1. Tell us about yourself and your NGO’s
My name is Olatinpo Abosede Odutola. I have a Bsc in psychology from London Metropolitan University and I am in SAP Certified in Human Capital Management. I have always had a passion for giving and helping out from quite an early age. My NGO is named after my late mother, Olubusola Ayodele Akingbehin. We cater for the three main sectors in wellbeing. Women, education and empowerment.
2. Some have argued that many NGOs in Nigeria were set up just to attract foreign grants, how would you react to this?
That is true. You will always get a rotten few in any skill or area of expertise, voluntary or paid. Even in a marriage one or both parties don’t always enter into agreement for right or puritan reasons. But not every egg in a crate is bad. It’s sad but true. Indeed many NGOs are set up by thieves with no other ambition than a ‘steal kill and destroy’ mission of sorts. But the key word in your question is ‘many’ not ‘all’. There are still genuine NGOs doing great work the right way. I remember in 2007 when I went to a couple of orphanages to give out items, it was in summer. None of the staff or facilitators were in the country. I remember one in particular in Ajah. The head , assistant, supervisor and matron where all in London. They had left the older teenagers in charge. I had to ask the 19 year old speaking to me the same question in three different ways for fear he had not understood what I was asking. Not until 2 other older orphans in his age bracket came and reinforced what he was saying. But then again ‘fraud’ is an English word so Nigerian NGOs are not the forerunners of dubious activities.
3.What specific things has your NGO done to help women in Ogun state?
Pregnancy and delivery is something I hold dear. I don’t know why but I just do. I give out delivery packs to pregnant women. The government doesn’t provide and it’s a necessity for pregnant women.
I also give talks to teenage girls about the advantages of abstinence and protection. I also give them exercise books are they are yet to receive a single one from the government in three years. I had tried to purchase two plots of land long beforehand. I had hoped to build multiple mini flats for widows living in the forest with their children. House them and give them a token to start a business with. But with most land transactions people can be quite funny so I backed away. I will never forget watching the wife of the Abia state governor, Mrs Nkechi ikpeazu on TV. She really inspired me. She built homes for widows living in the forest. I didn’t even know such a lifestyle existed until then. She showed me that it’s possible to live a life of balance by spoiling yourself in one or two ways and remembering those less off than you. I watched her and said ‘God bless me so I can do this too’ and I placed my hands on the tv as a point of contact. That was a moment I can never forget.
4. You are from the south west part of Nigeria, Many of the women alleged to be young girls are into prostitution,and young teens are not in school, what are you doing to enlighten young girls in that part of Nigeria especially in your state?
First things first. Many girls and teenagers round the world are currently trapped in prostitution. Sri Lanka has the highest rate of child prostitution followed by Thailand, Brazil, USA and Canada. There is really nothing new or unique in life or culture. All you have is variants of the same thing. So the notion that many girls from the south west are into prostitution, isn’t true. There’s bad everywhere. At the moment I do a lot of work centering around female traders who borrow from micro finance banks and are over burdened by the interest. They can only afford to pay back the principle so they prostitute themselves to get the interest. This interest is as little as N2500 and sometimes less. Next week we will begin restructuring but I already give a number of affected women the interest every alternate month. So they use one month to save up. The next thing on my agenda in that regard is giving loans spread out in an unconventionally longer period of time. Although I have already started that using a pilot of 20 women. I have also had talks with secondary school girls.
In regards to education in my state, I volunteered with another NGO that gives out shoes to school students so am quite aware of the population ratio of boys to girls. It served as a platform to get to know the true situation of the realities of what’s on ground.
5. What solutions would you proffer to check the low rate of girl-child education in your state?
Truth be told there’s so much research based widely available solutions to checking the low rate of girl child education. The issue is do we avail ourselves as a state (Ogun State) to this information rather than try and invent the wheel with unchecked committees. But there are still some common sense approaches we can use.
