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“My passion for humanity got me involved in charity”

By Esther Ijewere
05 December 2020   |   3:04 am
Shulmate Ezechi is so many things rolled into one; she is the founder and CEO of ANYiSO an international NGO, an advocate, an author, and an activist for girls and women’s rights.

Ezechi

Shulmate Ezechi is so many things rolled into one; she is the founder and CEO of ANYiSO an international NGO, an advocate, an author, and an activist for girls and women’s rights.

A registered charity in the UK, ANYiSO runs multiple projects, seminars, workshops, and conferences, and provides support and services for women, young people, refugees, and asylum seekers. She is passionate about women, young people, refugees, and asylum seekers driven by inspiration and personal experiences. Shulamite is an author, a community leader, and a mentor to many young people, men, and women.

Through personal experiences and a passion for driving change, she has served and still serves in multiple capacities in various human rights groups to make impacts through her voice. She has served as a member of the refugee women’s strategy group. She is involved in reviewing several policies affecting black and ethnic minority women and young people in Scotland, UK.

She continues to serve in various organisations amongst which includes the North Glasgow community food initiative where she served as a member of the board. She is amongst the delegates for the First minister’s National advisory committee on Women and Girls for Black and Ethnic Minority. An ambassador for Migrant Voice, UK, she’s also a member of the United Nations Association, UK, a member of Amnesty International, and a member of Friends of the Earth Scotland.
 
Shulamite obtained her National Certificate of Education (NCE) from the Federal College of Education Technical, Umunze, Nigeria. She is licensed to teach having gained a certificate from the Teacher’s Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN). She also obtained a diploma in Community Development from the University of Glasgow, United Kingdom, and equally holds a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, two master’s degrees; one in Clinical Nutrition and Health and the other in Policy Analysis and Global Governance both from universities in Scotland, UK.

She has won many awards including ‘the Inspiration to the BME Community award’ that was conferred to her at the Glasgow City Chambers, United Kingdom. She has had the privileged of being invited to the Oxford University Women leadership Symposium to deliver a talk on Girl child marriage and lead a group of women to UNESCO Spring School to tell their integration stories through drama. Married and blessed with children, her work in humanity and community development have been published in both national and international newspapers. In this interview, she shares her story with Esther Ijewere.

Growing up
I grew up in Nigeria with my mum and dad; I was the eldest of nine children so it was always busy at home. My dad was an entrepreneur and my mum was a midwife; she ran a maternity clinic where people could come and get treated with support and help. She was always really friendly and attentive and my family was known for its hospitality; I try to bring that spirit into the work I do now. I think it helped to grow up in an environment where there was always lot going on; it means I don’t get easily overwhelmed which is a good thing when you’re as busy as I am.

Inspiration behind ANYiSO
My whole life, I’ve seen African women face a lot of challenges and less appreciated. There seemed to be a lack of support for them, despite their growing need for support and aid, and domestic abuse on the rise without much being done about it. In Scotland where I live, women who belong to ethnic minorities often don’t reach out for this support because they’re afraid of being discriminated against, because they’re scared of being stereotyped. They sometimes lack the ability to ask for help due to language barriers and cultural differences. Being inspired, as well as having encountered difficulties myself, I was driven to make a real change in the world and to create a space where these women could safely and comfortably get the support they needed to be empowered.

The Journey so far
It’s definitely been challenging, but it’s absolutely worth it.

I started ANYiSO in my living room in 2014 and since then, it’s grown more than I could have ever imagined. We’ve been busy implementing projects and raising awareness about our cause – it’s not easy gaining trust when you’re a new organisation – but we gradually built ourselves up and now we go from strength to strength. I’ve seen so many lives change for the better as a result of the work we do, and that’s rewarding.

