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‘I understand what it means to lack love and acceptance in childhood’ – Odunayo Aliu

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Odunayo

Odunayo Aliu is a trained educator and child advocate. In the last seven years, she worked in education and environmental initiatives. She is the founder of Bramble; a flagship of Love Letters Child Support Initiative. In 2016, she started Love Letters Child Support Initiative to mobilise resources for children who didn’t go to school. They were able to help over 300 children return to school and adopted 36 children for regular sponsorship. Bramble creates alternative learning spaces where children from rural and marginalised backgrounds of Nigeria can have access to quality education. It helps children find their passion for learning through the use of play and creative resources. The aim is to raise a generation of children who are creative and enjoy solving problems.

Odunayo has benefitted from scholarships and training from national and global organizations which include Social Innovation Academy (SINA Uganda), African Changemaker, kanthari Institute of Social Change India, Green Institute, and Global Goodwill Ambassador. She is a member of Ashoka Changemakers.”

She shares her inspiring story in this interview.

Growing up
I was lucky to be born at the time when my dad as a high ranking civil servant was deployed to Lagos state. That could have marked the beginning of a good life for me but it didn’t last because shortly after that, things changed and I was whisked away from my parents to live with my grandmother. That was the beginning of a nomadic lifestyle which soon became the highlight of my childhood. In my early childhood, I had lived in about eight (8) different rural/sub-urban communities and had changed school about 10 times.

Unlike many children in some of the rural communities where I lived, I was lucky because I had the opportunity to go to school, and even though I did not learn much, I had many children to play with. That often distracted me from my challenges at home. I later pursued a B.Sc. Ed in Education and Biology.

As a child separated from her parents, I understand what it means to lack love and acceptance in childhood. That is why I started Love Letters Child Support Initiative in 2016, to advocate for vulnerable children. Bramble is the education arm of this organization, as through education I got my escape from the hardships.

Inspiration behind Bramble
Bramble is a thorny plant. We chose this name because it symbolises the life of children who are neglected, who are poor and who are orphans, especially from rural parts of Nigeria. No one wants to identify with them and they are often seen as useless just like this plant, which for a long time doesn’t produce fruit. But Brambles are resilient, after some time with the right resources and patience, it begins to blossom and you can enjoy its many fruits – most common among them are blackberries and raspberries. Now who doesn’t enjoy a good blackberry jam?

At Bramble, we offer a space where children can find their passion for learning through creative resources. We craft the learning experience based on the need of each child and invest behind their intrinsic curiosity. We have designed a self-learning curriculum which includes project based learning. Our aim is to raise a generation of children who are creativity, thinks critically, and enjoy solving problem. Bramble provides alternatives which parents in rural communities do not have today.

Why Ibadan
I spent some years in the interiors of Ibadan while growing up. Ibadan is the third largest city in Nigeria with a high number of children who are already in labour force. Ibadan is also rich in diversity; the very poor and very rich, various religious groups, and even different nationalities, they all coexist peacefully. When we were ready to setup Bramble learning Space, Ibadan was the right place to begin.

In 2018, we began working in Ibadan. We have conducted community programs and a pilot project at Balogun Ibikunle, Ayeeye and Beere axis, Ibadan. We are currently working in Arikanki village, where we are building an alternative learning space for children who live in these communities.

Being a recipient of many awards and scholarships
I am grateful for all the trainings I have ever had and to all the good people who have invested their knowledge in me, they have all brought me thus far. Most of the trainings had come at a time when I needed a specific knowledge to move the organisation to the next milestone. A great example would be my one year study with kanthari Institute of Social Change, India. I gained a better perspective into everything that has to do with my work. This training gave my career a leap and gave me a family and friends and they are constantly encouraging me.

My 100k campaign for plastic bottles
On June 5, 2019- World Environment Day, Bramble launched a 3 month campaign for donations of 100,000 plastic bottles which will be used to build two classrooms for children in Arikanki village, Ibadan. This community exist and there is no school or any learning facility for the population of children that lives in it. Both Arikanki village and the five surrounding villages have to depend on low standard private schools which are situated miles away from the villages. Because of these circumstances, many parents end up choosing farming activities for their children over going to school.

We have been able to mobilise the number of bottles needed and we have begun the first phase of the construction work. We just concluded a 4-weeks holiday program that benefited over 60 children in this community and the first batch of children will resume at the learning space on September 16, 2019.

Entrepreneurial Challenge
One of the challenges we face regularly while working with community members is their inability to see education beyond the four-wall of a classroom.

However, this has made us improve on our storytelling skills since we have to paint lucid images of alternative ways to education. Resource mobilization is a struggle. We also have to improvise with local resources which on the long run, makes our work more sustainable.

Giving up
I have been overwhelmed and funnily, I often remember a song lyric that reads ‘Do dreams ever come true in this part of the world?’ But to me, giving up has never been an option. I do know this is my life call and I cannot be truly happy if I ignore it.

Being a Woman of Rubies
I guess I will spend my lifetime finding that out. There have been several times I amazed myself, especially how I dust off my butt when I hit the rock bottom…rest but don’t stop. I am a woman of purpose, I know this so well. It would be an honour to be considered among one of the many ‘faceless or nameless’ women trending the less travelled path.

Dear Woman…
Build your skills, have faith in your own journey and appreciate process.


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