Person of influence- Meet Olorunfunmi Adebajo
We are honoured to have Olorunfunmi Adebajo on this second edition of Reach and Inspire magazine. Funmi is the director of Kindle Africa Empowerment initiative, a development organisation dedicated to improving socio-economic conditions of vulnerable women and children across Africa. I first came across Funmi on social media and was (and still am) really inspired by her dedication to empowering women and children from less-privileged backgrounds. This is what the ‘Person of Influence’ feature is all about. Funmi's outlook on life is that people can achieve great things given the right opportunities.
(p.s. If you're wondering about the picture above, follow Funmi's facebook page to get more insight into this amazing woman!)
Enjoy the interview!
Reach and Inspire magazine: Funmi (I hope we can call you that), it’s great to have you on this edition of ‘Reach and Inspire Magazine’. Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about you. What does the name ‘Olorunfunmi’ mean?
Funmi: Yes, you can call me Funmi. I know it’s a long name! Olorunfunmi is a Yoruba name which means “God gave (her to) me”
Reach and Inspire magazine: What is the Kindle Africa Empowerment Initiative and what inspired you to start it?
Funmi: Kindle Africa Empowerment Initiative is a social development organisation aimed at improving the lives of women and children in urban slums through the provision of education. I had organised a Christmas outreach in Ajegunle (Lagos) and I saw the level of poverty there. A woman and seven children in a room without windows, electricity or a mattress, another room with a very big hole in the roof and I was looking straight in the sky from inside the room, a woman almost kneeling to thank me for giving her a small lamp. What hit me most was when someone said one cup of rice and 50 naira crayfish will be good enough for a Christmas meal for the entire family. I thought deeply about the poverty I saw and the things we took for granted and thought to do something about it. A year after the Ajegunle Christmas outreach, I lost my job. That was just the perfect opportunity to start. I didn’t think twice, I started it.
Reach and Inspire magazine: What are your dreams for the organisation?
Funmi: The name Kindle Africa already speaks of the dreams for the organisation. We’ve already started a fire, the dream is to eradicate poverty by spreading the gospel of formal and non-formal education for vulnerable women and children across the African continent.
Reach and Inspire magazine: ‘That girls across Nigeria will say to me, ''because of you, we finished school’’’. I read this on your Facebook page. Why is the education of girls so important to you?
Funmi: There are three major reasons for this. In my work with people living in extreme poverty, I have witnessed first-hand the effect of poverty on women. Uneducated and unskilled young girls grow into subdued and vulnerable women who see themselves as someone’s property rather than individuals; they often endure violence because of financial dependence. It’s a very terrible place to be. Educated girls have more opportunities to escape poverty and live better lives, transform their communities and send their own children to school. Also, according to UNICEF, Nigeria accounts for the world’s highest population of out-of-school children. I think that providing education for girls / women is a sustainable approach to reducing the number of uneducated children in our communities. Reports show that educated women often go the extra mile to ensure that their children are more educated than they are. Because women are often more involved in taking care of children, providing education for girls will eventually translate to increased enrolment and retention rates. Finally, I made several wrong decisions as a result of not having someone to guide me. I believe that when I share my stories and provide as much academic support as I can, there is strength available to young girls to be better than I am or greater than I hope to be.
Reach and Inspire magazine: What are some of the challenges you face running an NGO in a country like Nigeria?
Funmi: People often assume that you must have a stash of cash somewhere to dole out or that running an NGO is not ‘real work’ and that doing humanitarian work is for elderly people who have big money and want to preserve their name.
Reach and Inspire magazine: You were one of the Mandela Washington fellows in 2016. How did that come about and how was the experience for you?
