LAILA JEAN ST. MATTHEW-DANIEL HAS PACKED A WHOLE CAREER INTO 25 YEARS OF ENTREPRENEURIAL AND MANAGERIAL SKILL, HOSPITALITY AND TOURISM CONSULTING, MENTORING AND ADVOCACY. . OMOLOLA ITAYEMI GETS HER TALKING ABOUT HER PASSION
Like fine wine, Laila gets better with age. She’ll be 60 next year and she’s still as stunning as she was in her 30’s. She is a mulatto, but keeps sealed lips about her origins. She’ll rather talk about her Nigerian lineage. She’s not ashamed of the other parentage, she’s just bored of people purring over the other extraction. She believes and insists her Nigerian heritage is the highest contributor to her exotic genes.
With such well chiseled visage, blemish free skin and well-structured body, she can be very captivating. Very eloquent, she’s good at throwing in banters when she holds you in a conversation. Not one to waste an opportunity talking about causes she’s passionate about, she’ll have you convinced in no time about causes that are dear to her heart.
A psychologist, she speaks and writes excellent English, a communication level of Efik and Yoruba with passable knowledge of Igbo, Hausa and French.
An accomplished administrator and manager whose experience spans 25 years, she provides expert assistance for entrepreneurial, high-technology and market-making businesses by bringing her project management, strategic focus and mature business judgment to bear on the forces that drive organisational performance.
She set up her first business in 1979 called Jacintas Furniture Company. She became one of the foremost furniture manufacturers when government banned importation of furniture and in the process trained young entrepreneurs. Then she went into project management and construction consultancy in the hospitality and tourism industry. Now she is a Life Coach and also trains people to maximise their potential through impartation of soft skills/personal development. Her experience cuts across Nigeria, the West Coast, parts of North Africa and the EU.
So it comes as no surprise that she’s passionate about ACTS Generation. An organisation built to cater for marginalised and abused women, youths (ages 18 to 35). A non-governmental, non-profit and voluntary outfit, it caters to the healing of the mind and body of troubled, hurting people, especially women and ‘at-risk’ children irrespective of class, race, ethnic or tribal affiliation. She’s the main driver of every project she’s involved with. ‘’I am the executive director cum coordinator of this project and it was launched last year with the Lagos State government ministry of women affairs supporting us. I’ve been in this for as long as I remember because it’s what I’m really passionate about,‘’ she said.
Could it be from her experience as a life coach mentoring others? Yes and more I discovered. ‘’We at ACTS strongly believe that you do not need to resort to violence before you get your point noted or resolve an issue. On the other hand, you are the one that is out of control and need help, that is what we are trying to solve.
“We also found out that people who are violated are most times misunderstood and these are the perpetrators of the reaction and I tell them that you are not the one that is at fault but your other half is the one that needs to be examined.
“I have a passion for women who are abused and violated, whether emotionally or verbally. Sometimes people go through all these without knowing what is going on. Most people refer to it as nagging but there is a stage where nagging turns to verbal abuse and you are abusing the man or the woman. I am spearheading this campaign because I feel little attention is given to domestic violence, whether verbal or physical,” she explained.
Her decision to form ACTS could also have emanated from a personal experience. Well Yes, I was once a victim of domestic abuse and violated person. I was involved in an abusive relationship once with my husband. I went through what is called a ‘circle of violence’ (a popular occurrence with victims) which kept me hoping he would change and eroded my self esteem, and you begin to ask yourself questions and wonder if it was you or your fault and find it very difficult to leave when close confidants advise.
“From experience, I can tell you that the people who are batterers are charmers. So, I kept trying for a long time and after a while and then something happens and you begin to reject this abuse and all the begging and apologies don’t work anymore at this stage. The main action behind violence of any type is the inability to manage anger.’’
“I became a psychologist after the experience. Asked if she would have advised her husband to see one, she replied, ‘’I can’t remember but I think a friend of mine advised me, you know when in those days you ask a man to see a psychologist, they all think the person is mad and as such when I told my husband then to visit a psychologist, he called his sisters and told them that I’ve turned him into a mad man.”
I couldn’t help but inquire how often her story helped, she replied in the affirmative. “You see, theory or theoretical approach to issues of life is very good but when people find out that you understand where they are coming from, they open up, they open up and tell you so many things and therein lies the solution and whenever I’m giving talks or seminars, I tell people and victims that I’ve been there, I too have had relationship that has hurt me emotionally and physically.
“I let them know that I’ve been battered and I’m okay now, so what’s the big deal? They open up more once they know that you identify with them. It’s just like someone who never had anything as a child but struggles hard to make it and become something, it would be easier for such person to talk to the poor and those under the bridge than someone who had lived a luxury life all year long. My life is my own testimonies towards allowing heal to happen.
“This reminds me the story of one of the organisations that has been at the forefront of advocating for abused and violated persons and when she met with me, she actually had an attitude and it was like I don’t understand and I revealed that I understand in fact I had been a victim and that was the day it all changed because I was once a victim, so I understand more than her who had never been a victim. I speak the language of the abused people and understand it more. I earned her respect and others because they realised I’ve been there and back.
“We’re not sitting pretty, we have our activities. Like we did last year, we are organising a walk on Thursday October 25, 2012 from Ojuelegba through Western Avenue to Teslim Balogun Stadium where we would be advocating against domestic violence and abuse on people. It’s actually tagged “Stomp Out Domestic Violence and Abuse” awareness walk and we have entertainers like Funke Kuti, Weird MC, The Engager, Kate Henshaw and Funke Akindele walking with us.
“We’re also on facebook as ‘Agents of change” where we reach out to people who are being traumatised verbally or physically. I am also a facilitator at Masterpiece Resource Development Centre (MRDC), which offers a unique Entrepreneurship Development Programme for raising competent business owners who would in turn establish businesses that will withstand the test of time.
She advises women to be careful of men who easily explode at any little thing, be it with the driver, subordinate at work or colleague. You should advise him advise him to see anger therapist for management because he would definitely and eventually lash out. “Funke Kuti is my first daughter and we share a tight bond. She’s in this with me and is one of the celebrities at ‘Stomp Out’ domestic awareness walk.
Laila has conducted many workshops and seminars/trainings on work-ethic building, best practices, quality improvement programs, creativity, leadership, team building, and appraisal systems, for educational institutes, and social organisations for over 10 years. She is a facilitator on gender issues and has worked with the Common Wealth for Gender conferences.
Through her NGO, Acts Generation, she has been actively involved in social activities to alleviate poverty by providing life skill trainings and micro financial startups for less privileged members of her community. Her counselling training has also seen her appear as guest counsellor on some satellite programmes. She is an Associate Pastor at the Manna Prayer Mountain (base of the devotional, Our Daily Manna).