Having experienced verbal abuse as a child, Kemi Akinwunmi sets to right wrongs through her outfit, Pasture Counselling Center floated to give succour to those suffering different forms of abuse, writes Funke Olaode
Relaxed in her well-lit and cozy office, a 60-minute chat with Mrs. Kemi Tony-Akinwunmi, turned out to be an eye-opener as she took one through a world full of post-marital contradictions, parental negligence and teenage pressure.
The Lagos-born consummate professional, who had her primary and secondary education in Lagos before heading to the Lagos State University where she studied English Language, said she had always desired to lend a shoulder to people, see them come out of their relationship agonies and live a fulfilling and happy life.
As a family life practitioner, counsellor and educationist, her desire to reach out to people through counselling, emotional and psychological therapy, was borne out of her background of verbal abuse from relatives and friends.
“I grew up with a lot of verbal abuse from relatives and friends and I remember each time I tried to express myself as a child, no one was listening and no one cared about my feelings. So as a young girl, I wanted to be the shoulder of support to many because I did experience it and I know how it feels to go through a lot but not allowed to express it.”
Having discovered the vacuum physical, psychological and emotional abuse does in the life of victims, Akinwunmi was determined to fill it. How would she achieve this? She started by picking interest in people by talking to them. In the process she discovered her counselling trait, which turned to her passion and later metamorphosed into a means of livelihood.
“My love for counselling started at a very early age because I wanted to be someone people could run to. Someone people could trust to cry with and confide in while we both address the issue psychologically, even though I was ignorant of the study of psychology or counselling,” she said.
On her journey to the counselling world, Tony-Akinwunmi who is the Lead Counsellor at the Pasture Counselling Centre said she couldn’t opt for counselling as a career against her father’s wish. Her father had penned down political science for her because he was a politician. The University of Lagos had twice offered her admission to study psychology but she turned it down due to the ignorance of what it entailed and how it would lead her through her counselling desire.
“After hoping for her dad’s political science career choice and mum’s banking and finance option to no avail for three years, I had to opt for English Language. But back in school, friends would refer other friends to me saying Kemi would listen to you and proffer help in this situation. And finally, I had to study psychology as a second degree three years ago and I also went back for counselling study professionally. This is what I love to do and do effortlessly.”
Her counselling life started about 13 years ago with a programme tagged ‘Just Talking Relationships’ where she talked to teens. All these she said wouldn’t have been possible without a supportive husband.
Though they got married nine years ago, Mr. Akinwunmi, a chartered accountant, supported her to commission the ‘Just Taking Relationship’ in 2004 and has been a financial pillar to the growth of her career and had supported in various teenage outreaches. “My husband is my number one fan. He discovered my counselling gift before anyone else. His support and commitment towards my success in the field is enormous. He also doubles up as my critic. He tells me when I go wrong and helps me find my path again.”
Even though her counselling services cover many areas, Tony-Akinwunmi focuses more on family life; pre-marital and post-marital counselling, and she has restored countless homes which were on the verge of break-up. Through her counseling, such homes are back and strong together.
“We have had people walk in to report marital abuses and some even think we are government agencies or social units, and in some cases, we have had to refer them to the right authorities. There’s a lot going on in homes and until we go back to the basics, the future looks terrifying.”
As she adjusts on her seat and squeezes both palms together, she firmly points out that marital abuse does not exclude men. “I have seen men walk in here to report physical abuse from their wives. They couldn’t express this to anyone because the society places more emphasis on female marital abuse and no one would believe them.”
But despite the efforts of counselling firms, one wonders if marital cases are on the increase or decline in the country. “They are on the increase and people are beginning to see the need for counselling,” she said rather affirmatively. “These days, people want to talk to someone who feels them, someone who understands the reality on ground and would not be biased based on religion,” she added.
She confirmed that most of the pre-marital counselling systems in churches are archaic and does not conform to the reality on ground. “We have had pastors tell women to stay in abusive marriages, saying it pays to die in it and make heaven other than divorce or separate as they would end in hell fire.” This is why Pasture Counselling Centre also collaborates with mosques and churches for counselling support.
She gave an example of a young man who was under societal pressure to get married. He travelled down from Canada under parental pressure, joined a church and married an innocent sister. On the night of their wedding, he confirmed to her that “this might be the only time they will have sex, until another five years, because he is gay. The lady couldn’t go to church to address the issue.”
What should singles look out for when making a marital choice? Gazing into this reporter’s face as if looking for an answer she replied, “People don’t want to marry human beings these days; they want to marry a perfect being. Some want to marry culture, some want to marry religion and some want to marry societal expectations. And I always tell people that there’s no perfect being anywhere. Sometimes God gives you a raw material to create or mould something from.”
Pasture Counselling Centre though attends more to family life; the firm has handled teenage counselling, and has recorded lack of proper parenting as a major cause of teenage issues. The firm places more emphasis on preventive rather than curative. In a city where most parents spend more time out of home to fend for their families, Akinwunmi believes that spending time with children is about quality, not quantity.
She defined the teenage years as the transition into adulthood and teenagers at this stage are moved by their emotions, not logic. At this point, parents must prioritise their children.
“Parents think they have to spend five hours with their children. That’s why they keep giving time excuses when it comes to their family life. But the same parents have time for weekend parties. And I have always told people that there’s no time for anything in life, except what we create time for. Let everybody go back to being friends with their children and ensure strong and frequent personal communication in the home.
“Using myself as an example, I could remember my parents sat me down several times and gave me aadvice. But nowadays, if you ask teenagers when last their parents sat them down for close conversation, you will be shocked at their responses. Parents of today have failed in nurturing and have left their children at the mercies of social media information.”
As lead counsellor of Pasture Counselling Centre, Akinwunmi has clients in other states of the country and renders her services using various social media platforms while some walk into the Lagos office when it’s convenient.
The outfit is expanding just as it is committed to render more services until wrongs in the society are made right. Where does she see her outfit in the next five years? “We see Pasture Counselling Centre training more counsellors, building more homes, collaborating with corporate organisations that are passionate about homes and the future of families and as I look forward to an international partnership,” she concluded.