ANYiSO works in partnership with local and international organisations to provide support to women and young people. We focus on strategies such as skill acquisition training, awareness building, advocacy, and education. For us, education is the basis for development, so we encourage our women and young people to be educated. This we do by providing ESOL classes and creche for these women and also working in partnership with some organisations and colleges, and most of these women have gone back to school, gained employment, and became entrepreneurs.

Winning awards and lending my voice
It’s really a collective effort; I have similar cultural background and experiences to the women we support, which makes it easier to understand what they’ve been through and the challenges they’ve faced or still facing.

As an advocate, I do my best to communicate how they feel, the support they need, and what their journey is like to the appropriate authorities, agencies, organisation and while helping to review policies that affect them. Through the work we do with ANYiSO, I see how important it is for us to keep advocating and providing support and services, so, I’m happy that we have the opportunity to use our platform and voice to support those who otherwise wouldn’t be heard.

Being a mum, wife, motivational speaker, and author and managing it all
I will admit it’s not easy; all my roles demand quite big-time commitments. ANYiSO has grown in the last few years with multiple projects, which is fantastic, but I’ve had to learn how to manage my time effectively in order to still have the time to do other things like the book I just wrote. My family is a priority, so I always make sure I have time to spend with them. Having said that, I am driven by passion and it is that passion that makes everything worth it. Seeing the progress, we make empowers; looking back, the hard work has absolutely been worth it.

My new book Unveiling Your True Potential
I have personally faced a lot of challenges and struggles in life, and I have seen myself doing things I never knew I could. I know where I used to be and have seen myself make progress.

When I was young, I could never have imagined the things I’ve done now; I didn’t see any potential in myself. The truth is that everyone has the potential to achieve, but it is often hidden or goes unrecognised. I wrote my book to inspire people, to motivate them to discover themselves and their potential to do the things they dream of doing. I hope that my story will help them to see that no matter what you have been through in life, nothing is impossible if you keep a positive mindset.

Being a feminist
I think a lot of people today are misinformed about feminism due to the cultural practices and media coverage it gets. Feminism seems to have a bad reputation, especially in African culture and people see it as a movement that lacks respect for men; idolises women, and despises men. But this is not at all what it means; it’s actually a movement that seeks equal rights for women and men because women have faced (and continue to face) lots of discrimination in life and have always been seen as second-class citizens.

As a feminist, all I want is for us women to have the same opportunities as men and I strongly believe that more awareness of the meaning and importance of feminism is very much needed. For me, the truth is that most people, even men are feminists but unaware that they are. If as a parent you ever wanted the same opportunity, success, and achievement for all your children, be it male or female, then you are a feminist.

Making an impact in Nigeria
For some time now, we have already been supporting people back home in Nigeria. We have provided lots of financial support and skill development training. During this COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, we supported a lot of people financially and with palliatives. Some of the people we have supported are now able to participate in different walks of life that they wouldn’t have been able to participate in before, both in their families and also in social, and economic sectors. In the near future, we’ll be expanding more our operations in Nigeria and other

African countries, so watch this space.
Three women who inspire you to be better and why
I would have to pick Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Maya Angelou. They are all incredibly strong women of colour who have overcome adversity and their ethnic minority background to make a difference in the world. Michelle Obama is graceful and carries herself with dignity – she was the first black First Lady – she demonstrates that there is no limit to what you can attain in life. Maya Angelou went through a lot of challenges, but she used her voice to send messages through her award-winning poetry, she was a true definition of making lemonade out of lemon.

Being a Woman of Rubies
I see myself as a strong woman and I recognise my own strength, tenacity, and weakness. As a founder, seeing people being empowered through the work we do in ANYiSO gives me inner joy and a sense of fulfillment.

The Nigerian government and issues affecting women and children
They need to do more. Our children need to be empowered and encouraged to get an education; they need to be in the classroom instead of hawking on the streets. The government needs to support women in every walk of life, especially economically (through employment, skill acquisition, and grants for business). Women’s education and empowerment are very important, because educated and empowered women give birth to a developed nation.

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