust (GMT) in commemorating the International Day of the Girl Child through an intergenerational dialogue on the theme ‘She is Equal.’ We brought together girls’ representatives from the five regions in Africa (Central, East, North, West, and Southern Africa) to afford them the opportunity to share their concerns and challenges primarily to inform and influence the advocacy agenda for girls within the African continent. With this intergenerational dialogue, we were able to create an interactive platform for these young girls who presented the barriers that prevent them from enjoying and fulfilling their rights as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child as we proposed solutions to these barriers.

You have hosted and organized several empowerment programs and conferences how do you manage it all and what drives you?

On how I manage it all, I am constantly motivated by my passion for human rights, gender equality and equity, the importance of learning, sharing and imparting knowledge, partnerships, and collaborations. What drives me is hard work, commitment, consistency, dedication, passion, and above all networking because as they say your network is your net worth.

What are the important aspects you’ve noticed about Africa as someone who has worked with the African Union? What are the things you wish were done differently when it comes to the female gender?

There are so many important aspects to Africa that I have noticed guided by the values and ideals of the African Union. To begin with, I would highlight African Unity. The African Union is the Pan-Africanist continental organization that we have in terms of bringing African people together and formulating the standards for promoting democracy, human rights and pioneering peer-review between and amongst States in Africa.

Another aspect is the role of the youth in nation-building in Africa – Youths are the cornerstone and bedrock of any society, and their role cannot be underestimated or overemphasized. As fuel is the driving force of any vehicle, so is the youth of any nation. Africa has the youngest population in the world where 60% of its population is under 25 years. This means that the average percentage of the youth in any African country is approximately 30 to 50 per cent. Africa must utilise its youths in the development of its future vision and direction, by engaging them in the decision making processes. It is critical that youths play a crucial role in building social cohesion, economic prosperity, and political stability in any nation. This must be done through inclusivity and democratization. In 2018, Ms Aya Chebbi was appointed by the African Union as the first African Union Youth Envoy. This is a step in the right direction for the African Union as there is the need to do more by including the youth in leadership positions.

 

What I wished was done differently when it comes to the female gender is what I constantly advocate for – gender equality and equity – Give women more representation. In the past few years, the representation of women at the top leadership position in Africa and also at the African Union Commission has improved and increased but we need more women at the top leadership levels. In the history of the African Union, we have had only one female chairperson, Mrs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and for the first time ever, we have our first female Deputy Chairperson of the Commission, Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa. The AU needs to continue to advocate for the inclusion of women in leadership positions.

What are some of the challenges of your work?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major restraint on everyone. The work that we do at TheALI involves a lot of outreach, advocacy and travelling. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our capacity, outreach and advocacy programmes. Thus, to manage the present realities given the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to use Zoom and other online platforms as a working method.

In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have carried out a lot of advocacy programmes virtually by bringing together notable male and female leaders to continue to discuss issues around the achievement of gender equality and equity. We have also carried out work particularly in relation to women and girls in the context of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the rights of women and girls.

However, because these events are virtual, the actual impact on the ground is not one that we would expect without COVID-19. As a result, TheALI is strategizing and revisiting the work done virtually to assess or measure the impact done on the ground where it matters and concerns all beneficiaries. In addition, at TheALI, we continue to make financial adjustments as adequate funding has not been forthcoming and consequently, the capacity of TheALI has suffered from resource constraints.

Other projects and activities?

We are currently working on two major projects slated for the second half of the year 2021 focusing on empowering women and young girls.

3 women who inspire you and why

Mrs. MOE Agbebaku-Izobo (my mum) is my greatest inspiration. She supports and guides me to become the best I can be. She is a pillar, a backbone and a constant reminder that my dreams are valid. Besides my mum, three other women who inspire me in no particular order are: Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organization; Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of United Nations Women (UN Women) and Mrs Michelle Obama, the former first lady of the United States of America. These women inspire me because they have broken down barriers and shattered glass ceilings in achieving their dreams, pioneering their fields and taking up spaces in male-dominated spheres. These women are strong and phenomenal and bring a realization that your dreams are valid only if you dare to dream. They are the epitome of Black girl magic.

