My parents made me unlearn imposition of wills, uprightness and rigidity – Qaozara Adepeju
Adepeju is a girl development advocate, inspirational writer and a penultimate law student at the University of Lagos. I am passionate about the development of girls and believes that if girls are properly equipped with decision making skills, they will make informed decisions regarding their sexual life, education, career and life generally.
She started her organization; Vibrant Girls Development Initiative at the age of 16, a youth led organisation committed to the development of girls. The organisation engages in mentorship sessions, sexual education, girl-child advocacy, sexual abuse awareness, educational and career development. Through VGDI, she has developed communication, public speaking, writing, team building, analytical, leadership, problem solving skills among others.
“In 2014 when I started Vibrant Girls Development Initiative, I lost my dad earlier in the year. I could have remained in that state and play the victim’s game. But no, I told myself that I needed to make a change and help girls become vibrant women. I had no father to connect me, says Adepeju as she shares her story with me in this interview
I had an interesting and challenging childhood. Being the first child of four children, my dad always ensured that I make decisions which affected myself and my siblings. I think now that I am managing a non for profit, empathy which he taught me comes to play. I now care a lot about girls, my team and people around me generally.Aside having empathy, I had since childhood learnt some Do’s and Don’ts of Leadership. As a leader, I now listen and care a lot about everyone. My parents made me unlearn imposition of wills, uprightness, and rigidity. My childhood prepared me for the path I’m towing now. I learnt not only to look out for myself but to always consider others too. I didn’t grow up like other children. I grew up thinking about myself and others.
Qaozara Adepeju is a girl development advocate, a writer, speaker and a budding lawyer. At 16, I pioneered Vibrant Girls Development Initiative, a youth-led non for profit organisation that is committed to the development of young girls especially those below age 20. I am currently the Executive Director of the Initiative.I had my primary and secondary education in Ibadan and Lagos and I am currently a penultimate law student at the University of Lagos, Akoka. As a law student, my interest span across corporate and commercial law, intellectual property law, finance and tech. I look forward to businesses thriving by using my knowledge of the law to improve the status quo of business persons and companies.I enjoy mentoring girls and inspiring them with my stories and inspiring stories of other girls and women. In my spare time, I enjoy planning events or volunteering for noble causes.
Starting Vibrant Girls Development Initiative at age 16
Having spent 12 years living in Isale Eko, Lagos Island, I discovered that it was a thing of pride and joy for teenage girls to be pregnant. Many see it as an achievement or an event that earns them respect among their peers. I used to be very angry anytime I see a young girl with big belly. I can remember a day I complained to my brother, “These mothers don’t have the financial resources to cater for their babies and they make us suffer more in the country by adding more pressure to the economy.” Then, I had a close friend who got pregnant while in secondary school. Also, the training and guidance I received from my parents helped me in making decisions. Knowing that a lot of girls do not have such parents, I dreamt of having an initiative which will provide such guidance to the girls. At 12, I emerged the Lagos State Champion of the BRF Quiz Competition where I met with a lot of state dignitaries.At 13, I was sponsored alongside some others by the Lagos State Government on a trip to the United Kingdom for two weeks. All these I believed groomed me to be better, and not all girls had this kind of experience. Thus, I felt a need to start an initiative to give girls adequate sexual education and also guide them to become vibrant women in the society.
Impact of attending training and leadership skills workshop while in secondary school
In my first year in senior secondary school, I had my first leadership training with LEAP Africa. The training aside from teaching me qualities a leader should possess, gave me practical steps on how to drive change. The training manual helped me in goal setting, carving a niche for myself, planning, budgeting, crafting vision and mission statement among others. A year after attending the training, I read the manual again. It was this time, I started forming an intention to drive a change. I was unsure of what to do. At a time, I thought about advocating for recycling. Later, I thought of raising awareness around bleaching of the skin. However, I was testing my skills. During these times, I started setting personal goals and crafted personal mission and vision statements. So, when I founded Vibrant Girls Development Initiative, it was easy to set goals, create vision and mission for the organisation. The LEARN Summer School Programme also helped build my creativity and communication skills.
