Ann-Melody Oluwakemi Areola is an innovative Public Relations Expert, a tactical Social Development Specialist and Business Support Services Advisor with a strategic intent premised on sustainable economic growth, inventive partnerships and youth empowerment. She is currently the Special Assistant on ICT and Corporate Relations to the Minister of Youth and Sports of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, actively running her PR bespoke boutique, Vivacity PR and an MBA Scholar. To mark her 41st birthday, she has written a book titled ’40 going on 80’ where she shares her life journey. In this interview with MARY NNAH, she speaks on her passion for the girl child, her life’s experiences and lessons
What more should we know about you?
Ann-Melody Oluwakemi Areola who started her career over a decade ago is a thoroughbred Public Relations Consultant with ground-breaking results to boot; she has her footprints in Africa, America, Europe and counting. She is a passionate crusader and advocate for the girl child, women and youths through executable empowerment solutions.
From volunteering to initiating foundations for revolutionary causes, her unflinching energy geared at making the needed impact has led her into driving initiatives for a better humanity.
She is also the Founder of Women in Entertainment and Arts, an initiative designed to honour women for their significant contributions in advancing the entertainment and arts industry. She also co-founded Youth in Charity, a movement created to stamp out poverty through the economic empowerment of young people. She is passionate about the girl child and feminine gender issues.
What informed your book, 40goingon80?
I have always said I would write a book and I wrote it this year. The longest holidays we have as special assistants always come during the Christmas holidays and so it gave me time to reflect on what I have been through, going through and will be through, so I just felt it was time to tell a little bit of my story and some of the things that have shaped me. Also, because sometimes I put up some nuggets on social media; people think I was born with a silver spoon and I bless God every opportunity and privileged. My boss always says, ‘we can only create opportunities and it is left for you to tap into them’, and I work hours every day from my private business to my official work, I am always working.
This is because I have seen an opportunity and I want to utilise it to the best of my ability. I want to give the best that I can so that the universe conspires to give me back as much as I deserve and I just feel that message needs to be heard by a lot of people, because most people feel that if you are not born in Nigeria, you are lucky. Nobody knows I lived on the streets, no one knows my journey, and so I needed to tell people a little bit about my struggles. My book is therefore telling people that it is not luck, beauty nor nepotism that got me to where I am today, even though it might not mean so much to some people, but then I am grateful for where I am. Also, my personal story is a testimony and I hope that my story inspires others not to give up, because it is about light being at the end of the tunnel, there is light inside the tunnel, you just have to find it, hence it is the journey that matters not the destination.
What in your view are some of those issues affecting the girl-child and women in Nigeria?
Majority of the girl-child and women in Nigeria lack education. When it comes to female genital mutilation, equal opportunities, domestic violence and sexual rights, it all boils down to lack of education. A child is a blank canvas, whatever you paint on it is what you are going to get. If you grow up believing that it is right to hit a woman; if you grow up believing that when a woman says no, you have the right to say yes on her behalf or when you mutilate a female genital area, it makes her less sexually promiscuous, all these things are myths that need to be spoken to, they are things that needs to be washed away. I don’t blame the people that think this way, they think this way because that is the education they have. But we are in a position to change the narrative in so many areas. When a woman is better educated, she can give more to her family, that’s why I am concentrating more on women.
You raise school fees for girls who are underprivileged, how did you go about sourcing for them?
In order to source for the girls, our team, the Glocalised team visit schools in different communities in each state. Our first focus is one girl from each state and we approach the principals of the school to see which young female on their records is having difficulty paying their school fees. Once a female has been identified and communicated to me, we pay the fees directly to the school. One of the things that I am ensuring is that we pay the school fees from the time of intervention until the young female leaves that educational institution because we don’t want to pay for a year and the next year, they are struggling again. So if the child is in JSS3, SS1 or SS2, we pay for their full duration right up to their SS3, Primary 6 or 400 levels. Wherever the stage of education they are, we are paying right up until they graduate from that institution and we are making sure we do one from each state in the country as well as the FCT. The fees are paid directly through the institution and the receipt is handed over to the parents of the child just to ensure there is no paperwork issue.
Are you paying solely from your pocket?
Personal funding isn’t enough, as our statistics show that there are virtually many girl children out of school in all states, we can’t reach all but with donations and sponsorships from people who key into this selfless service for the girl child, we can rebuild their future. We can put their life together and set a new standard academically. We have written to a number of government agencies and we are hoping to receive positive responses and, yes, we would love to partner with government agencies as well as NGOs that are willing to work with us. Our doors are opened, we can’t do it alone; I can’t do it alone.
