Growing up
My childhood did in a way. Throughout my primary and secondary education, I was not necessarily the best student in my class, in fact I was always in the bottom pile in class. I thought I was dull and would never amount to anything good in life, since the notion we always had was that your life is doomed if you don’t do well in school. Things changed when I moved to the UK to further my education. As usual I struggled in the first two years of my A-levels, but I guessed I was still trying to adapt to the system. As soon as I entered the university, everything changed, I became among the top five in my class, I excelled so well and regained my confidence back. I felt I was now where I ought to be in life. Looking back, I realised what happened to me. The standard of education I received was nothing to write home about. My teachers should have done more to identify the subjects I was excelling in and help me build up in that line, but then you can’t blame them because they had more than a 100 pupils to cater to and naturally won’t have time and ability to cater to each person. This is one of the reasons my focus is on education, I believe the standard of education in Nigeria can be better.

Meet Me
I am the Founder and Executive Director of a vibrant NGO, Egunec Education Support Foundation (EESF), a foundation dedicated to creating a better Nigeria through Education and Community Development. I am a self-motivated writer and entrepreneur who enjoys the challenges of creativity. Increasing an individual’s capacity and potential has always been of interest for me, sparking my research to deepen my understanding and knowledge in this area. In doing so I have participated in capability trainings in the United Kingdom, focusing on Customer Service, increasing Job Interview skills, and writing the excellent Resume.

I am currently the CEO of 618Consulting; providing training for fresh graduates and equipping job seekers with the right skills for interviews and structuring CVs for their desired jobs. I authored the book Get your dream job without struggles which is aimed at providing solutions to the challenges job seekers face during interviews.

I am also an event coordinator. I am also the country representative for MasterPeace Nigeria chapter, an award-winning global grassroots non-profit and non-governmental peace movement, currently existing in more than 40 countries across the world. I studied economics from the University of East London and also hold an MSc. in International Money Finance and Investment from Brunel University, both in the United Kingdom..

Inspiration behind Egunec Education Support Foundation?
The inspiration behind EESF is the dream I have that one day, the quality of our educational system can stand side by side that of our counterparts in other countries; affecting lives in very large magnitude.

Being a writer, entrepreneur and a trained economist
I believe that God installed in us so many skills and abilities, focusing on just one aspect of your skills will just be a waste of time. Just like a mobile phone can be used to make calls, browse, chat and do many other things, we also can do same. This philosophy has helped me a lot because so many opportunities present themselves in life. If you don’t take advantage of the different skills that you have, you will lose out much. But to crown it all, it’s just the grace of God at work in my life.

Our projects are structured to deal with critical issues such as poverty, gender imbalance, child labour, trauma, youth neglect and underdevelopment. We are firm that people can be empowered through education and that could mean freedom!

The young people involved in the project usually learn different entrepreneurial skills such as tailoring, bakery, fish farming, soap making, bead making, carpentry, event management, etcetera and eventually start up their own businesses, earning incomes for themselves as well as supporting their families. This goes a long way to reduce unemployment and crime in the society.

Achievement so far…
We have empowered over 40 youths in Nyanya Zaimi, Nyanya village Hausa Gwandara, Gbagalape, Kugbo (1 & 2, Pyape (1&2), and Guduwa. They acquired skills in baking, fish farming, soap making, bead making, weaving, driving and in ICT, in which we partnered with New Horizon, an ICT firm in Nyanya-Maraba axis. The participants also received mentoring for three months, to ensure they perfect the skills and since then they have been able to train others. No doubt, this project significantly reduced the rate of unemployment in the aforementioned vicinities and can contribute to the growth of the Nigerian economy.

My Reward…
Seeing that lives have been improved and changed through EESF. Another is knowing that I am living my dream and in the area of my calling.

My keen interest in economic empowerment and poverty alleviation
Personally I believe quality education should be the bedrock. Women should be taught the importance of education so that they can encourage their kids to go to school. Many of the problems we face as a country could have been avoided if only the government concentrated on ensuring the educational sector is well funded and administered. I believe if this foundational level is good, it will go a long way in empowering children and the girl child especially.

Lack of funds is the major challenge. Unfortunately, Nigerians have not really embraced charity as such, everyone seems to want from you but finds it hard to give. Also, there is wide misconception in these climes that once you are into charity, then you have more than enough. But that is not always the case with people who do charity work.

Managing the home front and work
God blessed me with a supportive husband who makes my job easy. The help I get from him makes joggling the two possible.

Advice for young women in the development and advocacy sector?
Never ever give up no matter what life might throw at you. What is needful is finding out the social entrepreneurship angle of what you do. This will help the sustainability of your organisation.

I am a Woman of Rubies
Women of Rubies are those who impact lives in one way or the other, I believe the work that I do has impacted various lives that qualify me to be a woman of Rubies.

Final words
You can become what you want in life, you don’t need anybody’s approval to launch out there. God has installed so much in you, don’t waste it. The world is waiting for you.

Fatima Askira is the founder of Borno Women Development Initiative; a Maiduguri-based NGO working with women victims of the Boko Haram insurgency in Internally Displaced Persons camps and host communities in Borno state. In a chat with with Women of Rubies , the 26 year old graduate of Botany speaks about her efforts of alleviating the sufferings of the women, most of whom have lost their husbands

Growing up with a Passion
Actually no. I grew up with an ambition to be a medical doctor, unfortunately, growing up, I find things changing and I start to develop passion through looking at how people live, from their day to day activities especially from the poor perspectives. I really do not have an idea of how or what I want to do with that, but I feel I should do something.

Meet Fatima
Fatima Askira was born and brought up in Maiduguri, I attended my primary education in Maiduguri, Secondary school at F.G.G.C Potiskum, Yobe state and University of Maiduguri, where i studied Biological science, Botany. She single living with her family in Maiduguri. From this little background, you will understand that my childhood didn’t in anyway prepare for the work I am currently doing now. But growing up, life changes its faces and then, one has to make a choice of being who is.

