MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE MADE ME GO INTO YOUTH DEVELOPMENT
– Funke Oguntuga
CEO, HEARTMINDERS YOUTH CLUB
FUNKE Oguntuga is a girl-child activist, relationship blogger, teen mentor and social media entrepreneur. In this interview with Bukola Aroloye, the mother of three talks about working with young people.
What are some of the things that make what you do different?
At Heartminders Societal Advancement Initiative, we have carefully mapped out projects and programmes for young people both in secondary school and out-of-school children (OSC).
We have what is called project ‘wise-up’; this is a life modelling campaign that seeks to teach healthy relationship amongst teenagers.
In addition, it teaches sex education, morals and dating, behaviours that result in injury, pregnancy and what to do when it happens.
It is called Project HAAROSA (Heartminders Action Against Rape and Other Sexual Abuse). This project is a campaign against sexual abuse in teenagers. We have done the road walk twice. Here, we walk with teenagers and give out educational and relevant flyers.
We also sensitise people about abuse and invite experts and victims to tell their stories. To wrap up the walk on the two occasions that we have had it, we visited the Lagos State special correctional homes for girls. The idea is to let the teenagers appreciate freedom.
In addition, we also have what is called Project TAALK. Here, we talk about abuse to liberate kids. The focus is basically targeted at breaking the silence surrounding rape and abuse by talking about it.
The project, therefore, tries to end the secrets, shame, hurts, confusion, and denials that for too long have allowed child sexual abuse to operate, and even thrive in our homes and communities.
To achieve this, we bring together parents, professionals, adult survivors, concerned citizens, elected leaders, policy makers, and funders and other stakeholders to engage them in this movement.
We also have the teenagers’ conference where we assemble students, youths, young adults, stakeholders, policy makers, and parents under the same roof.
We give seminars and trainings, give awards to our idols, have fun and share thoughts and ideas. The conference also gives the teenagers a platform to meet and make new friends as well as see what happens in other schools.
Our newsletter helps to give a voice loud enough to be heard. This is a platform where teenagers who seek to pursue a career in journalism or love to write can use the opportunity to practice and give their passion a push.
We also want to bridge the gap between teenagers in school and the ones that are not.
Finally, the newsletter will, more importantly, serve as a guide to responsible youthful life.
Why did you decide to go into this line of business?
I would say, passion and life experience; these are the two major reasons. I took some decisions as a teenager that I was not proud of neither was I competent or confident about acting on those decisions.
I grew up in a slum and was abused emotionally and physically, yet my experiences are not as much as my passion. I will admit that as a teenager I was forced to grow up quickly by being abused and deciding to keep quiet about it and that was my personal experience.
Those experiences motivated me and overcoming those challenges made me pay extra attention to teenagers and wanting to always help them anyway I can.
How did your interest in writing begin?
It all started as a blog and I also trained as a journalist. So, after many years in the banking industry, I decided to take a break for my kids and my passion for writing took over.
From blogging, I started getting responses from teenagers mostly asking about sex, relationship and dating. That’s how I started doing one project after the other and this took care of so many questions bordering on relationships.
I started out as a journalist, as I said earlier. I studied mass communication in the university and worked as a journalist with the print media then.
I also worked in the banking sector for about eight years. My banking journey took me back to my first love, which was journalism.
It was at that point that I started blogging about relationship, love, sex and marriage. This eventually gave birth to the Teen Project under the NGO umbrella called Heartminders Societal Advancement Initiative (HSAI).
What do you consider as some of the achievements over the years?
In the past four years, we have been able to mentor about 17,000 teenagers in different secondary schools across Lagos (both public and private schools) and about 350 girls in our one-on-one mentoring programmes.
We have also handled rape and sexual abuse cases, some of which have been referred to experts on the field and relevant agencies. Apart from all this, we have also run ads and campaigns against rape that have received commendations from the state government.
But what really means the world to me is getting calls from time to time from teenagers thanking us for reaching out to them and helping them in one way or the other, which means we’re doing things right.
What are some of the challenges encountered?
The first is that we have had to confront inadequate information and data which can form the basis of effective planning for out-of-school teenagers.
Secondly, I would say, is the mindset of people on the subject, ‘sex and sexuality’. If parents and guardians are on the same page and agree to discuss these issues with their wards, then we will have less awkwardness treating this topic.
This also means that breaking the silence of abuse will be less complicated.
Finance is also a major challenge because NGOs need money for operations. The truth of the matter is that there is no direct correlation with the work and income.
This is unlike a for-profit company where the work you do is directly sold for revenue, the correlation between raising money and solving problems is very little. So NGOs have to put resources on creating successful media campaigns, getting the right connections, filling tons of forms and paperwork for grants, aid and taxation.
Not to forget the hassles in getting the NGO recognised as an NGO and finding a secure way of getting tax-exempt donations.
What all this results in is usually a lack of focus. This often leads to a disconnect between the vision and work.
If you have to compare what you do with your counterparts in other parts of the world, what would you say?
Unlike the western world, NGOs in Nigeria and Africa are typically weaker because they are not as financially independent as the other sectors.
In Nigeria, state governments may welcome charities and welfare bodies providing for the homeless, elderly and sick, because this reduces state expenditure.
Let’s talk about some of the memorable moments in life and on the job
I have had so many memorable moments in life; from getting married to having children, and the children becoming pre-teens in front of my eyes actually create great memories for me.
On the job, the memorable moments are in the times I spent listening to my teenagers, solving their relationship issues, being able to put smiles on their faces.
I recall vividly a 13-year-old girl that was suffering abuse from her step dad. After hearing her story, we immediately swung into action and reported the case to the appropriate authorities.
In the end, she was removed from the house, remanded and whenever I visit her, all I see is a joyful girl whose mind is at peace and I feel fulfilled.
What are the other things that occupy your time?
Writing and spending time with my family.
I also like to volunteer my spare time because I am not a very sociable person but I like to hang out with my friends when I am free.
What changes would you like to see in the sector?
I would like to see more acceptance from the government and constituted authorities.
I hope to see bills passed by the lower and upper house criminalising abuse, rape, child marriages, genital mutilation and so on.
I hope to see a more organised sector where NGOs will work together to achieve more. I also hope corporate bodies and well-meaning Nigerians will invest more in our sector.
When it comes to advising women, what would you tell them?
Dear mothers, being a mom is one of the most demanding jobs in the world. And while women who take on paid work in addition to parenthood have their hands full, they represent the majority of mothers and therefore should learn to prioritise.
Children are God’s heritage and mothers will be accountable to God. To women in business, politics and activism, I say keep the flag flying and always make it happen. The future is ours.
Who or what do you consider as the greatest inspiration in your life?
God is my greatest inspiration.
The fact that I’ve done this for four years without hitches, but testimonies, is an attestation to the fact that God is with me.
Another inspiration is feedbacks from my teenagers and referrals from mentees. By referrals, I mean when people refer teenagers to us for mentoring due to what they’ve heard about us or what we have achieved.
– Nation Newspaper