By Gbenga Awomodu
In the third year of Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes), a king of Persia (486-465 BCE), Esther a Jewish orphan became the Queen of Persia. As palace intrigue unfolded, Esther – courageous and wise – dared to stand up for the salvation of her enslaved people from a planned genocide; risking at least her personal comfort. It’s 2011, and aside from being born in the same month of the year and having a common name, these ladies with a passion for society would make that first Esther proud!”
Name: Esther Enitan Ijewere
Cause: Violence Against Women
Born on 14 April, 1984, Esther Enitan Ijewere engages in social development work out of a strong passion for humanity and the need to build a better society. “After all is said and done, the wealth of the minority will be threatened by the poverty of the majority, therefore caring for others is a major tool in developing a virile and selfless society,” Ijewere, tells me.
At the end of her life, she says, she wants to be remembered, not for the clothes in her wardrobe or the cars in her garage, but for the people on whose faces she has put smiles, and the individuals who thank Providence for creating her – which is just as well for a girl whose name means “with historical significance”.
The graduate of Sociology from the Olabisi Onabanjo University grew up in a family of four. She is now the Executive Director of the Rubies Ink Initiative, a social enterprise outfit devoted to youth advocacy, public relations, and social enterprise solutions. She, alongside a team of other brilliant young Nigerians, coordinates the Walk Against Rape (W.A.R) and Project Capable, the organisation’s rape advocacy campaign and student mentorship programme, respectively. In the last two years since the inception of the organisation, Esther has brought the young and young-at-heart together in order to lend a voice to the victims of rape and demand justice on the perpetrators. She has also staged a celebrity walk against rape and W.A.R has been endorsed by the Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs.
“We measure our success by the amount of positive feedback we get from people,” she says. Her work has not been easy though. “Getting rape victims to speak up is a major challenge due to the burden of stigmatisation.” Despite these challenges, ten years from now, she still wants to remain a strong female social activist and the voice of the voiceless – victims of rape, violence and the less privileged – and she takes inspiration from the Bible’s Esther. “I learn from her story that one’s background is not enough excuse to limit one’s success and that you can be royalty if you are able to express your inner beauty,” she says. “She found favour in the eyes of the king; looking back at my achievements so far, I can boldly say God has ‘favoured’ my life journey in so many ways. I see a lot of similarities as I’m also a go-getter and have strong passion for humanity and justice! I draw my inspiration from the book of Esther Chapter 2 vs 17.” That passion is shared for country – and for those of her generation.
Name: Esther Kelechi Agbarakwe
Cause: Climate Change
Born a week after Ijewere, on 21 April, 1984, Agbarakwe has been to over twelve countries across the globe talking about climate change and actively discussing policy issues around a theme that is probably one of the most vital concerns of the 21st century. A 2009 Dekeyser & Friends Foundation Fellow, her work on educating school children and other young people across the country about their role in global warming and environmental sustainability won her an award at the 7th LEAP Africa Annual Nigerian Youth Leadership Award in 2010. On becoming a climate change activist, the Abuja-based Chemistry Education graduate says, “At 10, I was already a child rights activist. I spoke at events and raised awareness on the plight of Nigerian children, especially during the Children’s Day celebrations on 27 May. “I ventured into climate change activism in 2007 because I cared. I care for the community of life, of young people who will bear the consequences of the actions of older generations – the inaction of our government to stop gas flaring and environmental pollution in the Niger-Delta.
My climate activism began when I became part of the Earth Charter Initiative, a diverse global network of people and institutions that promote values and the principle of sustainable development. I have been trained and linked to a great mentor, Mr Odigha Odigha, who is currently the head of the Cross River Forestry Commission. I received a grant from the Earth Charter under the Youth Special Project to do a peace and environmental sustainability project in the Niger-Delta.” She is certain about what she will be doing for the next ten years – a Nigerian and an advocate for environmentally sustainable growth. “I share this simple message with all young people I meet,” she says. “Be the change you want to see, and join the climate change movement.”
Name: Esther Eshiet
Cause: Sexual and Reproductive Health
Born on 10 April, 1987 in Calabar, Eshiet is a sexual & reproductive health/rights expert with special interest in advocacy for economic rights and policy. Inspired by the 2010 fellowship award for her by Moremi Initiative, she founded the Afterschool Peer Mentoring Project (ASPMP) which engages young people within schools on leadership and entrepreneurship awareness. “At ASPMP we are responding to the challenge we see in Cross River State – most young people do not have the drive for business, like in other parts of Nigeria,” she says.
A 2010 graduate of Social Work from the University of Calabar, her conscious involvement in social development projects began when she was a teenager. “It was a common phenomenon during those years, to hear that a female member of the church choir had dropped out because she was pregnant,” she recalls. Now with over five years work experience with organisations such as Girls’ Power Initiative (GPI), Youth Action for Change (YAC), Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN), and the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDs (GYCA), where she served as National and Regional focal point for West Africa in 2007 and 2008, she has through her organisation, partnered with organisations and private firms in Cross River State to drive positive change in the society.
And how does she measure success? “It’s tricky to measure achievements by the number of awards or one’s bank accounts,” she admits. “For me, success lies in the satisfaction I derive in assisting young people to make just the right decision; providing an alternative and linking them to a community resource they never realised was at their disposal.” Her eyes are set firmly on the work ahead. “The major challenge is trying to convince young people to change their behaviour positively,” she says. But, no one can hold this bundle of excitement and energy down! “I am ‘possibilitarian’!” she announces. I believe in change and that change can happen if we drive the process! Today is a date in history – if you make it!’
To join their causes: Esther Ijewere: www.rubbiesink.com
Esther Agbarakwe: estheragbarakwe.blogspot.com|nigerianyouthclimatecoalition.blogspot.com
Esther Eshiet: calabarbeckons.wordpress.com|afterschoolpmp.wordpress.com