Could you share some brilliant insights from your life experience?

Some of the brilliant insights from my life experience include studying for my law degree, qualifying for the Nigerian Bar, practicing as a Human Rights Lawyer and receiving recognition through numerous awards for my educational and professional experience.

What makes you a Woman of Rubies?

I believe I am a Woman of Rubies because I greatly care for others, value humanity as well as human rights and most importantly, I am a staunch advocate for gender equality and inter-generational equity.

You can follow Ms. Mary Izobo on any of her social media handles below

Email: info.theali.org@gmail.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/izobomary/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/IzoboMary

Facebook: https://facebook.com/IMaryIzobo

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maryizobo/

 

 

Social media has opened u​s to ​ a whole new world of content and skit creators. Anytime you need a quick laugh throughout the day, you can check your timeline to see silly skits, dances, and voiceovers.

There is an abundance of hilarious men and women on social media making us smile, thereby improving the mental health of a lot of people. While there are so many well known and upcoming content creatives out there, some stand out because of their aura and mode of delivery. One of such people is the incredibly talented and beautiful Ope Keshinro,​ popularly known as SwitOpe.

Ope is an on-air personality, a voiceover artist, and an actress. As a lover of arts from a young age, she honed her talents in secondary school, where she was always either in dance or drama groups.

She then went on to further refine her budding talent at the prestigious University of Lagos where she graduated with a B.A degree in Creative Arts (Theatre Major). She currently works with HotFM Lagos 93.3 as a radio host where she hosts the midday show.

More recently, SwitOpe has harnessed the power of social media to gain widespread popularity with her comedic skits where she portrays several characters to hilarious effect. She was recently featured on CNN alongside other content creators.

Ope is currently expanding her talents to the big screen and will be featuring in several upcoming movies.

She shares her Inspiring story in this exclusive interview with Esther Ijewere

Growing Up

I was born and brought up in Lagos, Nigeria. Growing up was fun for me because I have four siblings: 2 sisters and 2 brothers, so I had playmates.

My dad still tells stories of how I used to mimic any and everything that happened at home or in school while he was away, and immediately he gets back I would describe and act it out to him.

I was also always in all the plays, dance groups and choir groups in school. Because of my interests in the arts, I went on to study Creative Arts (Theatre major) at Unilag where things started becoming a bit more serious for me and I started thinking about doing this as a career. So yes, my childhood played a big part in preparing me for what I do now.

Inspiration behind “Switope” platform

I have always had the ‘Switope’ handle across all my social media platforms and I got the name from one of my sister’s roommates in university that year, Sonia.

She asked me to help her with something and I did without hesitating and she went on and on about how sweet I was and then called me ‘Sweet Ope’, I liked it and changed my Facebook name to that, and the rest is history. I also did not start out thinking I will use social media to showcase my talents. However, as you know, I have always had the passion for entertaining people and during the pandemic and lockdown, I felt that I could entertain and help put some smiles on people’s faces and things took off from there.

The journey so far

It has been a long and interesting journey. I tend to look at an artist’s journey in 3 phases, learning, growth, and established phases. Looking back now my learning phase started from my acting and dancing in primary school. Without learning those basics, I would not have had the skill and confidence to go down this path. However, In the past year, I have moved into early stages of the growth phase, I’ve added more dimension to my performances, and I’ve matured a lot as an entertainer. I expect to continue this growth phase over the next few years and increase my versatility. Following that, I am looking forward to getting into the established phase and there is still a long way to go so watch this space.

Being a voiceover artist, actor, content creator, and managing it all

With such a busy schedule, I must be focused and extremely organised. I have a well thought out schedule that helps to compartmentalise and deliver in all aspects of my life. For example, I have set times for my radio show which do not change, so I can plan around it. Outside of those set times, I search for new content and practice my acting lines. I then ensure that I give myself enough time to record and edit any videos I need to post. My days can be long but because I’m doing what I love, it is very fulfilling. 

