“Being a single mum and having to cater for everyone at the same time made me lose myself”
Orphaned at a very delicate time of her life and being a single mother with three siblings to raise alone, Vanessa’s dream of becoming a pillar of support for other children and women passing through similar experiences was kindled. Her experiences taught her that life is no bed of roses, but with a clear vision, determination and focus, anything is achievable. Today, Vanessa Mbamarah is the Founder/CEO of Ztallion, a platform that was born out of a need to reach out to less privileged kids and women. She also runs a social media-marketing agency and training institute through her Ztallion for Business and Ztallion Academy, respectively. She shares her success story and how she joggles it all together.
My childhood experiences have not only prepared me for what I do today, but have also helped in making me the woman I am. Being the first child of my mum, the first lessons I learnt was making sacrifices, caring for others and building, when there was no support coming forth from anywhere. I saw first class what it felt like to live with a widow, the pains and struggle of being a woman. I saw the need to be educated, especially as a woman. My mother wasn’t and I know how hard it was for her to make ends meet.Today, I am partnering with people having the same objective to help give young girls and women that opportunity to learn skills that would help them become entrepreneurs.
I grew up as the first child in a family of four, my mum being the second wife from an extended family of 11 children. Growing up was tough, having lost my dad at an early age of six. Dedicating her life to raising her kids, mom gave up all the luxury and comfort to ensuring we lived to see the next day. Growing up wasn’t a lot of fun for me (smiles), from dropping out of school severally, to having to work and assist mum run the house until finally losing her. Our home was a home for all. Sharing was one thing mum held on to and built into us. I guess that ignited my passion for giving back.
After losing mum and having my baby, I moved down to Cotonou, the Republic of Benin. Here, I made a life for myself, combining multiple jobs alongside running a fulltime degree, until I finally graduated First class with a degree in Communication and Information Technology.
Passion for social media and digital design
Right from when I was a child, I always wanted to be a doctor, so I could take care of mum and then she wouldn’t have to fall sick or pay so much at the hospital (smiles.) Unfortunately, medical school didn’t give me the excitement I wanted, although I totally loved wearing the lab coats and stethoscopes.
I left med school after my second year. One of the reasons was that it was too structured and didn’t give room to try new ideas at the last minute. I have always known myself to be a creative person. I enjoyed expressing my thoughts through visuals and expressive writing, being able to create and transform ideas into tangible entities.
From being a medical student, I switched to computer science. I started with programming (java) because of its ability to combine letter and numbers to producing something new. From there, I ventured into designs, photography and social media, allowing me a wider opportunity to explore, create and a platform to express it all.
Shouldering responsibility of three siblings
Like I said earlier, growing up wasn’t a lot of fun for me (smiles again.) My world turned upside down after losing my mum in 2009, worse because she left right when I needed her. You see she was buried two days after I gave birth to my daughter…a sad yet sweet experience. While still mourning her loss, I was celebrating the arrival of her granddaughter. I was a young and single mum at that time, left with three siblings to cater for. I drew strength from holding unto God, building a positive mind-set and focusing on not giving up. I had to work extra, running several jobs until I was able to send myself back to school.
Today, my siblings are all happily married and doing great. My kid is almost seven years and I’m grateful each day for having her regardless of past mistakes made. I look back and I smile because the entire struggle was worth it. It turned me into a fighter and a survivor.
Today, I am all about building and giving back. My major projects are centred around women and less privileged kids. On social activities, we have both the Ztallion Foundation and the Love a Child Foundation (Benin), which is a non-profit Humanitarian Organization that focuses on women/girls, street and orphaned kids by bridging the gap between them and the society. We have several projects but two major projects, the ‘Back to School’ Project and Project Give-Back’, which is run towards the end of each year.
With the Back to School project, we collectively provide back to school materials for kids in the poor communities. Project Give-Back started last year, Dec. 2015 and is scheduled to come up again on December 25, 2016. The PGB is just a way of showing appreciation and at the same time celebrating Christmas with the less privileged. Last year, we fed over 500 people on the streets and held a Christmas party at a shelter home for boys in Cotonou, the Republic of Benin. All thanks to donations from friends and well-wishers.
I see myself as a BUILDER, not just a solution provider. On empowerment, we have the Ztallion Academy, which is a platform for providing digital skills that can be used personally or professionally. I partner and collaborate with people having the same vision to help give young girls and women that opportunity to learn skills that would help them become entrepreneurs, while focusing on reaching out to street and orphaned kids.
O yes! Absolutely. Sometimes I didn’t only feel like giving up, I actually did give up. Being a single mum, having to cater for everyone and staying strong at the same time made me lose myself. Most times, I forgot I existed and needed to live for myself. Other times, crying was the only solution. Crying and keeping it all deep inside because I was scared to open up to anyone and telling them how broken I was inside. (Having been betrayed a lot of times by people close can sometimes cause this… *smiles). Today my strength comes from the drive to fulfil my purpose and building with people around me.
I wouldn’t say I do what I do to get any reward, but to be just. It’s the smile I get from the kids after we spend time with them, tears you see on the faces of widows, as a sign of appreciation and the emails received after each training session on how much impact it made.
Inspiration behind your organization “Ztallion”?
Ztallion was born out of a desire to stand up, reach out and tell my story. I always had a zillion ideas while growing up, pictures of who I wanted to become. Haha!
When I moved to the Rep. of Benin, after jumping from one job to the other, I decided to get creative and so, I thought of a way to combine everything I loved into one platform— my love for kids, teaching and business. Not forgetting using my experiences to reach out to people through my posts and write-ups.
I started out with the name Stallion, but later had to switch the S to Z …. And voila Ztallion came into existence…*smiles. The Stallion is an animal that is strong, protective, hardworking and possesses natural leadership qualities. That I believe describes me. Not focusing on its negative sides *hahaha!
Doing what I do takes some serious drive and commitment, something I know I’ve got (smiles.) One of the major challenges I’ve had to face is being consistent in running all three arms of Ztallion and having time to focus on my daughter.
Advice for young budding female bloggers and social media strategist?
I would say practise, practise and practise. Take out time daily to reinvent yourself. Read a book, learn a new skill, just do something to grow every day. My experiences have taught me that life is no bed of roses, but with a clear vision, determination and focus, anything is achievable.
My passion for building and strength makes me a woman of Rubies
My passion for building and strength. Regardless of all that life throws, I will still stand tall and strong because of Grace. I devote time to learning every day and at the same time, sharing my knowledge with others. I use my EXPERIENCES, while telling stories. Why? Because the lessons I learn from the mistakes made is not just for me alone… but for others to learn from.
Final words to women all over the world
We all have stories to tell. The fact that you have survived that trauma is evidence. The fact that we put up happy pictures doesn’t mean we don’t feel pain, we don’t cry, we don’t get broke, we don’t face disappointments or feel the need to be encouraged over and over again. We are humans after all. Choosing to dwell on either the negative and positive thought is a choice we must make daily.
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