Inspiration Behind Borno Women Development Initiative
Borno Women Development Initiative was inspired by my passion to protect/support women and make them independent. As a result of insurgency, people from surrounding towns and villages of Maiduguri found themselves fleeing from their homes, into the state capital (Maiduguri). My observation at the time was, the majority of the people coming in were women and children, and they come in half covered, because they had to run for their lives. This situation made posed for a second to think of a way I can be of help to these vulnerable women. Then, IDPs mostly lived in an under-resourced camp, before the camps become official. I started to collect clothes from family and friends to donate to some of the displaced women and their children. With the help of a social media campaign, my charity drive took a turn from a small-scale local collection into a national volunteer network which brought about many people reaching out to me to donate clothes, toiletries and food to the internally displaced persons from across Nigeria. As a result of the network I was building, I felt the need to formalize the process, so that people will feel safe, and through the process access wider network of support. Then I started an organization “Borno Women Development Initiative’ (BOWDI).

Rehabilitating the women
Rehabilitation and Reintegration is quite a difficult program to run, especially looking at it critically from challenges of stigmatization and fear in our communities today, but if you hold to your mission, gradually you get to a point where you convince people to accept reality. In some cases, it has been successful as some of the women were reintegrated into camps, and those who are successfully returned back to their communities. But in other cases, some of these women are still being kept safe in isolation, until further arrangements are made for reintegration.

Activities of BOWDI
BOWDI is currently running many projects like; 1. mitigating and preventing Sexual and Gender Based Violence(SGBV) within camps and communities around MMC, Jere, Konduga and Mafa Local Government Areas of Borno State. The consequences of every war has its negative effects on the society, as a result, young girls, boys and women are vulnerable to all acts of violence . Child labour, rape, exploitation, domestic violence and many more are few to mention among many other effects. Therefore, BOWDI felt the need to protect the vulnerable groups through sensitization and educating these groups by conducting interactive sessions focusing on effects and ways to protect themselves from falling victims of abuses, we also provide them with the referral pathways to report all cases and get medical and all forms of support for victims. After every Session, we provide them with basic materials for their immediate needs. 2. BOWDI is running 24 non-formal learning centers in Konduga Local Government Area, under education intervention, providing access to education for children, Adolescent girls and youth. From this particular project, I believe that it is not the people who do not want to go to school, but it is lack of access, or necessary teaching and learning facilities. 3. BOWDI is also economically empowering 833 women with business startups as Small Loan Associations across Mafa LGA.

Like every organization, BOWDI apply for funds through call for proposals and expression of interest by donor agencies, Previously, when the capacity of the organization was very low, we solicit for donations from individuals, philanthropists, etc. through fund raising activities and distribution of fliers in various communities, within and outside Maiduguri, and with my personal income to sustain the organization.

Award and Recognition
Over the years, the smile on the faces of those I helped had been my greatest reward. Until recently when I was awarded a peace award by the 2face foundation together with couple of other peace workers across Nigeria.

Being a Young Woman from the Northeast
Some of the challenges I have faced through this work was how to start and moving forward, especially being a young woman from the Northeast, it was very difficult for me trying to get people support the process, as most people initially thought it will not work out. I had to prove that determination leads to success by trying and trying harder until I was successful. Another Challenge is in trying to finance some of the organization’s activities at the beginning.

If I have an Audience with the President
If I have an opportunity to ask the President one thing on behalf of these women, I will request on their behalf for a social investment platform created specifically for their benefits, a project that is sustainable which would exist from gov’t to gov’t. Some of these women are young girls that happened to be victims of early marriage, some of them have a bright future, some can be enrolled back to schools, some are business oriented, they can be supported with startups, some have already existing skills, they can be supported with basic equipment for support. Such platform I am requesting on their behalf will serve both as empowerment and a method to prevent violent extremism in our communities, especially now that we have thousands of unaccompanied children, roaming on our streets because their female parents cannot afford to cater for all their needs.

Support from Nigerians
To be honest, Nigerians have been supportive to our people, but to be precise about the women, there haven’t been specificity in looking at their situation. I can say this may have happened because of the overwhelming situation of insurgency in the region, which left everyone in need of support. But, for these women, i personally feel there is need for a special intervention and support from everyone, especially our women representatives both in government and private entities. I was hoping to see a movement from women all over the country standing out to bring smiles and hope to the faces of these broken women. I am still yearning to see such and optimistic that women all over the world would realize the need to assist.

I am a Woman of Rubies Inside Out
I grew up looking at successful women and hoping to be like them somedays, but in a way I define my success as the ability to touch the lives of the less privileged in a way no matter how little, put a smile on a woman’s face. Even though, I am not only inclined to women, BUT I give them a priority because I see them as a backbone of development that are always neglected or sidelined, and therefore, the society suffered from the consequences of leaving them idle. My work to inspire women and build them into independent/resourceful women, and also a role model to most young women makes me a ‘woman of rubies’.

Advice to Women
I would love to close by telling all women around the world that, we all are responsible for our growth, We are responsible in making our societies prosperous and violent free by empowering and supporting each other through our little different ways. Also, we have to form a bond of sharing our innovations and ideas which i believe will help us transform each other and build more on our individual work in our various fields and communities. And lastly, for our elderly women to consider young girl’s contributions and carry them along as we may have great ideas to share.

Oluwatoyin Onigbanjo is a journalist, teacher, food artist, and baby food blogger, the founder of August secrets, a baby/kid friendly Nigerian food blog, aimed at making kids’ meals fun, simple, and healthy. Toyin Onigbanjo was also the 2nd runner up at Samsung Food art Competition in May. Read her inspiring interview with Women of Rubies.

I think my childhood prepared me for this I am doing today because I have always loved to draw cartoons and tell stories. Everyone in Federal Government Staff School Sokoto knew my sister and I for drawing cartoons, writing stories and also leading at cooking sessions. I have always loved the art of cooking.

Meet me
My name is Oluwatoyin Onigbanjo, a wife, a mother, a journalist, a recipe developer and a children food blogger. I have a B.A in English and Literature, and Masters in Public and International Affairs, but my passion and purpose in life is anything that has to do with the welfare of children and the family. As a single lady, I used to run a club, Treasures Kiddies Club just for children in my neighbourhood.

Inspiration behind August Secrets
As a new mother, I bought 3 full bags of jar purees for my son, but he refused to eat them until I made local foods like Ground Rice with carrots. I realise there are so many mothers going through the same problems of feeding their children the appropriate complementary foods. This is my inspiration for August Secrets.

