Like a phoenix, Jennifer is rising from the ashes of adversity and inspiring others to do so through her story. As a survivor of Domestic Violence, she believes that girls and young women access to education and health service is fundamental for sustainable development in Nigeria. Jennifer grew up in a broken home with rough experiences of abuse and neglect. Her parent divorced Nine months after her birth in Eastern Nigeria. Her Father showed no interest towards her education.
She was raised by her single mum, grand mother, uncles, aunties, and people. As a girl filled with many ambitions despite her experiences. she was determined to further her education. Today, Jennifer Umeh is a graduate of Mass communication from The Federal Polytechnic Offa. The pioneer of Hope for African Girls Initiative (HAGi) an organisation founded to Educate Girls to be empowered enough to stand up for themselves and to discover their self-identity through quality education and empowerment. She is also the founder of a fast-growing clothing brand that has received massive support from Nigerians on social media since inception . A vision that was born out of her bullying experience as an undergraduate. She shares the story of her rise from the ashes to glory in this interview
I was raised by my single mum, grand mother, uncles, aunties, and people. As a girl filled with many ambitions despite my experiences. I was determined to further my education. With my decision making ability, i believed that if i could go to school, I could gain knowledge and skills access limitless opportunities and reach my potentials in life. As a survivor of Domestic Violence, I believe that girls and young women access to education and health service is fundamental for sustainable development in Nigeria. I grew up in a broken home with rough experiences of abuse and neglect. My parent divorced Nine months after my birth in Eastern Nigeria. My Father showed no interest towards my education, Coping With the Status Quo. I must say that even though my background is not pleasant, it stirred up such compassion for those from similar backgrounds. When I was 10years, I finally went to stay with my mum and her husband (step father) supporting her with my siblings as the eldest. All of this built a resilience within me, strengthened my heart and reminds me daily that ‘I can’! I can do anything I set my mind to. I can be the best version of Chinonye that there will ever be. I can achieve. I can inspire. Regardless of my background. We know that seeds grow best in the dirt. My background may have been messy, dirty, whatever we want to call it, but it provided the best environment for the seed within me to grow and produce more seeds to encourage others! I learnt never to allow my circumstances to inhibit my growth as a person at all! If I have a goal, I will go for it.
I am a 23 year old lady, I recently graduated from The Federal Polytechnic Offa, Kwara with a Higher National Diploma in Mass communication. I am now a corps member serving at Umuokanne Comprehensive Secondary school, Ohaji, Egbema in Imo State.
I am the pioneer of Hope for African Girls Initiative (HAGi) an award winning Organisation founded to Educate Girls to be empowered enough to stand up for themselves and to discover their self-identity through quality education and empowerment.
My skills include Public speaking, Teaching, Writing, Counselling and Leadership. I am a Campus Correspondent with The Nation Newspaper and Mentor a Girl Child Fellow , Educate a girl Scholar and a fellow of Nigeria students leaders program. In 2016, my projects won the best community development project of the year organized by SLAM initiative. Recently, I was awarded the African Youth Academy Service Award, for my selfless service and contribution towards the development of young African Leaders and was granted the designation of a FELLOW of African Youth Academy. I recently launched a clothing line called Blinky Creative Collections.
I started a non-profit organization called Hope for African Girls Initiative in 2016 to transform the lives of marginalized community girls through quality education and empowerment. Our work is to promote creative learning by providing platforms for girls and young women to explore and develop their innovative ideas. Since inception, we have been able to groom young women to be responsible citizens who can actively participate and communicate with the world in a spirit of compassion.
My mission is to foster an educated and compassionate new generation of young African Girls who will use their education to improve their lives, help their country and contribute to the world to help maintain peace and prosperity for all. My focus is on educating the girls and also educating their families and communities and improving their support system.
The inspiration was after I attended the ‘Educate a Girl Nigeria’ workshop in Lagos. The workshop was an eye-opener for me as I became aware of too many illicit behaviours bedeviling the girl-child around the world such as child marriage, sexual assault, violence against girls, and lack of access to education, among others. I saw the need to help young people, I desired to speak out so that my voice to be heard. I said to myself, if only my voice could change the status quo of girls in Africa, why should I hold back. I approached some NGOs indicating my interest to serve as a volunteer. But to ensure I have a louder voice and a wider reach, I founded Hope for African Girls Initiative (HAGi) at the beginning of this year. As an undergraduate then, I was motivated to work in places where I could contribute and provide value. I have performed excellently in different roles like taking care of children in my church, and taking up leadership positions in my school and any organization I found myself.
Launching a clothing line
As an undergraduate, life was good. I was more extroverted, I made new friends. Although, it was also a time of bullying for me. I blink frequently when I speak. I never got bullied over it. People who know me or have met me before understand how my eyes work while I talk, even if most times, I try to control it.
In my 300 level in school, I was faced with the challenge of speaking up for what is right, even when over 200 students in my class refused to talk because of fear and intimidation from lecturers. But I decided to speak up that day to the chagrin of the naysayers even if my voice made no difference to the situation.
