Oluwakemi Areola: ‘Our statistics shows there are virtually many girl children out of school in all states’
Ann-Melody Oluwakemi Areola is an innovative Public Relations Expert, a tactical Social Development Specialist and Business Support Services Advisor with a strategic intent premised on sustainable economic growth, inventive partnerships and youth empowerment. She is currently the Special Assistant on ICT & Corporate Relations to the Minister of Youth and Sports of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, actively running her PR bespoke boutique, Vivacity PR and an MBA Scholar. She has effortlessly combined the three, ensuring none suffers. She holds a degree in Engineering in Electronic and Communications Engineering from London Metropolitan University, UK. She is Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and PRINCE 2 certified Project Manager. She remains a highly-sought-after technically competent technology consultant with an exceptional mastery of her trade. Oluwakemi who started her career over a decade ago is a thoroughbred Public Relations Consultant with ground-breaking results to boot; she has her footprints in Africa, America, Europe and counting. She is a passionate crusader and advocate for the girl child, women and youths through executable empowerment solutions. From volunteering to initiating foundations for revolutionary causes, her unflinching energy geared at making the needed impact has led her into driving initiatives for a better humanity. She is the Founder of Women in Entertainment and Arts, an initiative designed to honour women for their significant contributions in advancing the entertainment and arts industry. She also co-founded Youth in Charity, a movement created to stamp out poverty through the economic empowerment of young people. As an excellent event organiser, she initiated Women in Entertainment and Arts awards to celebrate the milestones of women in the industry. She is currently championing the vivaciousball4.0, which serves an initiative focused on the girl child and girl child-related issues in Nigeria. She shares her vision, passion for the feminine gender in this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA. Excerpts.
Why is your focus on women and out-of-school girls?
All my adult years, on my birthday I have always tried to do something to give back. In my earlier years, we had the Women in Entertainment and Arts award ceremony, where we brought ladies in the Nigerian entertainment and arts sector over to the UK to receive award because I felt that the entertainment industry was dominated more by men and they got most of the recognitions. So, I am trying to do something for the women. When I moved over to Nigeria, I started the Globalisation and Branding Summit, which was a free SME Education as well as access to resources for entrepreneurs, we had the first edition in Abuja and since this year is my big 40, I wanted to do something a bit different. It’s not all about me, it’s about thanking God for the years I have spent on earth and giving back to my community, giving back to whoever I feel is in need. Hence I decided to channel my energy towards women who build the society, build the home, because charity begins at home. The women are the bedrock of our society, when you raise a good male child, he becomes a gentleman tomorrow, hence reduces gender-based violence. Which means you have raised a child that believes he doesn’t need to raise his hands to touch a woman.
Tell us about the Vivaciousball4.0 event?
The Vivaciousball40 is taking place on March 8, 2020, which is also International Women’s Day. We can come together and have a big party but the party can also stand for something and change somebody’s life, hence the Vivacious ball. We hope to have in attendance First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo, first ladies from the various states, ministers and all other women who chose to join us in this cause.
What in your view are some of those issues affecting the girl child and women in Nigeria? What is the way forward?
My view on some of the issues affecting the girl child and women in Nigeria is majorly lack of education. When it comes female genital mutilation, equal opportunities, domestic violence and sexual rights, it all boils down to lack of education. A child is a blank canvas, whatever you paint on it is what you are going to get. If you grow up believing that it is right to hit a woman; if you grow up believing that when a woman says no, you have the right to say yes on her behalf or when you mutilate a female genital area, it makes her less sexually promiscuous, all these things are myths that need to be spoken to, they are things that needs to be washed away. I don’t blame the people that think this way, they think this way because that is the education they have. But we are in a position to change the narrative, the narrative in so many areas. When a woman is better educated, she can give more to her family, that’s why am concentrating more on women.
What key issues will the event be addressing?
There are numerous issues facing girls and women in Nigeria, some of them are access to education, educated women are more likely to get married later, survive childbirth, raise healthy kids, find work, and earn more money, among other positives. Employment opportunities – women earn only one-tenth of the world’s income despite working two thirds of the total work hours. Maternal Health – In 2015 Nigeria estimated maternal mortality ratio was over 800 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. For reproductive health and rights – 225 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for family planning, contributing to 74 million unplanned pregnancies and 36 million abortions every year. On gender-based Violence, 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, according to World Health Organisation (WHO). Child Marriage – girls who marry before age 18 are typically denied an education, at risk of complications related to premature childbearing, and more vulnerable to intimate partner violence. Female Genital Mutilation-Nigeria has one of the highest female genital mutilation cases worldwide. FGM causes infertility, maternal death, infections, and the loss of sexual pleasure. Nationally, 27 per cent of Nigerian women between the ages of 15 and 49 were victims of FGM, as of 2012. Water and Sanitation – when clean drinking water and hygienic sanitation facilities are in short supply, women and girls suffer most. Girls whose schools lack proper bathrooms will often skip school during their menstrual periods for fear of embarrassment or stigma. Gender equality – In a world where 95 per cent of countries are led by a male head-of-state, it’s clear that we as a global community have a long way to go before women are given a fair share
You raise school fees for girls who are underprivileged, how did you go about sourcing for them?