Like I said earlier, I have always loved to draw and do art with food. I just had to incorporate art into my child’s food to make it more attractive for him, and it has been working. I also do food-art with other adult-related foods

Projects and activities
I am working on having my mini food manufacturing company/outlet in future. My greatest short term dream for now is to be able to advocate and raise funds to take food to children in the IDP camps and other war-prone zones.

On giving up
Yes, because it is not easy at all. I have cried many times to sleep. The only thing that keeps me is the joy I derive from moms who use my recipes and their child eats better.

Greatest reward
The greatest reward I have received is the prayers of mothers who consult me for recipes and foods. I get heartfelt prayers on my mail everyday! After the doctor/nutritionist have prescribed foods for their babies, the next issue is how to cook the foods, and that is where I come in.

Samsung Food art Competition experience
It was a great experience because I dined with great people in the food and art industry. I thank God for those who encouraged me to put in my entry for the competition.

The greatest challenge has been getting people to assist you with information and the next step to take, I had to source for everything myself. Nobody sees the background work that goes into a successful venture. Another challenge also is combining my day’s job with my passion to help mothers. It is really a tough one.

To aspiring bloggers
Find what you love. Work hard. Follow the process, don’t look for shortcuts or try to out rightly copy someone who has been toiling long before you. Seek counsel. Always be open to learning. Let your success be a journey to make impact, and not a journey to perfection. Be yourself. Put God first.

Words of advice to women
I ask for help. Everyone around me now, know this is what I want with my life, and they joyfully support me in my various responsibilities. I enjoy a great support from my husband, in laws and extended family. I also delegate my duties, and plan ahead for my day. Women need a lot of support.

I Am a Woman Of Rubies
A woman of rubies is someone who knows that God has deposited something great inside her, and it can be unleashed with prayers, hardwork and continuous learning. I think I am a woman of rubies because this describes me.

Final word
There is a reason God made you a woman, enjoy your womanhood. Find your purpose in life and seek to fulfil it. Let love be your guide. Do all these quickly when you can, for life is short. Thank you very much.

Oshione Igwonobe resigned from her day job to start making pure juices using her mother’s blender. She moved from making juices in her mother’s kitchen to start her own brand; The JuiceLady , where fresh juices with no concentrates, preservatives, sugars or sweeteners, are produced, a business she started at a local Buka and at some point she and her team hawked the products just to make sales, today Igwonobe supplies big malls and outlets across Lagos. She shares her inspiring story in this interview.

My upbringing played a large role in my line of work. Growing up, my mother always sought to experiment with our meals introducing different healthy options. As kids, we’d grumble and complain but she created delicious recipes we all loved eventually. Baking and juicing were regular practices in our home and I took after that. After quitting my day job in 2009, I experimented with cooking healthy meals and preparing juices, supplying offices in my neighbourhood. After a few months I realized I would have to focus on one aspect as I didn’t have the resources to grow both aspects of the business. I stopped catering and focused solely on making juices using my mother’s blender in her kitchen. At the time it was pretty small scale but I’ve been able to grow it significantly.

Meet Me
My name is Oshione Igwonobe and I am the Juice Lady. I am from Edo state; the first child from a family of six (6). Most of my formative years were in Warri then my family moved to Lagos in 1997 where I continued my Senior Secondary School and University. I’m quite passionate about healthy living, I absolutely love food, traveling and adventures. I produce 100% fresh fruit juices under the brand The JuiceLady. Our juices are fresh, not from concentrates, no preservatives;, no sugars or sweeteners. Simply no additives: just juice.

My YOUWIN Grant Experience
It was an enlightening experience really. Beyond the grant, I gained a deeper appreciation of the business. We passed through intensive business training sessions organized by the Enterprise Development Center (EDC) and participated in the Youth Enterprise with Innovation Program and these training have helped me move the business forward. The people I met at the time also increased my network; I keep in touch with them today and I’ve done business with a number of them. YOUWIN boasted a number of innovative people and it was a creative space where you could tap off the energies of other brilliant minds. So yes, I had a great experience.

It’s been interesting. Starting off wasn’t easy. When I decided I was going to focus solely on juices, opportunity came in the form of The Lagos Carnival and I thought, here’s a huge crowd to test our product. My parents were out of town and had given me money for upkeep. I convinced my dear siblings to support my cause and we even borrowed extra money to produce our first ever large scale batch of juices. I mean, a large crowd of thirsty people under the Lagos hot sun, of course we would rake in lots of money. We were going to make a killing. We were all so excited. The challenge then was that our production process was largely manual so before we could finish up and head out it was already 2pm or thereabouts and we got to the carnival at about 3pm. Not surprisingly, the ceremonial activities had come to an end. Here we were, six of us with about 200 bottles of juice and no crowd (Laughs). I think we ended up selling about 15 bottles. It’s safe to say that for that period when our parents were away, my siblings and I drank juices until we were fed up of it (Laughs).

After this episode, I decided to scale back and convinced a neighbor to set me up at his office in TINCAN Apapa. I would set up a cooler at the Buka where the tanker drivers, bus drivers, and others came to eat. And from there I would haul my cooler bag into the offices. My clients ranged from tanker drivers to directors and executives at the company (MRS Oil) and they were very encouraging. There were times we had to literally hawk them on the road to sell out.

From Tincan, I moved to several offices in Victoria Island and now we supply key stores like Farm City in Lekki Phasse 1, Café Neo outlets and several other stores. Only last week, we attended our first major food exhibition (Flavours of Lagos) and we had a lot of people truly enthralled by the quality, taste and price for our juices.

On Giving Up
Only about a million times (Laughs). Truth be told, there is a limit to how far passion can take you. Many start-ups believe that passion is the balm that heals all wounds. The reality is different. If we are to discount the attendant challenges of any business across the world, the Nigerian system is designed to frustrate SMEs. This is because we are a society orchestrated to administrate and not to produce.

I remember when I was seeking machinery for juicing. I went to the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO). I paid for training and was told we had to wait to be a certain number. This was in 2013. I’m still waiting for that training. I was referred to a consultant technician who fabricates machinery and he gave me a bill of about N10million to set up my factory. I visited another agency to make enquiries about the process for certification, I was told by an official to ‘look for something else to do” as processing/manufacturing was too difficult for a woman.

