Maduabuchi Ubani reports on a centre’s efforts in alleviating poverty among women
Janet Thomas, an indigene of Bayelsa State has known poverty right from a tender age. She was forced to resort to several measures to break out from the cycle of poverty, but she has not been so lucky. With time she became worried and constantly felt an inner worthlessness and low self esteem among her peers.
“I tried, but things just didn’t work. I sold second hand clothes at sometime, but I sank deeper into poverty until my prayers were heard in 2012,” she said.
For her, the tales of anguish came to an end in June 2012, when she was selected as one of the 40 beneficiaries of the amnesty skills acquisition programme in catering and hotel management.
“I am very excited and overwhelmed without measure, because as I am talking to you, I can produce cakes, beads, insecticide and so many things without assistance and when I travelled back home from Lagos recently, I did my liquid soap and everybody was proud of me. I am thankful for this programme because now I can stand up among my peers without shame.” Thomas said with a smile.
Thomas’ story of a sad start in life wasn’t so different from that of Nancy Tekikuma who was a food vendor with responsibilities on her shoulders. “I got to know about the programme through my in-law and though the beginning of the classes weren’t so rosy, but with patience and dedication I scaled through. Now, I am in a good position to take care of my younger ones and give them a brighter future that I didn’t have when I started out in life.”
The accounts of these women were just a few of many testimonies from the HOK Centre for Business, Technical and Trade Education in Lagos. The centre which came into Nigeria in 2011 with a deliberate focus on women and mission to provide a critical combination of services and training to unleash life skills that equip trainees for a long term economic empowerment through small or medium scale enterprises for self-reliance. The initiative has prepared many women for life in its few years of operation in the country.
On the activities of the centre and the recent graduation of a set of trainees, the CEO of HOK international, Mrs. Helen Okafor, talked about her passion for poverty alleviation among the womenfolk, the resounding successes attained and the centre’s quest for improvement.
“The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) declaration by the United Nations formed the basis for the establishment of the centre. Dwelling on five of the goals, HOK intends to bridge the gap between Nigeria and other nations by attending to these specific goals. These are captured in the areas of eradication of poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowerment of women,” Okafor explained.
She said: “The women of this country need status change from where they are now to the rightful place. It is unimaginable that women would have to depend on men for everything. That needs to stop. Everywoman must be somebody in its locality and able to support and defend other women. We train for the empowerment of vulnerable and different calibres of young people in the society.
“We recently marked the end of a one-year training for women from the Niger Delta region who were placed in the centre by the Presidential Amnesty Programme and apart from Catering and Hotel Management, the centre also managed to teach them some other soft skills in the areas of interior decoration & design, bead making, venue decoration, tie & dye and hair dressing.
“These skills are not only to empower them but to enable them to be wealth creators because the centre is about skill acquisition in its totality and entirety.”
Commenting on the clamour and chase for white collar jobs, Okafor pointed out the legion of opportunities and enrichment that lies in the so called “menial jobs” and further urged people to be credible in whatever path of life they choose.
“It is only in Nigeria that you see a street sweeper who is shy to say what he or she does for a living. But overseas, you see people who do lower jobs than that and they are proud to say it, because they are being paid for the service they render and they live on those jobs comfortably. As our trainees have passed out, they go home with the complete knowledge of something new that has been impacted on them by seasoned tutors and well-bred instructors and this underscores the boundless opportunities that lie in acquiring a vocational skill not only for personal enrichment and comfort but also for economic growth.”
Expressing her happiness on the illuminating path that the centre has shown to the women, the instructor on chemical processing, Mrs. Stella Chinyere Okafor, commented also on the remarkable feat achieved by the women. “It has been a worthwhile experience and an invigorating time with the women. I thank God for using me to impact knowledge on them, and it gives me inner joy and fulfillment when they travel to their respective homes and call to tell us how they are being appreciated and commended by their siblings, friends and neighbours on their new found skills,” she enthused.
She added: “Most of them came here with no skill whatsoever but they are leaving here not only to become their own boss but also to be employers of labour and positive contributors to societal development. It goes a long way to say that not only people in political posts are the ones to receive applause for making the positive changes in the society, rather we should also appreciate and acknowledge semi and low skill individuals who through their ingenuity and devotion play roles in making the society a better place.
“As the trainees leave with certificates on diverse aspects of training, it simply means that in a country with vast untapped resources, there are so many areas one can carve a niche and it is not far-fetched that when you empower a woman, you’ve empowered a nation because we are the catalyst of positive change.”