Parents must first be made aware of the benefits of education. Not just academic benefits but psychological and emotional benefits of educating their girls. Let me give you an example. One of my tailors has two kids and is a single mother living in one room. When she had the first one and was seriously struggling I asked her why she was active in the first place and why she let herself get pregnant. She said because the ‘gentle boy’ had promised to marry her and so she agreed to sleep with him. I was stunned. Then I asked why not take precaution. She looked at me like I was speaking Efik to a shop attendant in the South of France. She asked me what that was. She then said after she slept with him no one would want to marry her because she wasn’t a virgin so she had to stay with him. I could only look at her because I couldn’t believe my ears. I tried to see if she was only making excuses to cover up for her stupidity but the girl was sincerely misguided. Had to ask at what level she stopped going to school. She said primary six. How do you know how to write your client’s measurements? Says she took herself to night school. I preached till my mouth was dry because the boy had left when she fell pregnant. She said ‘wow’ to a lot of things I said. The following year she was pregnant again for the same boy. How?? After years of believing a lie about the way the world works due to lack of education and social mixing my ‘speech’ fell on deaf ears. Then I asked if she enjoyed sleeping with him. She still didn’t understand what I meant. She asked if women are supposed to enjoy sex. I had to change the topic and revisit it for lack of what to say. She thought she was struggling before but now this was suffering personified. Her ‘gentle boy’ she allowed back into her life after leaving her previously; disappeared a month into the second pregnancy and she hasn’t seen him in two years now. This isn’t far fetched from teen pregnancy except this was a 25 year old teen. The education she hadn’t received had formed an impenetrable thick wall. Clearly education reduces the rate of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and increases self confidence and awareness.
This is just an example of why not educating girls is detrimental as cycles are usually but not always hard to break. The common notion that there isn’t any need for it since she would most likely end up being a home maker is far from accurate. Education makes a better home maker. Education for their children isn’t discounted and given high priority. Educated home makers attract wealthier spouses than non educated home makers and so end up giving their children an even better education than they had.
I believe one of the other things to do to combat the problem of fewer girls in the educational system in my state is to employ more women as teachers. Some mothers have unspoken misgivings about leaving their kids with male teachers. In addition, working with the parents to monitor the changes and development in their kids before and after their enrollment in school is vital. These parents are more than likely to spread the word to neighbors, friends and family.
Another step I believe is to create empowerment avenues for their mothers. Some of these girls have to hawk or help their parents in one trade or the other to raise money.
Building schools in remote areas in order to reduce time and money spent going to and from school should be considered.
Working with teachers to create a mentoring program with the kids they teach. This is essential in ensuring girls actually finish through secondary school reducing the drop out rate. Although this creates a catch 22 situation with having a rotation program for teachers to move between schools to reduce monotony.
Emulating other states who give prizes to their teachers of the year in different categories. Everyone will respond to healthy competition and positive stimuli. These teachers too need to be encouraged and recognized for their hard work and sometimes selfless effort.
6. What unique thing has your NGO planned for the vulnerable in the state?
I give out delivery packs to expecting mothers on a large scale. I can boldly and confidently say that this hasn’t been done before. The next step is to reach out to other demographics but I’ll keep that under my belt till it’s done.
On the side, I also work with a handful of old women. Those whose children are late and they are single handedly taking care of their grandchildren. Although you wonder why a bag of rice between three people is finished in two months and then it occurs to you that they sell from the rice to raise extra cash.
I have also stated working with widows. A lot of them feed themselves and children from hand to mouth through loans. I engage them in menial jobs over the course of the month so they are able to raise the interest they need to payback on their loans. I try not to encourage free money. Showing help, compassion and support is one thing. Foolishly allowing yourself to be an ATM is quite another.
7. As the head of your ngo, what are you doing to attract the attention of the state government to the deplorable situation of women abuse in your state?
I am currently working on a proposal that will be submitted to the state government. It’s going to be the first of its kind. Unique and ground breaking. Keep watching.
8.whats is your relationship with the state and any political ambition?
As a daughter of the soil I will always have a relationship with Ogun state. Charity begins at home and my paternal grandfather illustrated that too well. So if I must show love it should start at home first. I must admit moving with the grassroots has made me privy to a lot of things. Quite a surprising high number of people have admonished me to get into politics and represent them. If such an opportunity presents itself I believe it will be foolhardy to ignore. Right now, am just giving back to my people.
9.Any word of advice for women who have lost hope???
I saw this on Instagram today and I find it very apt to the topics discussion here and even in my life too. “God is saying to you today, ‘I know you have been struggling for a long time. Financially spiritually and emotionally. You have a good heart and people have abused you in many ways. You have been betrayed in many ways … yet you stand in the midst of your storms. You are still here because I am with you. I will not allow any weapon that is formed against you to prosper. Fear not because I am going to turn things around and bless you in the presence of your enemies. Hold on to your faith’ “.