The director of a non-government organisation, Star of Hope Transformation Centre, is empowering female orphans and women in rural areas with the needed skills, writes Funmi Ogundare
Empowering women economically, particularly female orphans and those that have experienced anguish, is sure a crucial aspect of any significant push to make them full and equal participants in their communities.
So strengthening the economic role of women is also imperative to reducing poverty and education outcomes, as well as achieving other broad development goals.
Thus, a non-government organisation, Star of Hope Transformation Centre, decided to take up this feat to train these groups of women in the area of hat and bag making, newspaper craft, tie and dye, re-washable sanitary pads, foot mats, cooking bags, among others.
The Director of the NGO, Mrs. Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale told THISDAY what led to the establishment of the organisation, saying, “my father died when I was just three years old and my mother was everything to all her children and she ensured that she trained us. It was very hard, we were five; three girls and two boys. I am the last of five. During that period, my mother was getting older and there was little or nothing she could do anymore, so she took to farming. I always follow her to the farm on Fridays and come back on Monday, so I knew how hard it was for me.
“So when I looked at my story, it was sad and agonising and thinking of orphans, I know it will be worse for them. So I decided to work with female orphans and women who are abused, or have stories to share as a result of the unique experiences they have gone through,” she explained.
She said her organisation started working in Ibasa riverine community in Lagos, four years ago where she lived among the people for a period of 18 months training them until they were empowered enough to become trainers in other communities.
Asked how it has been empowering these group of women and girls in the last four years, she said, “It has not been easy and I was not expecting it to be easy, but it is better because I have women who trusted and still trust me till now. I don’t have any support from anybody except a TV Talkshow host Ms. Funmi Iyanda.
“I don’t have any mentor who is in Nigeria, but I met women online who helped me to shape my dream and sent me abroad to undergo different kinds of training on women strides, gender, transformation, social entrepreneurship and leadership and it was on scholarship. To the glory of God since I started I have sent 40 Nigerian women to access these opportunities too.”
Emphasising on her unique skills, Adebowale, who noted that she studied English Language at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), said, “I do not learn art in anyway, but I sat down and I was thinking of how to use the smallest pieces and that was how I came up with the art with my youngest daughter who inspired me with an assignment she was given at school on creating a map with the face of Africa.
“If I am someone who has enough support, what we are doing is something the government should be proud of. If I go to other countries, they are always very proud of me today and you will see some people who will really appreciate your work. I started with the face of Africa and when I finished with it, it was awesome. I made three and that was the beginning and afterwards, I started creating so many beautiful things, it’s awesome.
“I was afraid of what I could create and now there is nothing I cannot create with trash and things that people would have ordinarily thrown away. I want Nigerian women to come online so that they can receive support through the platform in order for them to move forward,” she said.
She said aside having their own dreams, the women her organisation has been training, also believe in what she is doing, adding, “that is why when we go to communities, we see ourselves as sisters, call ourselves treasures and we continue to remain as friends. Every December, we have a way of converging together. Every community that we have trained always comes to Ibasa. S.Tee School, Festac Town, have a programme that they organise usually in December 20 or 21, when they give us food items. So we invite all the women that we have trained to come and distribute those items.”
The Director said she had been sent for training in Dublin, U.S. and South Africa by World Pulse, a non-profit organisation that works to connect women worldwide, where she also received awards for her activities in impacting humanity.
“When they give you award, they also train you. They have a platform where women come to share their pains, I joined because I was depressed. So when I joined, I saw an opportunity for training on gender and the organisation recommended me for another one. At that training, I learnt of a school in Cape Town, where I was taught transformation for one year. They will teach you in a way that you will learn how to solve your own problems too.
“I told them I would love to go but I do not have the money. It was $5000 per semester, so at the end of the day, I got a scholarship to go to South Africa and I graduated. Three years down the line, I have been recommending and sending women there on scholarship.
“As we speak, three Nigerians are there on scholarship, it is on trust. The cost of training is now about $7, 000, but since it’s on trust, it’s a scholarship because they believe so much in what I am doing. There are people who want to be like me and be transformed,” she noted.
On how the organisation has been monitoring those it has trained, she said, “we work with matured women. I don’t monitor them because when we talk to them, we let them know that nobody will monitor you. At the beginning, we were talking to one another and building the trust. We talk everyday and counsel them because we know that we will not continue to be there. When we start talking in the morning, we end in the evening and we stayed with them, so they know what we are doing, they are free to always come to us.
“Most of the time, they also send their representatives and when they create a piece of artwork, they show it to me and I continue to encourage them. Already, we have trained them on more than 10 skills, but we cannot continue to monitor them. We are very serious and we bring them together as one. If you have a problem, you can always call us. Most of the time it’s voluntary and I don’t have all the money to solve everybody’s problem but we can always link them up.
“When we earn trust and we become sisters, we let them know that they can recreate their future. The community is watching you, everybody wants to become an asset.”
In order to make her work easier, and ensure that women who are living in remote communities have access to knowledge and information, the Star of Hope Transformation Centre boss said she was giving a Voice Power Pack, a backpack equipped with solar cells that power a high-definition camera and a tablet loaded with software running an ICT secure online portal/app for peer-to-peer dissemination of educational material to reach thousands of women who lack dependable sources of electricity.
She noted that the Voice Power Pack given by Last Mile4D, an innovative social enterprise that develops community-designed health, education and economic empowerment solutions which had partnered with World Pulse to empower their impact leaders who live and work in the world’s most remote areas.
“The power backpack is a reactor charged with solar energy, but it is not for sale because they know that you cannot afford it. It can charge 12 things at once. We are only two using it among sisters, I and one other lady based in India, but I want other women to know that you can travel to any village to connect with other sisters without waiting for electricity and bring them online which is filled with ample resources and opportunities for them to grow.
“If not for the internet, I would still be in petty trading and managing. What I had to do was write stories about myself and people will come. When they talk about female genital mutilation, people don’t know that it’s real, because I was cut too, it was normal in our days. If you have problem of domestic violence, there are opportunities anywhere in the world and scholarship for women that they can key into. Nigerian women can come online so that they can receive support through the platform in order for them to move forward,” she said.