Mrs. Febisola Okonkwo (Nee Oladimeji) is the Executive Director of Help Initiative/Tabitha Home, an international NGO that focuses on three broad areas of child development, capacity building, and women empowerment. In this interview with Demola Akinbola, she talks about HELP’s activities and the various success stories.
HOW HAS THE JOURNEY BEEN SINCE YOU STARTED THE INITIATIVE?
It has been a mixture of many things rolled into what I can describe as Destiny, Faith, Hope and many more. I have recorded many instances of success, disappointment and challenges but in all, I am fulfilled, honoured and satisfied.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR INTERVENTIONS? WHICH PROJECTS HAVE YOU SUCCESSFULLY IMPLEMENTED?
The highlights of our interventions have been the ability to structure our projects into three major domains in support of the Sustainability Development Goals. These are Child development, Capacity building, Women empowerment. The organisation has been able to impact lives of vulnerable women and children through our various programmes to meet their needs. Some of the projects I can easily mention are Help Initiative Cooperative Society for Community Women (Micro finance and thrift), Kids club, skills acquisition programmes for women and children, capacity building for young people and Tabitha Home.
HOW DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE TO YOU? HOW DO YOU ASSESS THE OUTCOMES OF YOUR PROGRAMMES?
Success to me is the ability to be impactful, transform lives positively, inspire others, add values to people and feel fulfilled in your passion. So far, with our programmes, it’s been work in progress, we get better every day, we learn new things and we are more hopeful than ever before to transform and impact more lives.
WHAT ARE THE MAJOR CHALLENGES AND REGRETS?
The major challenges are the vast increase of poverty cases in the country which has led to the increase of social vices, too many to be curtailed by the society. Today, the country is challenged with different vices too numerous to mention from street urchins, child labour, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, prostitution, child abandonment and many others.
For example, it has been claimed that Nigeria is one of the countries with the highest rate of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) in the world. This is not a good index for development and nation building. With the above and less capacity, we are only able to do the best we can which in most cases are never enough.
There is also the role of ignorance from many quarters about social services. A lot of people are of the opinion that running a programme like Help Initiative is only meant for Government and Non Governmental Organisations but the truth is what we do is purely communal and should be an inclusive participation of everyone in the society at different levels. While I have met a lot of supportive donors and partners, I have also met a lot of people who wrongly feel that we are heavily supported by international organisations and government, and hence we do not need individual support.
Furthermore, the bias for Non-governmental organisation as deceptive is also a challenge to what we do. While it is true that some NGOs are fraudulent just like we find in other professions; it is unfair to categorise all as one. Most times, people wonder the reason I do not see funding as a challenge, I always tell them that if the above can be tackled, the issue of funding will be a walk by.
On regret, I do not have any as I sincerely enjoy what I do and cannot imagine otherwise. I only feel sometimes that I should have started earlier than 2006 after I got my professional degree in Social Work. I studied Communication and Language Arts for my first and second degrees and had bit and pieces of experiences in Publishing, Business even banking. While doing all these, social service has been inbuilt in me and I have always volunteered in different capacities until 2006 when I finally made up my mind to rise to the challenge.
DO YOU THINK GOVERNMENT IS SERIOUSLY COMMITTED TO SUPPORTING CHILDREN AND YOUTHS WHO ARE DISADVANTAGED?
I will say Yes and No for this question because the truth is that the government is not folding hands doing nothing about the vices but at the same time, I won’t give them accolades because there are many gaps to fill to achieve the well being of children and young people in the country. There are structures for every level, be it in social welfare, child welfare, social inclusion and others but unfortunately, these structures are not effective and functional hence, the breakdown of the systems.
Systems work when there are professionals in the right places, where people are truly working for the services of mankind in justice and dignity without greed, insolence or any kind of carelessness.
WHAT WOULD YOU ADVISE GOVERNMENT AT ALL LEVELS TO DO IN THIS REGARD?
First, I will preach the gospel of employing the right people in right places and on merit too, people who are qualified to do the job. Also, there should be capacity building at all levels for government workers to enhance them on day to day running and activities of governance.
DO YOU HAVE UPCOMING PROJECTS OR PROGRAMMES?
We always have progressive ongoing projects to enhance our beneficiaries’ capacity. We are always mindful and sensitive to our beneficiaries’ needs and we work towards their self-reliance and sustainability in the most convenient way.
Now, we are looking at Tabitha Home Academy for Tabitha Home residents; the academy is a proposed skill acquisition center for our youths. This is to encourage Art Therapy and promote self-reliance through computer skills, creative arts, shoemaking, hairdressing, dressmaking, makeup and other skills.
WHO ARE YOUR SPONSOR AND DELIVERY PARTNERS?
We have both corporate and individual donors and partners. For the purpose of confidentiality, I would not mention the individual donors but corporate; these are organisations, both faiths based and corporate who have been of great support to us. They include Christ Living Apostolic Ministry (CLAM) Lagos, Dansol High School, Lagos, Ibadan International School, Ibadan, Redeem Christian Church, Mercy Seat Chapel, Maryland, USA, Redeem Christian Church of God, Chadwell Heath Essex, London, Sunflower Home Essential, Ibadan, Queen Quest Cake, Ibadan, etc.
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO COMBINE THIS WITH YOUR DUTIES AS A WIFE AND MOTHER
My work has continued to be easier with maximum balance. I always tell everyone that in other to excel at all front; work and home balance is key. This has been possible for me because of tremendous support system from family members and team members. Delegation as appropriate has always been useful; I see what I do as an infectious passion and I preach the gospel to many converts as possible both at home and work. This has helped me in many ways to make my work and family life easier.
PARENTING SEEMS TO HAVE SLACKED IN RECENT TIMES. WHAT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS AND WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR PARENTS?
So many reasons are responsible for this; civilization, media influence, technology and other influences that come with the millennia. Parenting was easier in those days because of various communal lifestyles and parenting methods which are no more acceptable now because of civilization.
Life was not as complicated and complex as it is now. Today, it is possible to live in a neighbourhood for 20 years and you do not know your neighbour. When we were growing up our neighbours were not only our friends but our family members.
My advice to parents is to strike a balance between befriending their children, mentoring them, and being assertive when necessary. With that, we will grow with them and understand their new generation features and still able to infuse our “Old School” values without force.
I am also in support of the African proverb that says, “it takes a woman to birth a child but takes a village to nurture the child”. This means that parenting is a communal venture with the parents as heading mentors. Charity begins at home, the home is the child’s first encounter with the world, both parents should be interested and concerned with all that concerned their children at all levels of growing up. This has a lot to do with behaviour and personality development.
Moreover, parenting should also extend from family to other stakeholders like churches, mosques, schools, media and other influencers that could be responsible for child development.
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