There are periods where it just seems like anything that can possibly go wrong, does go wrong. Periods I made huge losses financially, or I’d see my peers and it felt like I was wasting time and everybody else seemed to be ahead. When faced with these trying situations, I dug into a reserve of strength I never knew I had and found the resolve to move on. Failure is just not an option. My Plan B is to find ways for Plan A to work.

Greatest Reward
Honestly, the praise of a new consumer. It is one thing to know that you have a good product, it is another to be validated time and again when someone tries the juices and they call me to rave about it. It is a new feeling every single time and that beats any achievement I’ve had thus far.

The High Cost of Setting Up a Factory
(Sighs). The challenges are many-fold and I touched on some of them earlier. Financing is a mammoth challenge. I got a break with the YOUWIN grant but there’s the timidity of our financial institutions when it comes to partnering with start-ups. Financing needs to be scaled to the level of the business but our banks simply don’t understand that. Also the lack of technical capability in Nigeria made it a nightmare to set up my factory. Sourcing for machinery is such a herculean task, especially when you’re an SME. Importing machinery is very expensive, then there’s the added cost of bringing in a technician to train your staff on how to use the equipment, maintenance and the rest. I ordered an equipment two (2) years ago that I’m yet to receive.

Nigerians View on Women in Your Line of Work
In my experience, there is an active conversation on women in business and this is increasing the perception positively. My line of work largely sees women as the forerunners and there has been an increased respect for the profession. I do understand that women in other fields may not be finding it as easy and that is the reason why I am actively engaging women for raw material supplies, production and delivery. The conversation is significantly bigger than me and I am consciously ensuring I play my part in the empowerment of the Nigerian woman.

I am a Woman of Rubies
One word: Tenacity. I have been through a lot in my line of work and I’m still standing. I believe firmly in the future and I believe that it can be shaped by the actions of the present. Regardless of the obstacles, I am determined to raise the bar for women in agro-processing and this is what makes me a woman of Rubies.

Raufu Aishat, Female Shoemaker
Raufu Ayowunmi Aishat is a young, focused female shoemaker. After graduating from the university and was jobless, she went to acquire skills in shoe making. Ever since, she hasn’t looked back, and she is proud of her profession and waxing strong. Aishat is the CEO and Creative Director of Aeesha Shoes, her shoe-making company.In this interview with Women Of Rubies, Aishat talks about some of the challenges she has faced, as a female shoemaker.

As a kid, I always wanted to become a professional banker, but while growing up, I wasn’t pleased with the profession anymore. Being a shoemaker was developed out of joblessness. While on long holiday from school, I had always wanted to learn a skill and make-up artistry was what I loved and wanted to do, but my cousin advised that I did something else. So, I went through the skill acquisition list and ticked shoe making, considering the fact that I love shoes. And that was how I went from basic to advance, and from advance to being a shoemaker.

Meet Me
I am from a family of six. I’m from Irepolodun Local Government Area in Kwara State, but born and bred in Lagos. I am 24 years old. I studied Public Administration in the university. I started my business, Aeesha Shoes, five and half years ago.

Hmmm, joblessness inspired me to be a shoemaker. I never would have thought I would ever become a shoemaker, if I were not jobless. More so, my love for shoes kept me in the business. At first, I was doing it for the money, but I got to realise my love for shoes was more than the money I was making from the business.

Clients, individuals, friends, and family’s words of encouragement motivate me to do more. My love for leather also does. Whenever I see a piece of leather in the market, the next thing that comes to my mind is what I can produce with it.

Other projects and activities
Very soon, I intend training school kids on how to make shoes. It’s going to be conducted during the summer class and it’s going to be few days training on the basics of shoe making. Also, I’m looking at bringing in machines from Italy and China to further assist the brand in the production of shoes.

The industry is daily growing wider, and we are still making shoes with our hands. I think we should have gone further than that. If we had machines, we would be able to perfect what we do and be able to produce more, in terms of quality, quantity, and perfection.

On giving up
I had given up several times, but salary jobs usually pushed me back. In between running the business, I did some salary jobs. But anytime my boss messed me up at work, I would resign and pick up my business again. It happened like thrice before I finally settled down to my business.

One of the major challenges is getting an investor. It amazes me that in this generation of ours, some people will tell you that they don’t or cannot invest in a shoemaker because she is a woman or they cannot invest in you because you refuse to sleep with them. Another major challenge is clients. There are some understanding clients and there are some that choose not to understand.

Greatest reward
Encouragement and positive clients’ feed backs. Those are my greatest reward in the business. I love seeing my clients smile and happy after collecting their products.

Nigerians reactions to women in male-dominated fields. Nigerians are now accepting and respecting women in male dominated fields. You needed to see the way people hold me in high esteem, when I showcase what I produce or when I introduce myself as a female shoemaker, at a gathering. That is the part of the profession that I love the most (laughs)

I Am A Woman Of Rubies
I am young, creative, and I inspire people.

Final words of advice
Be consistent in everything you do and be your best because that is what will take you places.

Chimanma Rushworth-Moore is the founder of Gold Fish Initiative, Growing up and schooling in Ajegunle made her develop passion for children who don’t have access to basic education. She believes education is the only way to bridge the socio-cultural gap that exists between the rich and less privileged. She shares her story with us in this inspiring interview.

Yes. Absolutely, a whole lot of factors. I grew up in Ajegunle, in Ajeromi Ifelodun local government area and I sat in class with some students who could not afford to continue their education, either because their parents were too poor to afford to send them to school or perhaps their parents were illiterate and did not see the main essence of education. When my father then passed away after my secondary education, things were tough in my house, having lost the breadwinner, my mother being a teacher had to fend for all of us, this was a time when teachers sometimes went unpaid for 9 months in Lagos state, in my darkest our I made a promise to God to help children from the poorest communities, if I myself survived my own ordeal. My prayers were answered.