My CNN feature

it has only been a few days so it is hard to say how it has affected my journey so far.  But one thing is for certain, it made me realize that indeed, people are watching.

Challenges of my work

As a creative and a content creator, you need to ensure that you are constantly keeping things fresh and ensuring you are hitting the right notes with the intended audience. In the world that we are in nowadays, a lot of people are one-hit wonders, and it is very challenging to ensure that I don’t fall into that trap. So, I have to always keep my content fresh and engaging.

Other Projects and Activities

I am a radio host and a certified voiceover artist and you probably must have heard my voice on an advert/jingle or on my radio show. I am also an actress and I have featured in a few acting roles. Most recently I featured in a sitcom which will be out soon. I am very keen on getting more prominent acting roles and I am constantly on the lookout for opportunities in this area.

3 Women who Inspire me

Genevieve Nnaji, because growing up, I watched her and really wanted to be like her some day and seeing that after many years she’s still very relevant in Nollywood is something huge.

Funke Akindele Bello, also because I grew up watching her and people say women are not funny, but she is one of those that have changed that narrative.

Beyonce, because I admire her work ethics, I haven’t worked with her yet but It’s not easy being a mom and an entertainer and she pulls it off effortlessly.

Nuggets on to become a good content creator

Be creative and always think of ways to stand out. Someone has probably already done what you want to do but yours can be more creative or more Inspiring or even funnier. You need to constantly think of what makes your craft unique.

Being a Woman of Rubies

I am a woman of Rubies because I am inspiring, and in my own little way, I try to make the world a better place by putting smiles on people’s faces.

You can connect with Ope via her social media platforms below;

Instagram : @Switope

Twitter : @Switope

Tiktok : @switope

Facebook : Swit Ope Keshinro

 

Mofolusho Liasu is the founder of Super Parents Foundation, which gives assistive aid to the disabled. She is a lawyer, advocate, a business woman and a mother.

Her foundation, inspires, educates, advocates and raise awareness about disability myths and truths. Skills acquisition programs are organized to help indigents become more self-reliant as well give grants to help them set up their startup. Also frequent soft skills training are also set up to help them develop better coping skills. Assistive aids like wheelchairs, walker, etc and scholarships are given to some children with disabilities.

People’s homes, schools, and communities are usually visited. They also educate individuals on the need of showing empathy and compassion to people with disabilities. Foluwasho’s foundation fights for children with disabilities to be included in mainstream schools and to have access to other social benefits. 

Super Parents foundation hosts over 500 children annually to mark the annual Children’s Day to promote social inclusion, bringing together children with disabilities and those without. 

On this interview with Women of Rubies, she takes on a her journey.

Did your childhood prepare you in anyway for what you do now, tell us more about your growing up?

Hmm, I won’t say a No, though I never considered it until I was reminded. My best friend in secondary school was a girl with polio. I became close to her because I discovered she was enjoying the pitiful attention. I believe she was more than that and so I discouraged her from getting carried away by the pity from others. I insisted we must do things ourselves without the help of others. We would fetch water together, wash clothes etc. without anyone’s help. She became bold and always showcased her abilities whenever it was necessary. She became the social prefect and received many awards. We came across each other recently through our Alumni platform and she told me God used her to prepare me for this. Lol, it didn’t occur to me till she mentioned it.

Super Parent Foundation While growing up, I hated children being bullied or discriminated based on status or for whatever reasons so I can say that could be a factor. I have never discriminated  between a child with disability and one without, everyone was same to me.

I also remembered I was 10years thereabouts when my dad took me for his friend’s birthday party and I noticed the other son was kind of bullied by his father, it was obvious the boy was different but I couldn’t —- much disability then, if I would access him now, its probably mild autism with speech impediment. I saw how the mum was showing her displeasure on how he is been treated by his dad. I remember I was very upset with his dad and sad for the boy. That scene stuck to my head for years but I never thought of it making me an advocate I am today but I guess subconsciously it did.