Reception and Sponsorship are my biggest challenges
The first challenge which I think is common is financial challenge. We face difficulties getting funds and sponsorships from organisations. For example, our annual Project, the Empower Her Project is the only Project yet which requires a lot of funds. Corporate bodies don’t really support much in the end, we fall on individual sponsorship as well as people within our network. Another challenge is the reception from some schools and organisations. Due to the fact that we are young, some schools and organisations don’t attend to us well. Sometimes, I insist that we be treated same way older people are treated. This is very disheartening.
My greatest reward is in hearing stories from the participants of any of our programmes recounting how it has changed their lives. Recently, one of the teachers from one of our beneficiary schools told me how she looked forward to this year’s conference. Another thing I get joy from is when any of my girls uses the words I always say to them to soothe me anytime I am facing challenges. This has happened to me countless times. All these and more are my rewards.
My organisation in 5 years
In the next 5 years, I want us to have reached out to more girls not just in Lagos but in Nigeria. I see a VGDI where our impact will be felt nationwide our name will be a household name among girls. Also, I want us to be internationally recognised as an organisation working towards reshaping and grooming young girls into vibrant women. Similarly, I see you directly investing in the lives of girls through scholarships, training or fellowships.
Felt like giving up in the beginning
The first time I felt like giving up was when we started in 2014 and all of the girls that used to attend the mentoring sessions stopped coming. My motivation waned and I had to give it time to re-strategise and rethink. Also, in our first two years, I felt like giving up when because of my age, I was belittled by some people. We had issues getting venue for our programme, we had issues with funds and among others. But my team members have been ever supportive. They have taught me that when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.
Who and what inspires me to be better
The first person that inspires me is my mum. She lost her husband in 2014 and didn’t allow this to affect her. She is an epitome of courage, strength, diligence and excellence. Her life is just full of inspiration to me. Many times when I need someone to lean on, she is always there for me. Sometimes, all I need from her is a hug. Also, Mrs Bisi Akindele inspires me to be the best. She has been very supportive from the inception of Vibrant Girls Development Initiative. I am inspired by the story of a widow who struggles and educates all her children. Or by the story of a challenged student who excels. Or by stories of professionals and how they climbed the ladder.What inspires me is the fact that there is no room for average. If you want to succeed, do so gallantly and vibrantly. Don’t be average.
Well, at first it wasn’t a smooth entry. But with time, I have learnt to collaborate, leverage and reach out for help.In the first year, I was still trying to understand the environment. I didn’t know how social media could be used effectively. I didn’t know much about grants. I didn’t know many people with like minds. But, from the second year, I started to reach out to people, network with others in the same sector, look out for grants, attend events and seminars and lots more. Now, I can say that I have quite a number of young people in my network who have passion for development and are doing well. Also, I have learnt the art of storytelling and use it effectively to tell my story and what I do.
Being a woman of rubies
Ruby has represented nobility, purity, and passion through the ages. It is a stone of sentinel. I am a woman of rubies because I have stories of struggles, stories of failures, as well as stories of my successes. In 2014 when I started Vibrant Girls Development Initiative, I lost my dad earlier in the year. I could have remained in that state and play the victim’s game. But no, I told myself that I needed to make a change and help girls become vibrant women. I had no father to connect me. I had no money. I had no clue of the challenges ahead but I had passion and a good team and 4 years down the line, I am still here making impact. I am a woman of rubies because I do not allow my age to be a barrier to me At first, the age was a barrier because people do doubt what I was doing but now, I leverage on the age to get what I want . I am a woman of rubies because I am not perfect. I do not have it all.
Advice to young girls like me
Make yourself valuable by acquiring skills. Do not play the pity game. The path will not be smooth. The road may seem long. The darkness may seem to last forever. Nevertheless, you have to keep at it against all odds. The world is changing; new skills are needed to meet up with the changing world. Get prepared and brace up.