After that, the friends of the guy who was involved in this case formed a gang against me. They made mockery of me in class. I couldn’t walk in peace on campus without being bullied by those guys. And as days passed, their gang multiplied with fans. The bullying continued in different WhatsApp groups and while lectures went on.
The group dissed me right in my face. I was heartbroken and I didn’t know what to do. But it was only the beginning. The group tormented me. They named me Blinky-Blinky. They called me terrible names – some, curse words – and spread sexual rumours about me. I almost became insane that when I got back from school one day, I ran to my room and cried. I stayed in my room and drowned in tears for hours. That was when I decided to take the law into my hands with the help of a friend who stood up for me whenever I was bullied. He encouraged me to report to the security unit before it went out of hand. I did so and the guys were picked up by the school security. It was never intentional but these things were out of my control. Many students face trauma like this but they have no way of handling it; they end up becoming losers. I finally felt good knowing that I had a voice. Most of my course mates were so proud of me for the move. I was with new friends who liked me for who I was. But I knew the fight was not finished. One day the worst happened; I was bullied right in the lecture hall when a lecture was going on. As one of them shouted ‘Blinky,’ they laughed and distracted the lecture. I could do nothing but allow the tears from my eyes. When I got home that day, I thought of the best way to deal my bullies.
I customised T-shirts and wore them to school. I gave some to my friends to put on. On the T-shirts read, Blinky Smart, Blinky Beauty, Blinky Money, Blinky Blinky, Bullying Ends With Me, Blink Against Bullying, etc.
My T-shirts garnered some fans. I sold them not only to my course mates but to my friends on Facebook. Boom! It became a business. I was happy as I was making money from it. I started helping people to customise their shirts for free. I did both free and paid jobs depending on who I was dealing with.
I went the market where they sold hand-me-downs and selected the good ones. At home I washed them, ironed them, customised and sold to friends. The demands got higher as people asked for something better. I pitched my idea on Facebook about my interest in shirts business and I was lucky to get selected by Edu Shine Foundation. I was funded with fifty thousand naira to support my business. I registered for printing training where I learnt more about shirt printing and branding. I graduated from using hand-me-down T-shirts for my customers to using jersey. But today, my shirts are brand new, 100% cotton material with warranty.
The business helped me a lot to overcome my bullies. I did not just overcome them; I have made money to pay my remaining fees and for my needs as a student. I have assisted two of my friends to pay their tuition, too.
When I got bullied then, I got offended and asked God to take my life. Do you know how it feels to be bullied by the same group of people with a specific motive? Most nights I felt like crying my eyes out. I asked myself, Just because I blink my eyes frequently when I talk, does that mean I am not equal to others? I tried to control the blinking but I can’t cheat nature. I never created myself. God did.
Blink against Bullying Project
I recently launched a campaign Blink against bullying. It’s a campaign to eradicate all forms of bullying and empower the victims with knowledge as weapons to fight back against oppression. I am currently running a 30 days self-esteem challenge for Students of Umuokanne Comprehensive Secondary School in Imo State, the program is designed to raise the self-esteem of young females in Africa and around the world. It is aimed at emboldening females to self belief, imagine and pursue a future of greatness. To achieve this goal, we have developed a 30 day self esteem handbook containing 30 inspiring stories of African Females from different ages, background and cultures who defied odds and societal stereotypes to achieve greatness and their dreams.
My brand in the next five years..
In five years, I want to be able to get bigger contract from big companies and organisations. I want to own a big fashion house, where I can print all kind of T-shirts, Polos , Hoodie with no restrictions. I want to champion the war against bullying by making different designs of beautiful Tees that people can order on our website and rock to promote the fight against bullying.
I had many challenges running my new enterprise, from being confused about if my business was worth focusing on to how to get new customers and grown the business larger, to dealing with branding with people’s feedback on what I was going.
Tara Durotoye is my biggest Inspiration
Tara Fela Durotoye inspires me. She started house of Tara in 1998 at the age of 20 from her living room, as an undergraduate at Lagos State University. Sometimes she would go from house to house to makeup for brides. But today she has one of the biggest and the first makeup school in Nigeria. She worked hard for it. I am really inspired by her story.
Being a Woman of Rubies
I am a woman of Rubies because I share similar stories, challenges, pains and scars with other women in Africa trying to make a difference and live a life of true meaning. I am a woman of rubies because I care about helping girls and young women to be better
Advice to young women
I just want to encourage women who are going through some similar experience. It gets better. It can be hard. You want to give up. But you have to be confident. Don’t let it get to you. If you’re suffering, it will get to the time that you’ll be proud of yourself for all that you’ve been through. If anyone judges you, it is their own problem. They have no idea what you go through. Do they even care? They probably can’t even handle what you deal with. But you can. And you’re still here going on with your life. That’s why you can be proud of yourself.
Business line : 08139743651
Facebook : Blinky Creative Collections
Twitter and instagram : @Blinkycollections
Email : Blinkycollections@gmail.com
Website : www.blinkycollections.com