‘Parenting … A life long right every child is entitled to’
Vivian Kayode-Yusuf is the Founder, ‘I Need To Know Foundation’ (INTKF), a non-profit organisation that focuses on young adults, teenagers, and the community. She is also the Chief Operating Officer of L’Pacemaker Group. Her interest and passion to help teenagers and young adults achieve their full potential stimulated the birth of the foundation. She has worked and still works with teenagers from all backgrounds; with all kinds of baggage, including dysfunctional homes, struggling with low self-esteem, identity and family crises. Her efforts have earned her the epitaph of “mama” by both young and old.
Over the years, several lives of youths and straying teenagers have been mended, empowered and put in the right path through the foundation. In this interview with The Guardian Woman, Vivian spoke about the need for parents and guardians to wear the right mantle of child-training, the necessity for the government to pay attention to teenagers and young adults, who will eventually become the leaders of tomorrow and the fact that child-raising is a responsibility of the entire society, parents, teachers, government and religious groups.
Why did you set up the foundation?
I SET up ‘I Need To Know Foundation’ due to my experiences as a child. Growing up was quite tough. I was a very lonely, confused and troubled child, with many unanswered questions. I had a number of challenges. I had issues that bothered me and I needed someone to talk to, but there was none. My parents also had issues, so communicating was difficult. My mother was a hard worker, who barely had the time for chit chats. She was more focused on working hard to provide for her children’s needs, education and everything else. To her, providing our basic needs was all we needed to succeed. My mother would do anything to ensure we had the best of education, but in the bid of doing that, she left the most important priority undone. She never had time to sit down and really talk to me, answer questions that bothered me.
Moreso, she was a very strict person and I was too afraid to ask questions about my challenges, feelings, and fears because I was not even sure what her reactions would be. I did not know if asking such a question would get me into trouble with her. I couldn’t have such a cordial relationship with my mother because of her strictness. Although I didn’t blame her because she also had a rigid upbringing and of course we always become our parents or whoever raised us. So, the foundation started when I saw teenagers struggling with different issues, with no one to talk to. Some of them started coming to me and would tell me things they could not tell their parents or anyone else. I guess they saw that I shared their views and didn’t judge them. I had teenage girls who told me how they got sexually involved with boys; got pregnant, underwent abortions through the help of their friends.
Some of them would tell me about how their cousins had intimacy with them. Some even had intimacy with their fathers. These youths discussed these issues with me, something, I believe, they would have discussed with their parents, if they were close to them.
So, I realised that all of them had one thing in common: the need to know what they were feeling at every stage of their lives, what was happening and who was saying what to them. All they needed was answers and guidance by adults that would not judge them. So, when there is no one to talk to, they meet their friends, who don’t know better and sometimes lead them astray. I naturally started having a burden to solve the problems of teenagers, answered all their questions, provided them with an atmosphere, where they could talk and ask questions. I helped them to re-channel their lives in the right direction.
When did you start and what are the objectives of INTKF?
INTKF started over 7 years ago. The core objectives are to protect the dignity of the Nigerian child, to provide nurturing for teenagers and bridge the gap created by absentee parents, to organise enlightenment programmes that could help children make the right choices, as they transit into adulthood, and to award scholarships to the less-privileged and indigent children at primary and secondary school as well as in the university.
We look out for teenagers whose parents indeed cannot afford to sponsor their education. We also give scholarships to children of widows, who cannot afford to pay their fees. We get the children into school and fully sponsor their education, all the way. We go into the slums and help those who actually need help. We also reach out to them in schools and churches, while some teenagers call in for help. The mandate is to unlock children’s destiny by helping them discover who they really are. Some of them have misplaced identities. They try to be who they are not and they end up failing in life. Also, some parents put their children under pressure by comparing them with others and in the process, these children lose their identity. They struggle to become who they are not. Some parents compel their children to study certain courses in the university, whereas that child’s strength or passion is in another field.
The fact that your friend’s child is a medical doctor does not mean your child must be a doctor by all means. It doesn’t work that way. They can all excel in their various fields. No knowledge is a waste.
From your dealings with teenagers, what are parents’ shortfalls?
Today, some parents ignore what is important while raising their kids in the name of discipline. How many parents would sit down and talk to their kids about sex? How many do not tell them about menstruation and how to handle it even before it starts. I have heard of eight-year-old girls, who have started menstruating already. Parents are supposed to start early to teach these children because, if they don’t, someone else, with wrong motive or information, would. These children are our future and some of them fall into the wrong hands, not because they want to but in the bid to get the right information, they find themselves in a wrong circle and that becomes detrimental.
