United Kingdom-based Nigerian charity worker, Olasubomi Iginla Aina, has vehemently worked behind the scenes touching numerous lives across the world, Nigeria inclusive, providing succour, inspiring and empowering the youth to take charge of their lives. The founder/CEO of Lightup Foundation has now gotten a deserving recognition by the British Royal Family. On November 26, Olasubomi will be formally installed as Member of the British Empire (MBE) by Her Majesty the Queen of England. She has led Lightup effectively and remarkably for the past 19 years. This embodiment of true passion, grace, selflessness, generosity, humanity and love shares the story of her life with Tolulope Ibukunoluwa
What becomes of me after the MBE is what matters
Being an MBE is just a title; it’s what you do with it that matters. What becomes of me is what matters at least I know it’s an open door that will empower me to do more in light of the kind of passion that I have with regards to serving humanity, serving the less privileged and working with young people. It is a greater opportunity and I consider it a springboard.
I grew up in Surulere with my Mum and my grandma
I grew up in Surulere, Lagos, with my Mum and my grandma, who stays next door to my mum. I was born in Lagos. I was born into a polygamous family, my father happens to be a business man, very hardworking and he had eight wives and several girlfriends with 31 children, you know what that means. Obviously we all don’t have attention, we just grow up on our own. So, every mother became a mother and father to their own children and growing up for me was challenging and interesting. It was experimental; there was no one taking care of me like that if you know what I mean like a mother figure, father figure there to monitor me. I had my sisters who will always go to school. While I am at home, there was a close family relative that was asked to take care of me and this was a result that my mum died while I was still young.
My mum died some days after my 11th birthday in 1989 and ever since then, I have just been on my own. I grew up in the hands of so many adults; initially I spent a year with my grandma because my Mum seems to be so close to my grandma and they lived next door to one another. The death of my mum was like a shock to my grandma and within a year after my mum passed, my grandma passed too even though she was meant to take care of me.
I consider myself privileged because it was just God that was seeing me through. I will go to my friend’s house, I will roam around the street, I needed friends because I wanted people to love me but in turn, I will love people more and show care.
I was interested in caring for others and I had a mother who, while I was growing up, would allow several people to sleep in our house; we will all wake up without knowing who would sleep in the house the next day because she will always bring in people who have problems. People run to her so she was like a refuge to many. Her house was like a refuge to many. So many people benefited from her benevolent and I must say that I learnt quite a lot from that because I saw service to humanity practicalise right in my sight.
I saw people coming to my house to beg for one thing or another and their needs are met. So, that was a routine that I saw and with my dad, even though he has several wives, he was very rich, he was not a politician but what usually happened was that because he had so much money, there was always a lot of people on the queue from morning to night in my house sitting down waiting for their turn. Some coming in because they need to send their children to school; some coming in because they are sick. That was a practise I saw in my father’s house and in the morning you will see the beggars coming; they sing and my dad will throw new notes from upstairs down to them to share and at night, the area boys will come to the house; they will come and eat and my dad will give them money and talk to them and they go.
So, it was like everybody has their share of his wealth. While he was doing that, my dad maybe because of his own upbringing, felt that maybe if he gave us what we needed, we will become spoilt children. Because of that, it was difficult to get money from him to do anything. Most of my siblings will just go to school without money. If you can persist, you will get money from him and that was the routine I was always engaged in, just to get money for school. After a lot of stress, I will eventually get money from him though school must have been on for one month, two months, I will still be home because I want to make sure I get the money and others would have left. When I get to school, I will start distributing the little I was able to get or the much I was able to get because I always make sure that he gave me so much so I can distribute among my half-brothers in school. Then, I was in Ife, I will distribute the money and they are always excited. So my growing up in deed was interesting because it was unrestricted in the sense that I could think in the morning that I want to go to Oshogbo, I will to go and protest with some people and nobody would question me because there was no mum and dad.
Living without my parents
It gave me the privilege of thinking and getting things done without any restriction. I will think deep while I am at home and I will just think I want us to do a project that will create awareness in the whole Ojuelegba because there is no mum nor dad to question it and ask where I will get the money from, nobody was checking me like; so everything was achievable. That was another advantage that I had even though I wouldn’t say that it’s a good thing to lose your parent especially while you are young. Even when you are old, it’s not something a lot of people can handle. I didn’t find it funny even until today.