In order to source for the girls, our team, the Glocalised team visit schools in different communities in each state. Our first focus is one girl from each state and they are approaching the principals of the school to see which young female on their records is having difficulty paying their school fees. Once a female has been identified and communicated to me, we pay the fees directly to the school. One of the things that I am ensuring is that we pay the school fees from the time of intervention until the young female leaves that educational institution because we don’t want to pay for a year and the next year, they are struggling again. So if the child is in JSS3, SS1 or SS2, we pay for their full duration right up to their SS3, Primary 6 or 400 levels. Wherever stage of education they are, we are paying right up until they graduate from that institution and we are making sure we do one from each state in the country as well as the FCT. The fees are paid directly through the institution and the receipt is handed over to the parents of the child just to ensure there is no paperwork issue.
Are you paying solely from your pocket, are there no collaborations?
Personal funding isn’t enough, as our statistics shows that there are virtually many girl children out of school in all states, we can’t reach all but with donations and sponsorships from people who key into this selfless service for the girl child, we can rebuild their future. We can put their life together and set a new standard academically. We have written to a number of government agencies and we are hoping to receive positive responses and, yes, we would love to partner with government agencies as well as NGOs that are willing to work with us. Our doors are opened, we can’t do it alone; I can’t do it alone.
What has it been like running an organisation as a woman?
Running an organisation as a woman isn’t anything different from running it as a man. I would say the biggest drawback I had when getting into Nigeria was sexual harassment. Everywhere you go to discuss business with the opposite sex, they would rather discuss other issues with you. But I have learnt how to counter that, and I counter that by simply, the minute I feel a gentleman is beginning to go down those particular lines, I make it clear and concise that we are not about that, and we would be rather offended if we are spoken to in that manner. And nine times out of 10, you seem to get over that particular hurdle and the truth is, whoever you are dealing with; if they see that you have some substance and you know what you are talking about and you would be an asset to their company, even just knowing you, because the public relations company is all about your black book, which is the number of contacts you have or the type of contacts that you have. And knowing that we have contacts all around the world; in government, the private sector; knowing that we know our onions; knowing that we work strong and we work hard, I feel we were able to overcome that initial barrier of sexual harassment. But for me I don’t have a nuclear family currently, so work hours are 24 hours a day. Most of my staff, both ad-hoc and full-time, do complain that I am a workaholic, but when you love what you do really, you don’t see it as work; you are ready to do it in your sleep; you are ready to do it 24 hours a day. I chose a line of business that I love doing and I honestly love what I do and it really doesn’t feel like work to me.
What advice do you have for women on living their dreams?
There is no glass ceiling for a woman that is just your beginning; you have to believe in yourself and that’s the most important part. Believe that there is nothing you cannot do; you are capable of doing everything and anything. I always bring it up that I studied engineering (electronic and telecommunications) and I know a lot of women that have studied courses that are extremely more male-dominated and I see them excelling in those particular areas. I remember when I was younger, whenever I want to buy a car, I never want to buy a car that is known to be a woman’s car, no. Because I don’t understand why we need to segregate or why we need to believe that this is the confine that belongs to us, there is nothing that confines you. We were made out of men, we are help-mates for men, of course, I never ever played that down, but being help-mate to men or being made out of men doesn’t mean we are lesser than them. So, I think the most important part of everything is believe in yourself; never ever compromise your children’s welfare, education and upbringing. As much as you need to be out there in the world doing whatever it is that you are doing, ensure you take care of the home first, it is very important. But whatever you are doing outside in the world, don’t ever feel that you are limited. The limitations that you experience in life are only the limitations that you put upon yourself. If around every situation there is a way around, please try to find a way around it to make it work.
What is your life mantra?
My life mantra is to give; give everything you can and give all you can, your reward never comes from human beings; it always comes from God. Whatever you do, how much you ploughed yourself into a situation, positively remember that if you want to get your reward from another human being, it is a waste of time; not even your parents or siblings can. Hence, give with a cheerful open heart. Secondly, in every situation you find yourself, flip the talisman, which means you should look at the positive side to every negative situation, that way life feels better.