We have teenagers, who are drug addicts, cultists, rapists, sex hawkers. Some have even left home and it is not because they wanted to, but they need to survive. Some parents are not even bothered. Some parents would not even dare to discuss sex with their children. They make the word ‘sex’ a taboo, so the children dare not say the word, let alone attempt to discuss it.
Why do you place emphasis on parental follow-up on accurate information?
The truth is, when these children have the right information, they can make the right choices and decisions on their own, as you cannot make choices for them, such that even when a friend or someone tells them otherwise, they can tell the difference between accurate information and otherwise.
As a mother, has your upbringing affected how you raise your children?
Initially it did. I started parenting as I was parented. It was just there in me to raise them as I was raised. I didn’t know any other way until I realised I was doing the same thing my parents did that made me unhappy and disconnected. I retracted and started doing things differently. I started to take it easy with them, understood them. I tried to find out why they behaved the way they did and wanted what they demanded. I realised being rigid with children was wrong because it didn’t always work that way.
I may have been lucky to turn out well, but they may not. I have people who were raised with extremely strict rules and regulations as I was and it made the source for answers in wrong places. They are nothing to write home about today. So, I ensured to make them comfortable enough to ask all the whys’ and ready to provide detailed answers and information because they are at the age, where you sometimes need to negotiate with them. You can’t just call the shot. They need to understand why you’re telling them to do what you’re asking them to do in the first place.
How do you help bridge the gaps created by absentee parents at the foundation?
We have a mentorship programme, where teenagers are taught and mentored on how to handle some of the problems arising due to the fact that their parents are not available. First and foremost, we make them realise that it is not wrong to want to know whatever they want and that whatever they are feeling, is not a sin. We help them understand that it is a normal life process that they must go through from one phase to another. For instance, if a teenage girl begins to have affection for a boy, we let them know it is absolutely normal to feel that way at the stage and mentor them into knowing how to rightly handle that new feeling for the opposite sex while remaining intact.
Do you reach out to the parents of the teenagers who call in for help at the foundation?
Yes, we do in some cases. That depends on the issue. What we do is to apply wisdom. When we need to involve their parents, we do. When all we need to do is mentoring and counseling, we keep it at that. Recently, a school requested sex education, and at the end of it all, we insisted the students should ask their questions. Some were not bold enough to ask. We asked them to write their questions on paper and pass it to us. One of the written questions was from a girl, who was being sexually abused by her father. So, at this point, we didn’t want to raise an unnecessary alert. We traced the handwriting and managed to find out the student, who asked the question. We related to the school authorities and we took it up from there. We went deeper into it, counselled her and we realised how complicated the situation would be for the child if we took the father upon it, due to some of the things the girl told us. With the help of the school, the issue was treated and we mentored the girl.
When it comes to such issues, one has to be careful, because, from findings, some fathers who sexually abuse their daughters do it for fetish reasons such as rituals, cultism among others. If we do not handle the situation with care, the child may get into worse problems that no one would be able to save her from. The main thing is good mentoring. When you have mentored and taught them to a certain stage, they have that confidence to handle the issues on their own and you find them doing it right. No matter what anyone does to them, they would stand their ground. Their no would be no.
Regarding cases of sexually abused daughters, would you say that their mothers are completely oblivious of the situation at home?
The mother could be the kind that leaves the house for work very early and comes in late. She may have little or no time to even spend with these children, let alone knowing what is going on with or around them.
At some point in my life, I was also working for someone, far from home and returned late. When I noticed my children were growing, I decided to make a decision. I made a conscious effort even though I was a working-class mother. I had to consciously tell myself to be there for my children, irrespective of what I did. I consciously began to ask them questions: how was school today? What happened today? They began to tell me everything. To be honest, there were times I was too tired to listen, but once they said something striking, it clicked and I would address it immediately.
The most important thing is to give them a listening ear because if you don’t listen to that small issue when the big ones happen they will keep quiet because they know that mummy will not even listen.