Funmi: A Facebook friend sent the application link to me but I wasn’t keen on it because I was going through a lot in my life at that time. She was persistent and think I submitted on the last day. After submission, it dawned on me that it could be the big break I needed. In fact in 2016, it was the only thing I was looking forward to, I am grateful to God that out of over 15,000 applications, I was selected as one of the 100 finalists that qualified from Nigeria. It was an awesome experience that afforded me an opportunity to school in the United States for six weeks. In those six weeks, I met 49 people from different sub Saharan countries in Africa. I also have contacts and connection with over 2,000 young leaders across Africa. I can say I have a friend in almost every African country. With just one email, I can pack my bags and go visiting any of those amazing people. To cap it all off, I sat just 6 seats away from President Barack Obama! Listening to him, seeing him in person was a major highlight of the Mandela Washington fellowship experience. My take away from the fellowship was relating with persons living with disabilities. I became friends with a girl who was blind and learnt how to walk her, my roommate was on a wheel chair and I learnt patience. I also have a couple of friends with speech and hearing impediments. I’m glad I was exposed to their world.
Reach and Inspire magazine: On a personal note, what motivates you to do the work you do for women day after day, even when you sometimes don’t see the results straight away?
Funmi: I feel indebted to humanity. It’s crazy, I know. I love to see transformations in people’s lives. Most of my women didn’t value themselves and thought their purpose in life was to nurture children and wash plates. I wrote a curriculum but I had to translate to pidgin and Yoruba languages so that language would not be a barrier and I would be able to reach their core. Through mentoring, storytelling, and skill acquisition, I have been able to let them see that they are valuable and that they are good enough to earn income on their own, contribute to societal development while taking responsibilities in the home. Most of the transformation has been in the mind, they now make their hair look good, they now know that boys and girls should not be treated differently and they want to start small businesses. It’s a gradual change but we are getting good feedback.
Reach and Inspire magazine: On this edition of Reach and Inspire Magazine, we’re talking about identity. How would you describe your identity?
Funmi: I’d describe myself as a lighthouse. I detest limitations or confinement. I believe in my ability to influence the world positively. I don’t give up. I’m crazy, humorous and always the life of the party. I’m led by the spirit of God and exercise my freedom within what God allows me to do.
Reach and Inspire magazine: How does your work with women help them recognise or discover their true identities?
Funmi: Through re-orientation I help them realise that they do not have to live within the confinement of society’s definition of who they are. I let them know through our self awareness classes that each individual is different in her own way and that they all have something to offer.
Reach and Inspire magazine: How can our readers support the work of the Kindle Africa Empowerment Initiative?
Funmi: We provide 2 services – education and welfare, for 2 sets of people – women and children. We need big schools to partner with us to improve the educational quality of the low-income schools we partner with. Such big schools can provide us with used furniture, computers, learning aids, toys and other educational items that can improve the slum schools. Most importantly, we need these big schools to help with teacher training for the teachers in our slum schools. Most of them are paid poorly and do not have access to continuous teacher development. Also, with the sum of N30,000,a child living in the slum can have education for a whole year. That sum includes school fees, uniforms, bag, sandals and some text books. We need volunteer teachers for primary schools and also for the women’s classes (to train any type of skill acquisition that the women can make money from). We are trying to build a toilet in one of our schools and we need funds for that. Kindly check out www.kindleafrica.org for more of what we do. Kindly donate to 0076461719, Kindle Africa Empowerment Initiative- Diamond Bank or contact us on Instagram @kindleafrica.
Reach and Inspire magazine: Lastly, how does your faith impact what you do on a daily basis?
Funmi: I am a Christian. It’s difficult doing the kind of work I do mostly because there are few people that have walked my path. But by the Spirit of God I have been able to achieve what I’ve done. I don’t get overwhelmed because the Bible says “the poor you will always have in your midst”, and I know I cannot save the whole world. But daily, I trust God for strength and for wisdom. He has helped me thus far.
We were blown away by this interview with Funmi Adebajo, and hope you loved it too. Since the interview, Funmi has launched the Center for Women's Integrated Education. For more information, please visit www.kindleafrica.org.