I still cry for the loss of my Mum
I still cry for the loss of my Mum especially because I was closer to her. I was growing up that way. I had a best friend who will come to my house and I also go to her house. Her parents were always supportive, helping me and I could remember I got a scholarship in Lagos State on intelligence and good conduct. Ten students were selected for the Kofo Abayomi scholarship and I was asked to come to the Institute of International Affairs and I told my aunties but they probably forgot the date; that was what happened. By the time I got there, different students from different schools were also parts of this 10. They called people out to receive their scholarship. Each time a student gets called to receive the scholarship, their parents would stand up too, clap for them, come closer to them after receiving their scholarship, take pictures with them, encourage them. But when it was my own turn to get the scholarship, they called my name but there was nobody standing up for me. By the time I got to the stage, as they were giving me the scholarship, I must tell you that I have seen the efficacy of the power of God in my life, it is such that no one can take Christ away from me because I have seen him in action on my behalf. My Principal Mrs. Labode went to a wedding on that same day and she said the wedding was extremely boring; that she was like why is she here, she decided to step out and say let me just go and experience the scholarship that they are giving to students from her school and encourage the students. As she was stepping into the hall, I was called. I will never consider that a coincidence, it is a grand plan from above. So, as she stepped in, because she had a British upbringing, she is quite knowledgeable and well educated. She knows procedures even when she is not there; she just knows this is the right thing to do in this type of situation. So, immediately she stepped in, she stood at the door even though she didn’t know parents will stand up, hug and encourage and take pictures. She just stood by the door as they gave me the scholarship, she came near to me like she knew the procedure even though she was not there and she whispered in my ears ‘where are your aunties’ and I was like I have not seen anybody and immediately she stood beside me and took pictures with me and she did everything that everybody was doing before she came in and we both sat down together and I was like God you know one out of 10 in Lagos state is something to be celebrated.
We are doing quite a lot of projects in Nigeria
In Nigeria, we are doing quite a lot of projects; for example, we do a programme called ‘Let’s Talk.’ It is a project that I personally fund because we don’t have government funding for it. It has been been running for over 15 years. I go to different primary schools in their various uniforms, have a general talk, motivate them, inspire them to be their best and we use all manner of tools to do that.
We go into smaller groups with these young people and chat them up and we do a form of counselling and it’s from these groups you find the student opening up and coming out to tell you things that happened in their life, That is where the psychology of what I wear plays a role because I have this character that I can start acting like a young person. You get carried away and you just flow with me easily.
In Nigeria, we have a school which caters for children from less privilege background, the school is in Ikare. In fact, the Oba of Ikare has promised to give us a land so that we can build more structures. For now, missionaries are helping us with buildings.
In the UK, we are doing and we have done a number of projects in the UK. We produced the first youth heritage magazine for Croydon, we produced the first youth heritage magazine for Haringey Borough, we have had project on anti-vandalism in Scotland. All these are funded projects. We have had street chat which is still on now as we speak. Lightup is still going into the street to chat up with young people addressing the issue of gun and knife crime, trying to help them see how they can plan their future, how they can maximise the potentials that they have and we signpost them to where they can go if they need help. We have loads of project we do in the UK.
My mum influenced me most
My mum influenced me most, I grew up with her; she taught me how to fast. She will sit on a prayer mat to pray even though she was not a church goer, she was highly gifted, I grew up praying and fasting, I learnt this from her. My mum was always full of humour. Everyone that dashes to my house never wants to leave. Mum was down to earth and humble. She had every reason to be proud; her beauty made statement everywhere she goes, and was extra ordinarily fashionable. As a result of her kindness and benevolence, people took her for granted and cheated her. She had great prophetic grace which most of her children displayed in different dimensions. I spent 11 years and four days with her and she was a friend, carer and a mother.
The best gift I received as a child
The best gift I ever received as a child was an unfulfilled promise from my mum. While I was in the primary school, I would either come last or within the range of the last five positions in class. I was quite playful, but my teachers saw the potentials in me and would always write ‘there is room for improvement’ in my report sheet. My mum believed in me and decided to get a Ghanaian teacher for me. Mr. Mensar was full of humour and he taught me everything playfully. At the next exams, I came 5th. This was a big surprise to my family and my mum called me into her room and told me that if I ever come first, she would take me anywhere I would like to go in the world. Trust mum, she is true to her words. Unfortunately she died shortly after making this promise.
I got to the secondary school and came first in my first year, I went to a science laboratory to cry and the head girl who wanted to know the person with the first position request that everyone should look for me. I was found crying and the head girl asked why I was crying, she was surprised.
I cried because of the unfulfilled promise, I then made up my mind to excel exceedingly in life so I can go anywhere in the world. This promise was the best as it threw a positive energy at me to excel. Remember, my nick name is ‘Shubbyexcel’.
How I tackle challenges
I encounter a lot of difficulties on regular bases. As a result of the regular occurrence of difficulties, I see them all as the same because they all have same result at the end of the day. The result is usually that I overcome them. So, whether red, purple, pink, large, medium, small, square, circle, rectangle which ever shape, colour or sizes it comes, in the result is an expiry date with a success result. The question of how I overcame the problem is the same principle for all my difficulties. I first align it with the word of God. Immediately I am aware that the problem is one of the many troubles, then I pray about it to reduce anxiety and worries, I look for coping strategies to distract me from focusing on it and wait for the expiry date and final result which is always victory. I mean same result always. Failure is a natural transition to success, Every mistake I make is an open door to another opportunity, Mistakes are building blocks; the bigger it is, the better you become when you eventually overcome it.
My biggest fear is fear itself
My biggest fear in life is ‘fear’ itself as it is a dream killer. You will never arrive with fear. It is a tool that the devil has used to destroy many, Many cannot start today because of fear. I have learnt not to judge any situation in haste because the truth is that we usually lack the full content. I have learnt patience, not to be quick to point accusing fingers because your enemy today might be a saviour tomorrow. When I get a good result for each humanitarian gesture, I feel like doing more.