So I won’t say a mother shouldn’t work because they need to make money to train the children, but you need to make a conscious effort to follow-up with your children. Address issues that need to be addressed immediately without waiting for another chance. I also tell my children that anyone who tells you not to tell your mother is bad. Mothers should know that most of the training you give to your children shouldn’t start when they are a teenager but when they are a lot younger, from two years upwards. They understand you perfectly, just ensure to use the vocabulary they understand at every stage of their life. Ensure to describe well and call the words, what it is really called so when there is an issue you know what the child is saying. Teach them everything about their private parts, and call every part by its name.
How do you help a child with identity crisis?
Many children who are bullies do that because they have an identity crisis. They will break all the rules and do everything the other way round. The truth is that some of them just want to be loved, noticed and they feel doing things in the opposite direction to get them attention. What we do with such children is get them to discover who they really are, by letting them know they are better than what they present. We address their self-esteem. We tell them the importance of loving and appreciating themselves, and the need to disregard labels from friends or classmates. Sometimes, the identity crisis isn’t just pressuring from parents but also from peer groups. Also, we insist that parents also appreciate and compliment their children, tell them you love them and for the girl-child, tell her she’s looking beautiful so when she hears it outside, it doesn’t arouse any special emotion or attraction, because she hears it regularly from her parents and there is no big effect from a stranger’s compliment.
Is there any special project the foundation is handling presently?
This year, we started a project called “I Study,” a free Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) class. We discovered that many teenagers have a wrong notion about passing their examinations. They depend on having their parents pay for special centres, where they could be fed with answers to WAEC, JAMB questions. They want a centre they could scale to the next level without studying. This is why you see graduates, who cannot write application letters, let alone getting jobs. They are unemployable. So with “I Study,” the idea is to rid them of that notion. It is to let them know they need to study to show themselves approved because even if they maneuver their way to pass their examinations, get into the tertiary institutions, they would get to the stage in life where they would prove their worth. We’re taking them in free computer-based JAMB classes. We also noticed that many teenagers fail the JAMB examination, not because they did not study, but because they are not computer literate, especially those in public schools. Some of them can’t operate computers.
Unfortunately, they have to write a JAMB examination with a computer. You hear of cases where a student who was supposed to click next, clicks on submit and that’s all for them, their paper is gone, they can’t retrieve it even though they haven’t completed the examination. So we brought in qualified teachers to teach students who are preparing for JAMB, and they’ve been doing great. We also have our “Teens Conference” coming up in May and another upcoming programme entitled “Parents’ Forum” to educate parents on how to treat their teenagers. We are going to bring in speakers, who have had the unfortunate experience of bad parenting, and got into a series of delinquencies, some even major crime. They will share true-life stories and the idea is to have people, who have the real experience that parents would learn from and be awake to their responsibilities.
Is the foundation gender specific? Do you feel that a particular gender needs more attention than the other?
No. INTKF is for both males and females. From my discoveries, I can say without mincing words, that both male and female need absolute attention. If you think the male child can be ignored, wait till he becomes a drug addict or impregnates an underage girl. Then, you’d understand that you should have given him the attention. Every child has the DNA of greatness and it’s what you, as a parent, make of it that brings the end result, whether male or female.
What are the challenges you face running the foundation?
The major challenge is finance. It is not an easy task, because my husband and I finance the bulk of what we do. God blessed me with the best husband and he has been very supportive. Sometimes, when I get to the crossroads, he comes in to save the day. One or two others support, but we still struggle with financing the projects. I wish more people would create platforms like this in Nigeria and you will be amazed at the kind of future generation we could build.
What’s your perception of the Nigerian society in terms of child upbringing?
I believe we can do better than we are doing. From where I stand and all the cases I have seen, we still have a lot to learn in parenting. We are not concentrating on these children. Government needs to pay more attention to children and teenagers, because if serious attention is not given to them, very soon we’re not going to have a tomorrow, let alone future leaders. We need to put a lot of things in place to help these children. Some of them are naturally gifted but there is nobody to help them unlock these potentials.
Also, religious organisations, churches, and mosques need to contribute immensely to the upbringing of the children.
Between the mother and father, who is more responsible to train the children?
The role of a father and mother in the life of children are different, unique, and important and must be balanced. Both parents are equally important because the children need the two different roles all through their growing stages into full adulthood. However in the Nigerian society, a lot of people assume it is the responsibility of the mother to raise the children, while the father only provides money if he can and if not, the burden is entirely on the woman. But that’s where we get it wrong because it should be teamwork. There are some issues with these children that only the father can address and vice versa.
How do you relax and take a break from work?
I stay with family. I love having family around me. Not just my immediate family, but also my extended family members.