Meet Chimanma
My names are Chimanma Nina Dobeiwu Gold Rushworth-Moore…..lol, long I know, only a few fit into my passport. I was born in Lagos on the 15th day of November, 1978. I am the 3rd of 5 Children. I had my primary Education in Local Authority Primary School, Ajegunle, Apapa, Secondary Studies in Federal Government Girls College Owerri, and University education in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State.

Inspiration Behind Goldfish Initiative?
Having lived a fraction of my life in Africa and another fraction of my life in Europe, I have seen a great divide between the African child and their European counterparts. I believe education is the only way to bridge the socio-cultural gap that exists. And in today’s world for a child to prepare for the future to be able to dine with Kings, they must at least be able to read and write.

Other Project and Activities?
I keep having light bulb moments on projects I want to carry out, but I will mention a few. Talks are on ground to build a school in a very remote area, where the children have to walk for almost 1hour and half t get to the nearest school, also the Goldfish Scholarship Scheme has recently taken on 3 children under their scholarship scheme in Kwara State, a video will be done shortly showing how these children are faring with taking up the challenge of learning and going to school for the first time. My dream is to have at least 20 children from each 36 states under this scheme, and to increase this figure as time goes on. I’m also setting up a Goldfish Initiatives reader and writers club for children in primary schools for to enable them have the fire to read and write. This will be aired either on radio or Television.

Giving Up
Yes. There have been times when I have been afraid that this project/dream is too big for me, because I’m just one person but then I remember the words of the greatest boxer that ever lived – The great Muhammed Ali, and I quote “ if your dreams don’t scare you, they aint big enough”. Also sometimes there are people who tell me that I cannot change the world, perhaps they have a reason for saying that, but I believe we all can make the world a better place, if we all tried, one step at a time.

For me it’s very simple. It’s the Thank yous, the smiles, the laughter, and the gratification that I have altered the course of a young life positively, for the journey that lies ahead. That keeps me going,.. That drives me.

What Makes You a Woman of Rubies?
I’m a giver, I have a big heart for everyone, everyone is equal in my eyes, and I believe anyone can be great and successful, if that are supported and aided. The son of a labourer today can be the next president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I always believe…im always hopeful, im never negative.

Final Words
Right from the dawn of time women have been specially created by God. We have the ability to influence and change the times we live in positively. Let us use this gift and power with the utmost prudence, because together the world will be made a better place if we put in that effort. We are all Unique, with something special to offer….every single one of us.

Mary Okagbare, popularly known as Mama Esther, is a food seller at Nepa Bush Akangba, Adelabu, Surulere, Lagos. She became the sole breadwinner of her family after her husband got sick and moved down to the village. While struggling hard to provide for her three children and husband, that didn’t stop her from taking in her sibling’s child into her home and take care of him. Even when her shop got demolished by the government, she didn’t give up; she forged on. Today, Mama Esther has succeeded in training two of her children to the university level and they are now graduates; one of her children studied Accountancy, while the other studied Physics. Even though they are yet to be employed, Mama Esther still keeps an optimistic spirit that things will soon be better for her children, and she is still working hard to take care of them.
In this interview with Women of Rubies, Mama Esther talk about how life has been for her as a sole breadwinner, and her prayers for her children.

The Beginning
I started selling rice twenty years ago , two years after I had my last child. I became the breadwinner of my family a year after my marriage in1987 after I had my first child, with the way things were very hard and difficult I realized my husband cannot do it alone, I mean he cannot give our children a better future with the way he changes job almost every month with no good income coming in because he was a driver, So I started hawking plantain which I stopped after I had my second child. Then, I looked for a small space where I started selling Garri, Groundnut, Sugar and Ice-water in nylon. I fully became the sole breadwinner of the family after my husband got sick and had to move down to the village.

It was never easy, there were times I felt so down and tired but then, the good dreams and better future I wanted for my children kept me going. I will say my children motivate me, all I ever wanted was for them to be better than me and have bright future, and I won’t rest until I help them achieve their dreams. May God help me.

Demolished Shop
It was like the world was crushing down on me, it was as if I was sinking, my heart almost stopped beating, I cried all night to the extent I lost my voice I couldn’t speak for days, my children were so worried and scared thinking they will lost me.
It was also the year my second child got admission into Lagos State University, so because of that I put myself together and went to the company where I was selling right in front of their building, before the demolition took place. I pleaded with them and God used two security men, they gave me a space at the back inside the company it was like a bush I don’t really know how to describe the place but I cleared the bush and put a canopy and started managing the place till now.

On giving up
Oh yes, I felt like giving up on several occasions. I knew my children depend on me and I know God is counting on me to take care of them, so I forge on. Like I said earlier, the place I was given to manage was so difficult to describe and hard for customers to notice. I lost most of my old customers and so it was so hard for me to sell even a Derica cup of rice a day because the place was so inside and no new customers were coming in. It was really hard and I really felt like giving up because I seriously needed money for my son’s school fee but the Grace and Mercy of God saw me through.

Being a mother of graduates
I give God all the glory; I am so happy and thankful to Him. My main prayer for them right now, is for them to get good jobs. I am sad because they are still unemployed but I won’t stop working hard to provide for their needs until they get jobs. I won’t stop crying and praying to God to provide jobs for them because they are wonderful children.
I’m also praying for them to be happy and to have bright future. I don’t want them to go through difficulties and hardships in life anymore so I’m earnestly praying to God to make them comfortable so they don’t suffer anymore.

There have been lots of challenges but the grace and mercy of God has been there for me.
There was a time that I was seriously sick for two years and I had to be taken to my village for special care but to the Glory and Mercy of God, I am still alive today.

I Am A Woman Of Rubies
Believing in myself as a woman and a mother,that I have to be strong, hardworking, resourceful, tolerant, patient, reliable and confident, makes me a woman of Rubies.

Words of advice for mothers and women
My advice to women and mothers out there is to believe in their selves. Move closer to God, work hard and don’t ever give up. God blessed you with your children because he trusts you to take care of them. Take care of them because it is your responsibility, and not because you are expecting rewards from them. Thank you Women of Rubies for wanting to hear my story. May God help you to continue the good work.

