#Impact365: “Society doesn’t train young people to believe in themselves” | Joyce Onwumere of Ola Foundation discusses youth empowerment

Youths in Nigeria possess the potential to build the nation, improve the quality of their own lives and change the narrative that has existed for a while now. Most of these potentials are largely untapped, youths are mostly unemployed and a large population of the employed are unskilled.

Founder of Ola Foundation, Joyce Onwumere sits with YNaija’s Impact365 to discuss everything her NGO has been doing to empower young people in Nigeria.

Please tell us more about Ola Foundation

Olafoundation is a non-profit organization founded in 2015 that focuses on youth enablement and mentorship initiatives to ignite a zeal for self-development and leadership for sustainable development in Nigeria.

Currently, we provide internship placements for young people and also people living with disability between the ages of 14 to 20 to provide an accelerated learning process in a particular field of interest, acquire a particular skill and improve their self-confidence as they start the journey of self-discovery and development. Internship placements are available across various sectors like coding with Microsoft, Marketing with HP (Hewlett Packard), Baking with Nuts about Cakes, Digital Arts with Scroll Comics and Shoe Making with Shoespeed.

We also have a program called the School Tour Program where we go to schools to speak to student’s self-development and inspiring them on positive change.

As a young Nigerian, what inspired you to set up Ola Foundation?

Growing up, I always had friends that were good at so many things, drawing, singing, academics and I have watched them kill these gifts over the years unknowingly simply because the environment doesn’t encourage them to develop those skills and our parents were only interested in us making good grades, studying a professional course and getting a job afterwards. However, statistics has shown us over the years that there are simply not enough jobs to cater to the youth population and even with the available jobs, employers complain about high unskilled labor force. If we weren’t wasting these talents, maybe Nigeria would be different.

I started Ola for 3 reasons:

* Help young people harness and develop their skills. Its high time we start to look inwards, God has deposited in us gifts/talents to solve our societal issues.

* Solve the issue of unemployment and lack of skilled labor force due to the gaps in the educational system

* Provide access to opportunities and information for young people to harness and develop their skills

So far since you set up the NGO, how many teenagers have you worked with?

We have provided 50 internship placements in two years and worked with much more for the School Tour program.

Have you been able to track the progress of the young people that have passed through your internships? How well have they done moving forward?

Yes we have. The younger ones go back to school and we encourage them to focus on their education. However from the older ones we have three people aged 17, 19 and 20 who have started their shoe making businesses, they used the proceeds to sustain their upkeep or school fees. We also have about 4 people who code and take up freelance jobs. In general post internship, we provide mentorship for those that indicate an interest and pass on useful information on other activities that will benefit the teens.

How do you fund the internships and training sessions?

We reach out to various companies of interest but in most cases companies only listen when we have a referral.

Have you ever sought for or gotten help from the government at any level?

No. But we plan to in the future.

From your work, what are the challenges that face Nigerian teenagers that you’ve noticed?

They are:

1. Lack of self-confidence: society doesn’t train young people to believe in themselves and that their opinion matters so it becomes hard for them to believe they or their opinions matter. However, there are exceptions.

2. Lack of access to the right information: Nigerian education especially in the public schools cannot in itself harness their potentials. I once went to a school to speak and the speaker before me was addressing the students, telling them not to dream too big that “dreaming big is expensive”, imagine what that does to a child.

What are the major challenges you’ve faced since you set up the NGO?

1. Getting Internship placements: we had over 500 applications but had limited slots. With the recession, companies are not willing to take on more expenses especially with the age range.

2. Funding is also an issue as we also need to cover feeding and transportation costs for interns from humble backgrounds.

Plans for 2017?

In 2017, we intend to scale to 100 placements so we can impact more lives especially for people living with disability.

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