The girl child in Nigeria faces a myriad of challenges that require collective effort to provide relief to. There are hundreds of non-governmental organisations that cater to the needs of teenage and adolescent girls across the country and iBuildAfrica Foundation is one of such.
What however, stands out for this NGO is the drive behind it. Damilola Opawale knows firsthand how it feels to be a less privileged girl child and grow up in a Nigerian slum. In this interview with YNaija, she shares the inspiration behind setting up iBuildAfrica Foundation.
Tell us more about your NGO?
iBuildAfrica (iBA) Foundation (formerly called Priceless Jewels Foundation) is a Non-Governmental Organization with the mission to reach out to female adolescents, helping them maximize their potentials, environment and background notwithstanding.
Our vision is to raise girls into role models in our society.
We believe that girls are the major building bricks for any society, hence our dedicated passion to their wellbeing. We are convinced that educated, healthy and skilled adolescent girls will help build a better future for our society and the world at large.
The vision was conceived on the 16th of January 2011, I was at this time a Year 4 Medical student at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State. I shared the idea with four of my friends then, they bought into it and we were ready to start, although we didn’t have a penny.
We started by organizing Saturday breakfast meetings with young girls in Sagamu community where we were schooling at the time. The aim of the meeting was to create an avenue to interact with as many girls as we could, mentor them and help them with their individual challenges.
It wasn’t surprising that many of the girls could not construct simple sentences in English, many had issues with inferiority complex, family issues, and sexuality issues. Some were not doing well in their academics and were even at the verge of dropping out of school.
We taught the girls some skills, helped them with their school works and spoken English. Most importantly, we were able to make friends with them and mentor them. We visited their homes and familiarized with their parents and guardians.
Since inception, we have had several other opportunities to impart young girls, through our programs and events, writings, individualized mentorship, financial support, etc. and we have had several success stories.
What inspired the decision to set up iBuildAfrica Foundation?
Growing up as a young girl in a slum-like environment is an experience I cannot forget in a hurry.
Everything in the environment spoke poverty. But what got my attention the most was the rate of teenage pregnancy, number of uneducated girls in the environment and the poor care of children by their mothers. The menace became more obvious to me when as a secondary school student in a girls-only Government school, it was almost the norm that at the beginning of a session some girls would not resume back to school with us. The reason, not farfetched; they got pregnant and had to drop out of school, parent or guardian could not afford to continue sending them to school or they just didn’t see any reason why the girls should keep going to school. I watched parents throw out their pregnant teenage girls to live wherever they wanted as a punishment for getting pregnant.
I saw young girls work as house helps in homes without any hope of going to school. I watched bosses maltreat their house helps like slaves. Even then, I knew something was wrong and something could be done.
As a young girl, I longed for counselling and mentorship from older ladies. I had questions, worries, fears, distractions, which I wasn’t free to discuss with my mum or siblings and there was no avenue to get help.
I got into university and schooled in three different towns in Ogun State Nigeria. I realized the case was the same in those towns or even worse.
iBuildAfrica Foundation is a vision that was borne, out of a passion to support African girls and young ladies through these numerous challenges, reaching out to them, providing avenues where they can get support, freely express their worries, ask their questions and find help.
How many adolescent girls have you reached so far and how much impact has been made in their lives?
We have organized and participated in quite a number of programs and events, written a few articles and devotional, provided one on one mentorship for girls, including teenage mothers and girls with chronic illness. We also have a few beneficiaries of our Academic Sponsorship project.
To put a number to it, I’ll say well over one thousand girls have benefited one way or the other from what we do and we get positive feedbacks from time to time which give us a sense of fulfillment, although there is still a very long way to go.
What are the challenges that have been faced since the NGO started?
We have faced several challenges at different phases of this work…
When the NGO started, all I had was a passion to touch lives and I had my friends who were very supportive. Initially, I didn’t get support from home, my parents believed that the NGO would distract me from my academics, but after a few years when they saw my passion and persistence, they became very supportive.
Other challenges I have encountered include limited capacity compared to the number of girls who need our assistance, funding, challenge with follow up on some of our beneficiaries, etc. But in all, our will has been making way for us.
We have faced several accusations in the past that our NGO is promoting gender discrimination by focusing on the girl child. That is far from the truth. I believe that Africa will get better if we all contribute our quota in the areas of our passion and particularly investing in the younger generation, regardless of gender. However, I realized that one person or organization cannot solve all of the problems of Africa, it is more effective when we also choose what areas we want to channel our contributions. We at iBuildAfrica Foundation have chosen to invest in the girl child because their challenges are obvious to us and we have a passion to reach out to them.
I encourage everyone to decide on what they want to contribute to the society as God gives them the privilege and do it effectively.
In your work with young Nigerian girls, what do you think are their major needs that government needs to pay attention to?
Africa, a continent where majority of people still live below a dollar per day, the average African girl child is faced with numerous threats to her existence, viz, teenage pregnancy and motherhood, girl child sexual abuse, girl child marriage, girl child trafficking, limited access to education, gender discrimination, poor access to proper counselling, Female genital mutilation, the list is endless. All these go a long way in affecting the future of these girls and ultimately, the future of our society because women are key determinants of the quality of any society.
Girl child trafficking in Nigeria, and Africa as a whole is a vice I believe the government needs to pay a lot of attention to. There are many families all over the country who still use other people’s children as maids and house helps without giving them any formal or technical training. Some parents even use their girls to make money by giving them out as maids. This is completely wrong and I believe our government should prosecute people who are still involved in this act.
It is wrong for a young girl who should be in school, to stay back in your house as a house girl while your own children are going to school; it is wrong and absolutely inhumane.
What contributions do parents urgently need to make in raising girls better?
Thank God for civilization and modern technology. But technology has also given our girls more sexual exposure. Hence, parents need to be more sensitive and close to their children (both boys and girls).
I conducted a research about a year ago which revealed that the age of sexual debut among teenage girls in South Western Nigeria is 14 years. Most of these girls did not tell their parents about their sexual experiences because they could not freely discuss sexuality with their parents.
Parents need to engage in adolescent – friendly transferring of knowledge on sexuality in order to reduce pregnancy rates and HIV transmission among female adolescents.
What plans do you have for the future of your NGO?
We intend to put up the following in the nearest future:
1. More girls on our scholarship scheme
2. Establishment of technical school for skill acquisition training
3. Toll free lines for counselling
4. Free health care for indigent girls
5. Home for teenage mothers without family support
6. Rehabilitation services for destitute girls
7. Extension to other regions of the country and other African Countries.