Orphaned at a very delicate time of her life and being a single mother with three siblings to raise alone, Vanessa’s dream of becoming a pillar of support for other children and women passing through similar experiences was kindled. Her experiences taught her that life is no bed of roses, but with a clear vision, determination and focus, anything is achievable. Today, Vanessa Mbamarah is the Founder/CEO of Ztallion, a platform that was born out of a need to reach out to less privileged kids and women. She also runs a social media-marketing agency and training institute through her Ztallion for Business and Ztallion Academy, respectively. She shares her success story and how she joggles it all together.

My childhood experiences have not only prepared me for what I do today, but have also helped in making me the woman I am. Being the first child of my mum, the first lessons I learnt was making sacrifices, caring for others and building, when there was no support coming forth from anywhere. I saw first class what it felt like to live with a widow, the pains and struggle of being a woman. I saw the need to be educated, especially as a woman. My mother wasn’t and I know how hard it was for her to make ends meet.Today, I am partnering with people having the same objective to help give young girls and women that opportunity to learn skills that would help them become entrepreneurs.

Meet Vanessa
I grew up as the first child in a family of four, my mum being the second wife from an extended family of 11 children. Growing up was tough, having lost my dad at an early age of six. Dedicating her life to raising her kids, mom gave up all the luxury and comfort to ensuring we lived to see the next day. Growing up wasn’t a lot of fun for me (smiles), from dropping out of school severally, to having to work and assist mum run the house until finally losing her. Our home was a home for all. Sharing was one thing mum held on to and built into us. I guess that ignited my passion for giving back.

After losing mum and having my baby, I moved down to Cotonou, the Republic of Benin. Here, I made a life for myself, combining multiple jobs alongside running a fulltime degree, until I finally graduated First class with a degree in Communication and Information Technology.

Passion for Social Media and Digital Design
Right from when I was a child, I always wanted to be a doctor, so I could take care of mum and then she wouldn’t have to fall sick or pay so much at the hospital (smiles.) Unfortunately, medical school didn’t give me the excitement I wanted, although I totally loved wearing the lab coats and stethoscopes.

I left med school after my second year. One of the reasons was that it was too structured and didn’t give room to try new ideas at the last minute. I have always known myself to be a creative person. I enjoyed expressing my thoughts through visuals and expressive writing, being able to create and transform ideas into tangible entities.

From being a medical student, I switched to computer science. I started with programming (java) because of its ability to combine letter and numbers to producing something new. From there, I ventured into designs, photography and social media, allowing me a wider opportunity to explore, create and a platform to express it all.

Shouldering Responsibility of Three Siblings
Like I said earlier, growing up wasn’t a lot of fun for me (smiles again.) My world turned upside down after losing my mum in 2009, worse because she left right when I needed her. You see she was buried two days after I gave birth to my daughter…a sad yet sweet experience. While still mourning her loss, I was celebrating the arrival of her granddaughter. I was a young and single mum at that time, left with three siblings to cater for. I drew strength from holding unto God, building a positive mind-set and focusing on not giving up. I had to work extra, running several jobs until I was able to send myself back to school.

Today, my siblings are all happily married and doing great. My kid is almost seven years and I’m grateful each day for having her regardless of past mistakes made. I look back and I smile because the entire struggle was worth it. It turned me into a fighter and a survivor.

My Projects
Today, I am all about building and giving back. My major projects are centred around women and less privileged kids. On social activities, we have both the Ztallion Foundation and the Love a Child Foundation (Benin), which is a non-profit Humanitarian Organization that focuses on women/girls, street and orphaned kids by bridging the gap between them and the society. We have several projects but two major projects, the ‘Back to School’ Project and Project Give-Back’, which is run towards the end of each year.

With the Back to School project, we collectively provide back to school materials for kids in the poor communities. Project Give-Back started last year, Dec. 2015 and is scheduled to come up again on December 25, 2016. The PGB is just a way of showing appreciation and at the same time celebrating Christmas with the less privileged. Last year, we fed over 500 people on the streets and held a Christmas party at a shelter home for boys in Cotonou, the Republic of Benin. All thanks to donations from friends and well-wishers.

I see myself as a BUILDER, not just a solution provider. On empowerment, we have the Ztallion Academy, which is a platform for providing digital skills that can be used personally or professionally. I partner and collaborate with people having the same vision to help give young girls and women that opportunity to learn skills that would help them become entrepreneurs, while focusing on reaching out to street and orphaned kids.

Giving up
O yes! Absolutely. Sometimes I didn’t only feel like giving up, I actually did give up. Being a single mum, having to cater for everyone and staying strong at the same time made me lose myself. Most times, I forgot I existed and needed to live for myself. Other times, crying was the only solution. Crying and keeping it all deep inside because I was scared to open up to anyone and telling them how broken I was inside. (Having been betrayed a lot of times by people close can sometimes cause this… *smiles). Today my strength comes from the drive to fulfil my purpose and building with people around me.

Greatest Reward
I wouldn’t say I do what I do to get any reward, but to be just. It’s the smile I get from the kids after we spend time with them, tears you see on the faces of widows, as a sign of appreciation and the emails received after each training session on how much impact it made.

Inspiration Behind your Organization “Ztallion”?
Ztallion was born out of a desire to stand up, reach out and tell my story. I always had a zillion ideas while growing up, pictures of who I wanted to become. Haha!

When I moved to the Rep. of Benin, after jumping from one job to the other, I decided to get creative and so, I thought of a way to combine everything I loved into one platform— my love for kids, teaching and business. Not forgetting using my experiences to reach out to people through my posts and write-ups.

I started out with the name Stallion, but later had to switch the S to Z …. And voila Ztallion came into existence…*smiles. The Stallion is an animal that is strong, protective, hardworking and possesses natural leadership qualities. That I believe describes me. Not focusing on its negative sides *hahaha!

Doing what I do takes some serious drive and commitment, something I know I’ve got (smiles.) One of the major challenges I’ve had to face is being consistent in running all three arms of Ztallion and having time to focus on my daughter.

Advice for Young Budding Female Bloggers and Social Media Strategist?
I would say practise, practise and practise. Take out time daily to reinvent yourself. Read a book, learn a new skill, just do something to grow every day. My experiences have taught me that life is no bed of roses, but with a clear vision, determination and focus, anything is achievable.