What has it been like running an organisation as a woman?
Running an organisation as a woman isn’t anything different from running it as a man. I would say the biggest drawback I had when getting into Nigeria was sexual harassment. Everywhere you go to discuss business with the opposite sex, they would rather discuss other issues with you. But I have learnt how to counter that, and I counter that by simply, the minute I feel a gentleman is beginning to go down those particular lines, I make it clear and concise that we are not about that, and we would be rather offended if we are spoken to in that manner. And nine times out of 10, you seem to get over that particular hurdle and the truth is, whoever you are dealing with; if they see that you have some substance and you know what you are talking about and you would be an asset to their company, even just knowing you, because the public relations company is all about your black book, which is the number of contacts you have or the type of contacts that you have. And knowing that we have contacts all around the world; in government, the private sector; knowing that we know our onions; knowing that we work strong and we work hard, I feel we were able to overcome that initial barrier of sexual harassment. But for me I don’t have a nuclear family currently, so work hours are 24 hours a day. Most of my staff, both ad-hoc and full-time, do complain that I am a workaholic, but when you love what you do really, you don’t see it as work; you are ready to do it in your sleep; you are ready to do it 24 hours a day. I chose a line of business that I love doing and I honestly love what I do and it really doesn’t feel like work to me.
What advice do you have for women on living their dreams?
There is no glass ceiling for a woman that is just your beginning; you have to believe in yourself and that’s the most important part. Believe that there is nothing you cannot do; you are capable of doing everything and anything. I always bring it up that I studied engineering (electronic and telecommunications) and I know a lot of women that have studied courses that are extremely more male-dominated and I see them excelling in those particular areas. I remember when I was younger, whenever I want to buy a car; I never want to buy a car that is known to be a woman’s car, no.
Because I don’t understand why we need to segregate or why we need to believe that this is the confine that belongs to us, there is nothing that confines you. We were made out of men, we are helpmates for men, of course, I never ever played that down, but being a help-mate to men or being made out of men doesn’t mean we are lesser than them. So, I think the most important part of everything is believe in yourself; never ever compromise your children’s welfare, education and upbringing. As much as you need to be out there in the world doing whatever it is that you are doing, ensure you take care of the home first, it is very important. But whatever you are doing outside in the world, don’t ever feel that you are limited. The limitations that you experience in life are only the limitations that you put upon yourself. If around every situation there is a way around, please try to find a way around it to make it work.
Drug abuse and youth restiveness are critical issues affecting young people, any efforts to address them?
Drug abuse and youth restiveness are two critical components that works symbiotically. Each of them is interdependent. There are very few cases where drug abuse has no direct correlations with youth restiveness. There is a common saying that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, this is not far from the truth but curiosity also has a part to play. Hope is one major factor that affects young people. The ability to dream and the enabling socio economic environment to cultivate that dream also plays a critical role. Hopelessness is a catalyst encouraging drug abuse which later spiral into youth restiveness.
Without throwing away the germane demands and agitation of the youth for better living conditions which when not heeded to by those in authority creates unrest, which leads to the issues of youth restiveness. The challenge of peer pressure has long been an influence for drug abuse and youth restiveness. The desire to live up to the expectation of your peers be it right or wrong. These challenges of drug abuse and youth restiveness are not the only vices that are plaguing the youths of today but for reasons of tackling these vices. The Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports has been working with I Choose Life Foundation Nigeria to focus on the aspect of tackling these challenges properly from the preventive approach. This entails providing awareness to the youths on the effects of this drug abuse; identifying this various kinds of substances that have varying ill effects on the youths; creating a drug safe community awareness among the youth population through clubs, counseling units; taking the message to the youth in a format (platform) that communicates easily through influencers and creating and engaging the youths in various activities.
Our major concern is to measure the success and challenges and create adaptable conditions to improve the level of awareness of the effects of drug abuse among the youths. Most studies show the problems and work out the curative aspect. The Federal Minister of Youth and Sports Development (FMYSD) through I Choose Life Foundation focus on the prevention thereby discouraging and reducing the number of drug abuse victims and in turn youth restiveness.
What is your life mantra?
My life mantra is to give; give everything you can and give all you can, your reward never comes from human beings; it always comes from God. Whatever you do, how much you ploughed yourself into a situation, positively remember that if you want to get your reward from another human being, it is a waste of time; not even your parents or siblings can. Hence, give with a cheerful open heart. Secondly, in every situation you find yourself, flip the talisman, which means you should look at the positive side to every negative situation, that way life feels better.