‘We want to change the existing narrative towards people with special needs’
Barrister Amina Oyiza Yahaya Bello is the wife of the Executive Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello. She is a lawyer, educationist and multi-preneur who has a strong passion for helping children with special needs. As she prepares for the formal launching of Hayat Foundation and fundraising event of the Hayat Institute for Special Children on October 13, 2017, she speaks about her growing up years and the inspiration behind the foundation. Read her story and be inspired.
Please tell us about your growing up years?
I was born 39 years ago to the family of Yakubu Momoh where I am the second of eight siblings. I spent the first decade of my life in Kuroko, Kogi State where my grandmother raised me. It was fun growing up in the village and I can remember going to the stream very early in the morning with other youngsters and singing songs to scare off animals. When I was 10 I moved to Ajegunle, Lagos State to live with my parents. Life in Ajegunle was good as I had neighbours from different parts of Nigeria, as a result, I learnt a bit of different languages like Igbo, Yoruba, Efik and Hausa and grew up detribalized. My father of blessed memory worked in the Nigerian Ports Authority where he observed that people at the top were educated, so he encouraged education. As a result I always yearned for education and ended up finding myself in OAU studying Law, I am also in the process of getting an MBA from University of Leicester.
Please tell us about Hayat American International School (HAIS) and Hayat Foundation
Hayat American International School was borne out of my personal experience as a mother of a child with cerebral palsy. When my son Hayatullah was born we noticed he was not meeting up with his milestones. For a long time I wondered if there was an issue with me, my husband or my son, but after travelling around and ending up in Kennedy Kreiger and Johns Hopkins hospitals, we discovered the problem was not us but the society. In Kennedy Kreiger I found a place where children with cerebral palsy and other neurological issues were looked after. I also discovered the society there had empathy for those with special needs and gave them a sense of belonging. I noticed that every building had wheelchair access unlike what obtains here. Here in Nigeria parents of children with special needs often get depressed due to lack of acceptance and lack of facilities for their wards. However, abroad even some scientists have one special challenge or the other but because they are in a society that accepts them, they are able to thrive and live a fulfilled life. Armed with this experience from Kennedy Kreiger, I decided to walk the walk and not just talk to talk and that was how I set up Hayat Foundation which Hayat International school is part of. At HAIS we make sure every children is welcome and given a sense of belonging so they can live up to their potential.
Through Hayat Foundation we plan to put pressure on our political leaders to make enabling laws that make life easier for children with special needs, as a lawyer I am aware of the need for a legal backing through proper legislation in this area. We are currently working with NGOs, pressure groups and bodies such as FIDA and NBA to try and sensitise them on the need to take up more pro bono cases for people with special needs. Our foundation is also looking for ways to ensure enabling laws are made so that schools cannot turn back children with special needs and parents will not go through what I went through with my son.
With time the Foundation plans to create a replica of Kennedy Kreiger where there will be research on cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders. We also intend to train NCE holders to be occupational, speech and physical therapists so that schools will be equipped with these therapists and be able to admit children depending on the severity of their condition. We want a case where no child is left behind and that these hidden faces in the society are catered for. Special needs children are also gifted so the centre will be built with this in mind and have boarding facilities where parents can be sure their wards are well taken care of. At our proposed centre we intend to cater for people with spinal cord injuries as well.
Hayat Foundation is also working with the traditional rulers at the grassroots to ensure that people are educated properly on the need to embrace children with special needs, as mothers have been sent away from their homes for having special needs children. Then of course we are planning to work with our religious leaders as we notice that people with special needs are hardly seen in churches our mosques. Our places of worship are not wheel chair accessible thus making their attendance difficult, therefore we will properly sensitize them on the need to ensure that their followers live by example and make sure special needs people are accepted as they are also children of God.
We hope to change the existing narrative towards people with special needs by sensitizing and educating people so that Nigeria as a society is welcoming and loving. We need to be the change we need to see. Hayat Foundation also helps the less privileged through the Hayat Helping Hands Initiative where we help the poor in the society by providing water in the rural areas and buying educational materials for them amongst other things. We are also passionate about “Itinochi” which is the traditional fabric of the Ebira people and is very similar to what the Yorubas call Aso-oke. The foundation is trying to make it more popular among young people by embellishing it with lace or other fabrics and even making it into western outfits. This has already started creating more employment opportunities for the women who make these fabrics as well as promoting our culture.
You are one busy woman! How are you able to make time for your family?
It starts with passion. I am passionate about my role as a mother, wife and home-builder. I have also not lost touch with the society as an entrepreneur and lawyer. As soon as the children go to school I try to do all my foundation work, receive visitors and other assignments so that when the children get home, I am free to receive them and attend to them. Once they are on vacation I try to tailor my program around them. I also try and incorporate the children into what I do by taking them with me to visit IDPs. I do this to ensure that I raise healthy children who have empathy and are aware that they are blessed and fortunate. I draw a lot of inspiration from Lady Diana who is one of my role models, I admire what she did with the less privileged as she displayed so much empathy for them through charitable causes and yet raised wonderful well-rounded sons. When my husband is home I create quality time for him, from taking care of his food to discussing issues around sustainable development, reducing the cost of running government and all that. Family comes first.
Talking about your husband, you have always supported his political aspirations, what advice do you have for women with spouses in political office?
First it starts with prayers, we as women are the glue that keeps the home-front together, so we need to intercede for our husbands. Also you may need to play a dual role as a parent, as your husband will spend less time at home in the course of duty, so you must be firmer and tougher. You need to open your doors to everyone, as you have to embrace the role of being a mother to many. You need to also realise that everything you do rubs off on your spouse. As women we also possess a lot of empathy and should ensure that we are the voice of reasons to our husband so that, when politics try to take him away from the realm of reality, you help bring him back on track. With recession looming a lot of government policies may indirectly result in hardship, so it is up to us wives to help come up with palliatives to ameliorate the impact of such policies on the poor. This way women can help their husband achieve their aims. As women, we should also encourage other women, so that in the end you become a role model and end up grooming others even after your husband leaves office.
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