What inspired you to start the Super Parents Foundation?

Like I said earlier, I am someone who is passionate and also aspire to change wrong social narratives to positives, advocating for care and support for vulnerable persons and protection for victims or abused. I came across a story on a group, a mother, her deaf child who needed hearing aid which costs 1million. I never knew assistive gadgets like that was so expensive. It led me to inbox her and we became very close, I got to find out the sufferings and discriminations she had to go through from her family, in-laws and society. That led me to advocating for these vulnerable parents, from there I formed a support group on Facebook called Super Parents for parents to speak their mind and share their experience, to get comfort and support from others experienced parents and supporters.

The group grew and became very alive and it was registered as NGO two years ago and it been working strong since then. Empowering members who needsupport.

Tell us about this great foundation, it’s impact in the society, and testimonials since inception

The foundation has become a strong platform for everyone, it’s an inclusive foundation which supports vulnerable persons especially persons and children with disabilities, widows are also supported too.

The foundation has a Facebook platform where people are free to speak their mind without fear of discrimination. People learn and unlearn about many issues e.g, disabilities, pregnancy, marriage and different issues affecting everyone.

Inclusive events like children’s party are organized, the children have fun and empathy is the order of the day. Our slogan ‘Let Love Lead’ is also a leading factor for us, this directs us to respect everyone equally.

We have so many testimonies from our members and even persons in the society. Parents of children with special needs no longer hide their children or the facts that they have children with special needs, the boldly advocate for other children with special needs against discrimination, also canvassing support for them. Since the advent of Super Parents Foundation, parents boldly celebrate their children with disabilities online, in their birthdays and other occasions, also to inspire others. This was a vary uncommon practice before now.

You have organized and sponsored several advocacy and empowerment programs, how do you manage it all and what drives you?

My drive is my desire to change my narratives and my — to do what I right. Above all, God called me to do this and I must fulfil my mission no matter what it takes.

From your experience, and as one with deep passion for disabled children what would greatly improve their plight in the country, and what are the things that have not been rightly applied.

Honestly, there has been great development when it comes to the support for persons and children with special needs in this country especially in Lagos State but we are still far from near perfect.

They need support in everyday, from education, to medical, to accessibility, infrastructure, etc. Once the country moves to — development, everything including the disability community will be affected positively. A lot is not applied rightly, from infrastructure or buildings that is not accessible for wheel chairs, lack of origin language interpreters in public places, roads which are bad for wheel chairs to public special and inclusive schools that are not up to standard, to poor medical facility for their, so much more. Like I said earlier, we have a long way to go.

What are some of the challenges you face?

We face lots of challenges.

The Inability of the parents and the society to accept their children with disabilities. These children are subjected to cruel treatment by relatives, native doctors and religious homes.

Funds – The work is cumbersome and we have low support compared to the task to be tackled.

Poverty – Most of these vulnerable persons and children cannot afford the basic and managing disability in Nigeria is expensive so they suffer so much from hunger to lack of adequate medical care.

Tell us about your other projects and activities?

We have lots of projects and activities. One of the biggest events is Inclusive Children’s Party. The children have fun not minding their condition, assistive gadgets are given out etc.

Empowerment – We empower members with skill acquisition training and a also provide tools or provide them with minimal capital funds to help them start their business.

We also engage in online projects to stimulate the parents to be able to help their children without much fund or assistance needed.

Mention 3 women who inspire you and why

To be honest, it won’t be fair to mention any names, from my mother, to my friends, to supporters, to mothers with special needs, widows, to the woman on the street or the one I watch on TV or online, they all inspire me. 99%of my supporters, donors, volunteers are ALL WOMEN, they all inspire me to keep pushing.

Could you share some of your favourite nuggets about life with us?

“You cannot give what you don’t have” – I cannot give love if I don’t have it, I cannot give strength to the vulnerable if I don’t have it too.

So sometimes, I sit down to reflect, then refill myself spiritually, physically and financially so as to give my best to those I serve.