My Passion for Building and Strength Makes me a Woman of Rubies
My passion for building and strength. Regardless of all that life throws, I will still stand tall and strong because of Grace. I devote time to learning every day and at the same time, sharing my knowledge with others. I use my EXPERIENCES, while telling stories. Why? Because the lessons I learn from the mistakes made is not just for me alone… but for others to learn from.

Final Words to Women All Over The World
We all have stories to tell. The fact that you have survived that trauma is evidence. The fact that we put up happy pictures doesn’t mean we don’t feel pain, we don’t cry, we don’t get broke, we don’t face disappointments or feel the need to be encouraged over and over again. We are humans after all. Choosing to dwell on either the negative and positive thought is a choice we must make daily.

Solarin Yetunde is a Painter and an Interior decorator. Despite the fact that she is a graduate with a second-class upper degree in Business Administration, She decided to turn her childhood hobby- painting and wall decoration, into a career. She started Yetoonz Touch, and is currently making a living as a painter.
She talks about how she cope in a male-dominated profession, with Women of rubies in this Interview

I remembered that when i was a little younger than this, I used to trace and cut out colourful pictures from books, magazines, newspaper and display them on the walls. I also did cut out different shapes from card boards, paper craft and also drew pictures and made story with them. However, I still do them now but in a professional manner.

Meet Me
My name is Solarin Yetunde. I hail from Ogun State, Sagamu local government precisely and I am the last born of Solarin family. I attended Charlton nursery and primary school and did my secondary academics at Topmost College while my first degree in Business Administration was attained in Olabisi Onabanjo University Ogun state. I graduated with second class upper division. I observed my NYSC with Oyo State Ministry of Trade Investment and Cooperative in 2015. I am a certified member of Project management, I hold a certificate of Association of Accounting Technician and I am a student of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN).

How I discovered my passion for painting and interior decoration
I discovered it during my NYSC days as an extension of my childhood adventure.Every time that I was bored I decorated the four walls of my room and I got lots of encomium from friends and loved ones. From then, I knew I could be better and blossom professionally.

Inspiration behind Yetoonz Touch Paintings
The inspiration behind Yetoonz Touch Paintings is solely from GOD with the confidence that I have in myself that I can do anything through JESUS that strengthens me.

Other projects and activities
Apart from the fact that we paint houses, we also design schools, children rooms, studios, hotels, hostels and shops. Others projects are wall canvas designs which will soon be displayed all over as well as pending training for intending painters .

Challenges faced
There is no person that has gotten to the top without trials. There are times I thought I could not survive on the job largely dominated by men, and when there are no jobs to be done I feel frustrated and bored. Also, I was largely frustrated with my search for white collar job too. Nevertheless, encouragement from my family and friends has kept me stronger as the day go by. They are the best gifts in my life. In all, I have learn through it and came out with the conclusion that when GOD is for me nothing, and no man can be against me.

Reward(s) for what I do
To be truthful, there are no great rewards with man. Only GOD can bless one indeed. No matter, the cash or materials one receives for an activity one will never be satisfied. Nevertheless, the encouragement that I have received from my family and fiancé has kept me stronger as the day goes by. They are the best gifts i have ever received.

My view on gender inequality in men-dominated workforceI believe, Nigerians are growing and showing compassion to women in men-dominated works. Apart from the quality of my job, which speaks volume. I get a lot of patronage because of the fact that I am a woman thriving in the job designed for men.

I Am A Woman Of Rubies
The extra-ordinary passion, hard-work and doggedness to take up a men-dominated profession is more than being a Woman of Rubies.

Words of advice to women
My words to women are that; in this present age, women have a lot of scripts to write therefore, don’t fold your arms. The book of Ecclesiastes 9 verse 10 says, whatsoever your hands find to do, do it with all your might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest.

Adetola Makinde, Founder; Mo Rainbow Foundation

Adetola Makinde is a B.Sc. holder in Business Management from Usman Danfodio University. She is the founder of Mo Rainbow Foundation and Mo Rainbow Down syndrome Ability Centre, which are both non-profit organisations. She left her banking career to be a full-time mom, after she gave birth and her daughter was diagnosed with the Down syndrome.

In this interview with Women Of Rubies, Adetola Makinde shares a touching and inspiring story of how her life changed after her daughter, Moyinoluwa, came into the world with Down syndrome, and the inspiration behind Mo Rainbow Foundation.

Growing Up
As the first child of my parents, I’ve always been saddled with the responsibility of taking care of my siblings and being a good example to them. I grew up in a family, where cousins and relatives came on holidays or resided with us. I’ve lost count of the number of people my parents trained and supported from childhood through school and work, up until they got married. My parents were very accommodating and they taught me how to be content and responsible. They are great givers and all these formed a greater part of my core values, as I grew up being a giver, who also loves making people happy.

More About Me
My name is Adetola Makinde. Some people I’ve known for over three decades call me Sola. I love to be called TM. In my primary school days, I remember secretly coveting the name ‘Precious,’ as I used to wonder why my parents did not give me an English name. I am from Ikare-Akoko in Ondo State and the first of three children. I started my education with Stee international School, (popularly known as Subuola Nursery and Primary School back in1978). I attended FGGC Bida for a while before crossing over to Federal Government Girls College, Shagamu, in Ogun State. I later obtained a B.Sc. in Business Management from Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto.

My first job was with the United Bank of Africa Plc, and I worked in the corporate banking sector, and five other branches of this great organisation for 11 years, until I had my daughter in 2011.

Resigning from Banking Career to Follow Her Passion
I figured God was trying to change my career path, even though I loved working in the banking sector. God in heaven must have said, “Hey girl, it is time to move unto a greater assignment.” So, it happened that I had my baby in 2011 and about five days later, she was diagnosed with Down syndrome. This of course came as a rude shock and instead of resuming after my maternity leave, I tendered my resignation letter. I was about to dance to a different type of music, one people don’t like dancing, which is caring for my daughter. I had a prior knowledge and exposure to the condition and I knew I would not be able to cope with the responsibilities at work, as I had been given a higher role to play. I was just too sure that “returning to work would not work for me”.

