9jafeminista: Project Asha was started in 2008 at Ajegunle and has so far empowered over 300 teenagers through skills acquisition and other means it’s now 2015, how would you describe this journey?
Vweta: The Empowering Women of the Future (EWOF) project, one of ASHA’s initiative started in Ajegunle in September 2012. Since then, we have worked directly with over 500 teenage girls, young women and senior citizens (women) through rehabilitation services, skills acquisition, community outreaches and public dialogues and focus group discussions.
However, ASHA was birthed in 2004.
9jafeminista: So how has the journey been?
Vweta: It has been inspiring, challenging, innovative and very rewarding. I have been blessed with the stories of girls and women, who have endured some of the most inhumane acts. I have witnessed how these victims became survivors, and, how, from a place of familiar pain, now reach out to support other potential victims. This has impressed on me, I think, the need to transform my pain, no matter what it is, into a positive experience.
And I’ll cite an example with the EWOF project. In 2012 when I first stepped in Ajegunle, I underestimated some of the challenges confronting the girls and women in the community. In my mind, once ASHA is able to get sponsors for the girls education, and educate them on their SRHR, the work is done. However, this was not the case. Issues such as poverty, kept playing up. A mother who is barely able to feed often sacrificed the education of her daughter on the altar of street hawking. The promise of an education and job, we soon discovered, becomes fantastic when poverty and hunger is biting.
Another challenge was some male aversion towards the girls and women in the EWOF program. With information and knowledge comes power and control, over our bodies and choices. This disturbed the power dynamics in many relationships and even marriages. And, in the most cases, it was unwelcome.
And back to poverty, it is one thing to know your rights, but often, you need financial independence to assert that right. A woman for example, who is in an abusive relationship with a partner she is dependent on financially often has to endure such abuse because she has no agency to assert her rights. If she decides to leave, where would she go? If she’s had kids, how would she feed them and meet hers and their needs? Poverty poses a huge barrier, not only to girls education, also to girls and women’s rights.
And these challenges brings me to my experience of being innovative.
To address the problem of poverty, ASHA Sheros Academy was birthed in 2013.
This is a vocational and skills acquisition academy for girls and women in the Ajegunle community. Many beneficiaries of this academy have received small start off grants from ASHA and some of our partners towards starting their own businesses.
I believe this was innovative because, by empowering women economically we helped them create an enabling environment for their daughters to attend school. To put it simply, the mothers no longer needed their daughters to hawk goods. She could return to the classroom.
Seeing these leaps and bounds in girls education and women’s agency is truly rewarding and it is definitely worth every bit of energy and time.
9jafeminista: What prompted your move to start this project? Did you ever live in Ajegunle?
Vweta: Early in 2012, I was volunteering for the Lagos Empowerment and Resource Network (LEARN) at a school in Alapere, Ketu, as a sexuality education facilitator.
I noticed that the number of boys in class was significantly more than the number of girls. I’m talking about a ratio of 5 boys to one girl. And this was the case in the senior and junior classes I facilitated.
Naturally, I was curious, so I asked the class why? Many of the reasons cited were – teenage pregnancy, many of their classmates have had to drop out of school because of the accompanying discrimination and often expulsion that comes with being pregnant while in school. Many others also had to assist their families economically, this they did by hawking or engaging in petty trade, which didn’t allow them to attend classes.
So I asked, where are these girls from? Teachers and students said the majority of them reside in Ajegunle. Later the same year, I visited the community for the first time, and EWOF was born.
9jafeminista: In a new bulletin released by AfriDevInfo between 54 to 85% of women are denied education in the NE and NW of Nigeria, http://www.afri-dev.info/sdgs-education-gender-conflictextremism-development-nigeria-female-male-education-scorecards-day-of-girl-child-2015/, even in the more ‘progressive’ parts of Nigeria SE/SW/SS the percentages are still high.
We know that there’s very little NGO’s like yours can do to improve the lot of female children in the country especially with the governments apathetic attitude towards developing women, in spite of the fact that they make up almost half of the country.
Are there ways that ASHA is engaging the government? Any advocacy directed at the ministry of education and women’s affairs?
Vweta: We believe in both bottom-to-top and top-to-bottom approaches, ASHA recognizes the effort government has expanded towards access to education for every girl and boy by way of free basic education, however, like I pointed out earlier, girls need to be enabled to access such opportunities, And, we are doing our bit by empowering girls and their mothers with vocational skills and maximization of near-at-hand economic opportunities.
We have repeatedly called on government at both the state and federal level to remove barriers that impedes girls access to education such as discrimination against teenage mothers, tackling the issues of insecurity especially in North-Eastern Nigeria so that girls seeking education are not victims of reprisals as has been seen with the lingering case of the Chibok girls.
Furthermore, we have consistently called for an all inclusive educational establishments where girls with disabilities can have unimpeded access to basic and qualitative education. Equally, ASHA is a member of Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All (CSECAFA) and is actively seeking partnership with like-minded organisations to promote girl’s access to qualitative education.
9jafeminista: You have a program coming up on the 1st of November, can you talk a little about it?
Vweta: Project ASHA is keen to demonstrate the uniqueness of its NGO Model which makes it stand apart by generating funding creatively instead of going fundraising cap in hand. Whilst we welcome direct philanthropic donations, our main source of income is a social enterprise revenue generation model. This is expressed in Article 8 Part 4 of our constitution.
The first Empowering Laughter is scheduled for 2pm, November 1st, at the Oriental Hotel. Lekki.
This event is headlined by Ali Baba, and will be anchored by Princess Comedian and Mc Bambino. Other confirmed acts include Timi Dakolo, Buchi, OzzyBosco, Oke Bakasi, Koffi, Toby Grey, Ronnie, TJ Hays, Mr Johnbull, Gordons and MC Abey. Attendees will be required to pre-purchase a ticket to attend the event to cover the costs incurred and further ASHA’s work with vulnerable and marginalized women and girls in Nigeria.
Nigerians who do exceptional work to inspire hope and transform lives will also be recognized and awarded that day.
Empowering Laughter represents a win-
win outcome, whereby the public pay a fair fee for our services which they enjoy, while also helping to promote the rights of the at risk people we work with.