“What you appreciate cannot depreciate” – I loves appreciating people, also value my supporters and lovers. I believe I increase my values and theirs when I appreciate the love and kindness they show me.

 

What makes you a woman of rubies?

Because I choose to see myself not just as an ordinary woman but a woman with vision and goals with God’s given ability to execute them, to impact myself and the world at large. To God be the glory.

 

Omobolanle Ajijola is a Certified Trauma Counselor trained in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Early Trauma and an Executive Member of the African Network of Professional Counselors(ANEPCO).

An NLP Practitioner and a passionate Gender-Based Violence Advocate as well as being a trained certified Emotional Intelligence Specialist, she  passionately  spreads awareness against sexual and all forms of gender-based violence and is concerned about the total well-being of families and by extension children.

Omobolanle is the founder of Bina AI-Amal Safety Foundation, a non-governmental, and not-for-profit organization that provides social and economic empowerment to Survivors and Victims of Gender-Based Violence and disadvantaged communities across Nigeria.

She loves and enjoys working with families and children and this has led her to volunteer with organizations that share the same vision namely Rescue Village Africa, Heartminders Initiative, Amazing Amazon Initiative, and Black Diamond Support Foundation to name a few.

She has gone on numerous campaigns to schools and communities and has participated in road rallies to raise awareness on child sexual abuse and the rights of the African Child, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, and Gender inequality.

Her passion has led her to attend various courses tailored to child safety and sexual abuse prevention.

Omobolanle is a firm believer in securing a safe and well-balanced environment free from all forms of Violence. A true global change agent, while speaking with Women of Rubies, she gave this explorative insights on her journey;

Childhood Influence

I grew up , pretty much sheltered with my siblings , not going out much and spent a lot of time with my Grandma who was the resident conflict resolver in her area.

People would come to her with their issues and I’d watch her listen and then help sort whatever the issue was and soothe hurt tempers.

Same with helping those in need, no one came to her door in tears and left the same, she had a solution to every challenge.

She would always give back or give out to whoever was in need and when thanked she would say she was but a servant of Allah doing his bidding.

Watching my grandma (God rest her soul) advocate for what was right no matter if it got her on the wrong side of people and her big heart when it came to giving ,shaped me into the woman I am today.

My parents aren’t any different and till date still help whoever comes to their door.

Inspiration Behind Bina Al- Amal foundation?

My deep passion  to effect lasting change in people’s live that made a real difference was the inspiration behind the foundation.

I’d gone on numerous Sexual Abuse awareness campaigns and the stories of abuse we heard stayed with me, I wanted to do more.

Watching children and women roam the streets without a roof over their head and no access to basic amenities and the high numbers of women who would turn up for Empowerment programs worried me a lot, and after a summer school project at an informal settlement in 2019

My mind was made up, I knew what I had to do.

Managing life as a certified trauma counsellor, NLP practitioner and a GBV advocate, 

Each role requires a lot of energy and focus and  I’ve been able to merge all into one and balance them all.

It’s not been easy but managing my time and prioritizing has helped me maintain the balance needed to flourish.

Experience as a multiple hand volunteer for several organizations

It’s been very educative, each volunteer role came from a personal experience and working for each Organization has taught me lot of things ranging from leadership, rapport and communication building, conflict resolution among other things.

It’s an experience I won’t trade for anything.

My work at Bina Al-Amal foundation, and its impact since inception

At Bina Al-Amal Foundation we provide the support , encouragement and empowerment to that people who live in informal settlements and we also provide the interventions needed for Survivors and Victims of Gender Based Violence .

Basically we offer prevention and intervention against Child Abuse, Rape, domestic violence, and all forms of violence against children and women while Providing prompt sensitive and psychosocial support to survivors of abuse and ensuring perpetrator is prosecuted, Provision of sexual abuse awareness programs to engage and enlighten Teenagers and young Adults on Sexual and Gender based violence and the need to be more socially and morally aware while providing the necessary psychosocial support ,   Provision of temporary shelters for the homeless for women especially women and families who had gone through one forms of abuse and those who live in informal settlements (shanties and rural areas),

Empowerment for women in rural and vulnerable communities and Free Education for children in rural and vulnerable communities.