I had prayed to have a baby girl and my prayers were answered in a miraculous way that has now birthed a purpose for my life. My little bundle, which initially caused me pain, had God’s purpose for my life, wrapped in that pain which has now turned to passion. For the life of me, I couldn’t believe my career would come to an end, but who am I to complain? It was a very tough decision coupled with sleepless nights, heart racing moments because of fear of the unknown. I had to be brave and just sacrifice for my children, more so, it hit home and I had to start running around to ensure my daughter had all the medical help and therapy that would save her life. God was there for me and I just could still see through a window how merciful and faithful He still is through my pain. I knew I was faced with a herculean task of caring for a vulnerable child, who is a blessing in disguise. I knew the benefits my baby would derive from early support. The first three years in the life of children, especially those with additional needs are very crucial and I told myself I would give my baby all the best care and support that I could and leave the rest for God.

Inspiration behind Mo Rainbow Foundation
The name Mo is Moyin’s nickname and the Rainbow was a name God gave me. We had put in another name and followed up with CAC to conclude the search, but the name was not approved because the whole process lasted longer than three months. One very cold morning, before daybreak, I woke up to use the bathroom and I heard a voice saying, “Look up, what do you see in the sky?” While I was still trying to think, I heard the answer “Rainbow”. I was transfixed and immediately sent a text to my lawyer and in two weeks, the name Moyinoluwa Rainbow Foundation was released and approved. The rainbow signifies hope and God’s promise, after the flood that destroyed the earth. It gives our children hope to live again. The fact that you have a child with a certain form of additional needs is not the end of the world. There is life after a Down syndrome diagnosis; it’s not the end of the world.

The inspiration behind Mo Rainbow began after my initial frustration of not getting early intervention. God gave me this vision one day in my living room, after Moyin turned three and I could only look back and appreciate God even more, as we had moved from struggles (with feeding, crawling, standing, walking, talking, heart surgery) to success. I met a two-year-old boy in church, who had never had any form of intervention and this tore me apart. That night, as I sat on my bed, folding my clothes, I heard a voice saying, “now you see you’re not alone. Go out and minister to these children. Be the light, be the solution, show and share the benefits of early intervention and all I’ve exposed you to”.

That night, I wept like a baby, knowing I was about to go through a path I never imagined. I followed up with the little boy, and today, Victor has turned four and with care and constant therapy, he is happy and improving gradually. This vision was confirmed by two people close to my heart, whom I never discussed my vision with at the early state, as I wanted clarity on this matter without prejudice.

The short of it is that I was blessed to have had help with early intervention from when Moyin was two weeks old, as I would be in the room with her till 1pm every day, trying to understand her body, features and help her with various exercises and oral motor massages. Frankly, I never cared about scornful looks, as I had keyed into early intervention and wouldn’t let go. My grits was eventually passed on to Moyin, as she became a fighter with every passing day. She learnt to be confident with the support friends and family daily gave her.

On Family Support
Well, all through this journey, my husband supported me. He was and is still there for us all. Our little Mo gives him so much joy. It was also with his consent that I left my job, as we both knew that working in the bank would divide my attention in caring for our daughter.

My Reaction on Being a Recipient of the Wise Women Awards
The award given to me is called “THE TURNAROUND AWARD”. I was overwhelmed with joy and that quickly ministered to me that finding purpose is fulfilling, and focusing on your vision over ambition is rewarding. I really appreciate Pastor Mrs. Majorie Esomowei, the founder, the wise Women international, Wise women Awards UK and Nigeria, for creating this wonderful platform. I believe your ministry does not have to be in church before God blesses you. He simply makes provision for every vision. I appreciate everyone supporting us, following us on social media channels and watching us. It’s a life changing experience for me.

Other Projects and Activities
We are on a rescue mission and I find it heart wrenching, when I discover that a child has not had the relevant support from birth, because of our weak support system. The story I hear is always either the parent has refused to seek the right help, kept the child at home and prevented him or her from mingling with others, has taken their child from one mountain to another seeking for deliverance with some voodooist or wishing the child away or dead.

Due to the high rate of ignorance of this condition, we have had a 5km walk for Down syndrome, where over 100 people came out to step for Down syndrome, creating awareness in Amuwoodofin Local Government Area. Our open-house party was to create awareness in the media and around our community. We have had “CANDID TALK ON DOWN SYNDROME,” where we invite parents to come and learn how to support their children/wards because it involves a back-to-back intervention. We also invite caregivers and therapists to learn how to support any child in their care. Sharing ideas helps us to take the right steps, when faced with difficult times with the child. It helps us to be pro-active.

We would frequently gather parents to enable them have Skype sessions and physical sessions with our consultants. We would also be partnering with Star of Hope Transformation Foundation, a foundation that turns ‘Trash into Treasure,” the Down syndrome foundation of Nigeria and other organisations that would project our work with children living with Down syndrome. Presently, Breakforth Women Outreach (Nigeria and Ireland), Women of faith Foundation (UK), LOJ logistics (NIG), Africa’s Unforgotten Angels (USA), SoksesJewelery (UK), Adoke resources (Nig.), are partnering with us in various ways and we are still hopeful for more partnership and support from other organisations and individuals. I will do my best to give hope to children faced with this condition. Not being much of tech savvy, I have found myself creating awareness on various social media platforms about this cause and God has brought many friends our way all over the world via these channels, though we are yet to get our first support from any organisation.

On Whether Nigerians are Compassionate Enough to Children with Down Syndrome
We are far from it. I once posted my daughter’s picture on Instagram and received a derogatory comment I had to delete. I wept that day, because it made me realise people’s ignorance and it made me more determined to advocate for every child and adult living with Down syndrome. Something good will come of them, because they are made in God’s image and likeness. Down Syndrome can visit any family, but it’s what you do with it that matters. I will keep fighting for inclusion for our children and there is no looking back. The society needs to understand that advocates of all forms of disability in Nigeria need them to listen and contribute their quota, as much as they can. I see our children living happily without any form of stigma or name-calling. One of our objectives is to ensure the on-going stigmatisation children face is stopped.

I Am A Woman Of Rubies
I believe answering this call has paved a way for a bright future for children living with this life-long condition. I am fulfilled, because families that are angry with God or the child, thinking He is angry with them can now realise they are wrong.  When at the end of each day I see parents showing more love to their child, I know I can sleep with both eyes closed, because through me, a strong bond has been built between them and the child is sure of their total support.