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Osuntuyi: My passion for empowering children was borne out of my dad’s personal childhood experiences

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Osuntuyi

Many children can’t afford quality education due to different economic factors. But Adedolapo Osuntuyi is changing that narrative through her Dolly Children Foundation, a non-governmental organisation focused on improving the plight of indigent children in Nigeria through Education; emphasis on quality education for all.

A fellow of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), West Africa Regional Centre, a US Government initiative, the desire to start a foundation came in secondary school after reading her classmate’s story featured in a newspaper. That was during the anniversary of the NGO that took care of her from childhood. This story, as well as other close experiences, motivated Adedolapo to start Dolly Children Foundation (DCF) in her undergraduate years.

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Adedolapo graduated from the prestigious University of Central Lancashire, Preston UK, with a Masters Degree in Child Health & Social Care. She also obtained an Africa – America Institute Scholarship to study Social Sector Management Course at the Enterprise Development Centre, Pan – Atlantic University. She has gained experience in child protection, early childhood and community development programmes and over 5000 children in 22 communities have benefitted through various interventions of the organization. She shares her inspiring story in this exclusive interview.

Growing Up
I grew up attending an all-girls’ boarding school in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Whenever I was at home for holidays, I helped my mum look after my three younger siblings. This act of service has helped nurture me in the habit of looking out for people. From an early age, I guess that I had people around me calling me a ‘Small Mummy.’ Unconsciously, my friends at the University later changed this pet name to ‘Mummy G. O’ (This was a name I didn’t like to be called but, I guess I am used to being called this wherever I found myself).

Another fascinating thing about my childhood was my desire for knowledge; I would say my dad helped me to nurture this gift at age eight by encouraging me to read newspapers whenever I went out with him on Saturdays to the newspaper vendors. This love for reading newspapers has long stuck with me and propelled my passion for researching.

Childhood Influence
Two significant experiences prepared me for what I do now with the less – privileged. One of the experiences that I would say prepared me for what I do now with less-privileged children was my dad’s personal childhood stories. The second experience, I had a friend in my secondary school that grew up in an orphanage; this experience propelled my curiosity to understudy my friends’ lifestyle and learn more about her stories without her knowledge. The more I want to know more, the more I discover (coupled with other life experiences) that this is what I have been called to.

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Inspiration Behind Dolly Children Foundation
My deep passion for empowering children from low-income backgrounds through Dolly Children Foundation was mainly borne out of my dad’s personal childhood experiences. There was something different when he recounted his life story to me as a thirteen-year-old girl. I remember telling my dad that I would need a new set of shoes on that fateful night, because the ones I had before I went to the boarding house were too tight for me.

This was the request I made that led to a three hours conversation about how life challenges did not allow him to wear shoes to school. According to my dad, he wouldn’t have attended a primary school if not for the free education scheme by Awolowo. And he did pass his O’ Level’s exams just by borrowing his friend’s books without stepping into a school; the story’s impact ended up getting my dad in a sad state. This made me cry too; I wept when I saw the impact our conversation had on him.

Hearing my dad’s story that day made me pray that I would love to help any child I see in a similar situation when I grow up. In a nutshell, my dad’s story propelled me to start the Dolly Children Foundation that has impacted over 22,000 children in 25 communities in 4 states.

Impact Of Being A YALI Fellow, Certified Social Worker
Being a YALI fellow and a social worker has indeed impacted my life and work in unimaginable ways. Aside from the skills and exposure I have gained from the programme, YALI has given me the opportunity to network, connect, and learn from like-minded people unique and innovative solutions being deployed in their various communities. The great friends I have made have now turned into family for me.

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Indeed, I can say here that the alarming rates of out – of school children and the extreme cases of child neglect witnessed and experienced firsthand led me on a journey with blended experiences, which cut across national and international boundaries, enabling me with tactical skills on how I address the challenges we face as an organisation.

This experience, with my keen interests in education reforms and community development, has enabled me to work closely with government agencies, public and private schools to address and bridge the existing inequality gaps in education.

For this, I would always be grateful to God for this life decision and the levels of fulfillment I daily enjoy.

Impact Of Our Work At Dolly Children Foundation
Today, Dolly Children Foundation is tasked with inspiring African children to adopt 21st- century skills through education, capacity building, and advocacy programmes. We do this by providing conducive environment for learning, empowering educators and empowering less privileged children.

Our primary interventions target eliminating child illiteracy in rural communities, reducing child labour and abuse, and absenteeism in public primary and secondary schools. Also, we work with private schools in the communities we serve to organise community-based projects between public and private schools to address the existing inequality gaps between public and private schools.

This organisational strategy has impacted directly over 22,000 children in 25 communities in 4 states to benefit from a variety of development initiatives, educational scholarships and school refurbishment projects (the recent erection of over 70 meters length fence for a community school which never had such since it was founded in 1955 to mention a few).

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Challenges
The nature of the work I do has its share of peculiar challenges. One of the challenges that I have faced in running the foundation is the belief system of some community members we work with. It is pretty challenging to convince a guardian to allow a ward to continue schooling, because of the challenges being faced on the home front. So far, the foundation has handled a good number of cases like this with incredible success stories. Another challenge my team and I have faced is the bureaucracy issues that sometimes arise in our work with agencies.

Three Women Who Inspire Me To Be Better
The three women who inspire me to be better are; Chidi Koldsweat, Clare Ejehi and Mrs Ireti Ogunlesi. I love them because of the time, resources and energy they invest in becoming a better version of myself. I love them for working out what they say and for their simplicity.

To Young Women…
My advice to young women who wish to be trailblasers like me would be summed up in these three points:
●        Stay true to your dreams regardless of any challenge that comes your way.
●        Strive to be better at what you do
●        Be intentional in taking care of yourself, and do not forget your days of little beginnings.

Being A Woman Of Rubies
What makes me a woman of rubies is my genuineness in looking out for people and not giving up on myself, people and life.

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