Our impact since inception has been amazing.

For our survivors and Victims of Sexual and Gender based Violence, we have been able to offer psychosocial and intervention services to at least 10 families and counting.

For our informal community recipients , we have been able to offer education to over 100 of the children in the informal community as well as provision of palliative during the covid -19 lockdown.

Our teen conferences designed to educate and empower young adults has reached over 100 youths and counting, providing them with information on the dangers of sexual and gender based violence and the importance of leadership skills

Work Challenges

Our major challenge has been getting the required amount of help our informal settlement residents in terms of the shelter need as they are constantly being evicted

Another challenge is their belief system , they feel they have no hope and no one cares about them.

For our Survivors and Victims it’s tackling the silence and stigmatization that doesn’t encourage them to open up freely about their experiences

For our teens and young adults it’s helping them with the difficult choices and temptations they face in a world where information overload is everywhere. 

Other projects and activities?

We are working on a building a stable environment for our informal settlement residents and helping them create a better quality of life through Empowerment and Job creating programmes.

A group therapy hub for our Trauma warriors and a teen hub for our Young adults to help them cope with this fat paced world.

3 Women Who Inspire Me

Christiane Amanpour, Oreoluwa Adebiyi and Mrs Achenyo Idachaba for their fearlessness in reporting the truth,  Their can do attitude and above all love for humanity.

They inspire me to be a better version of myself and to continue to push through even when people don’t understand the journey.

My experience at social Innovators Bootcamp and its forthcoming impact

To be honest , I’d joined the bootcamp to achieve two things: to gain clarity and get the structure needed and to come 2nd was a bit of a shock. I never imagined I’d make it to the top 3. It was a humbling experience for me, I gained so much more than what I signed up for.

My SIBC Experience taught me one valuable lesson, I’m doing something right and this is going to set the tone for a lot of our activities moving forward at Bina Al-Amal Foundation.

Right steps to take in reporting a case of Domestic Violence & Rape.

For Both cases the most important thing  and the first step is to Document evidence.

For a rape victim the best way to Document evidence is to go as soon they are able to a Sexual Assault Referral Centre preferably Mirabel Centre to get checked by a doctor and to get the medical attention needed

For a Domestic Violence Victim, we encourage them to take pictures of bruises, take voice recordings only if it is safe to do so.

Next step is to go to a police station to report the case. At the station, ask for their Gender Desk or Family Support Unit.

After this the police would ask for evidence of assault to which a letter  would be sent to the Sexual Assault Referral Centre who carried out the examination for the rape victim.

For the Domestic Violence Victim, evidence would also be collected.

How to overcome Trauma, and stay grounded

In handling Trauma, I encourage client’s to

1)Give yourself time. It takes time – weeks or months – to accept what has happened and to learn to live with it,take it one step at a time.

2)Acknowledging your experience,that way, you can start to understand what drives your feelings of fear and anxiety, and change your perspective over time.

3) Join a Support Group, being involved with other survivors of trauma, sometimes hearing others and knowing you’re not alone offers you some of the comfort needed.

4)Ask for support from family and friends willing to help, don’t isolate yourself.

5)Take some time for yourself: It’s okay to want to be by yourself or with close family and friends

6)Talk it over with a Professional. This is where therapy comes in to give a more grounded sense of healing.

7)Get into a routine to resting a sense of normalcy

8) Exercise.

On staying grounded:

1)Appreciate life’s simple pleasures.

2)Practice gratitude.

3)Take a break.

4)Prioritize your mental and emotional health.

5)Be the change you want to see in the world.

6)Stay active.

As a Woman of Rubies

What makes me a Woman of Rubies is my selfless character and passion to see a fellow woman attain great heights and my not giving up on those who need me.

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