“Experiencing poverty and hardship birthed in me the desire to help women” – Chinyere Anokwuru,
Says: “Growing Up I Never Had A Textbook Of My Own”
Founder of Self-worth Organization for Women Development, Mrs. Chinyere Anokwuru is a replica of a woman who has been through the vicissitudes of life she didn’t bargain for what life offered her. Having lost her mother at a tender age of 16 when she needed motherly direction and care, she was left to create her future all alone. She got into school with a resilient resolve to make something out of her life. She engaged in several petty businesses just to realize her dream of attending a university. She is a graduate of Lagos State University where she studied Microbiology. Chiyere is passionate about helping marginalized women and provide them with employment and decent jobs , thereby giving them a voice in the society.
I became responsible for myself from a very young age. I was born into a very poor family and getting three meals a day was not an easy task. My other siblings and I never had textbooks of our own. I always had to copy from my friends who could afford theirs. After the close of school each day, I would visit the houses of neighbors to wash their clothes, fetch water for them and generally run errands for them in exchange for food, their used clothes or little cash. So I grew up desiring a better life. I managed to sponsor myself through university by engaging in petty trading on campus. Getting a job became practically impossible. In order to survive the poverty, I became a road side telephone call operator and recharge card seller. Along the line, I lost a child because I could not afford N1, 500 for a hospital scan that would have detected the complications I had during pregnancy. I held on in faith and did not relent in praying to God. To cut a long story short, I overcame every of those challenges and began to live the life of my dreams. I recall making a vow to God, that if he helped me get over that difficult phase of my life, I would do my best to ensure that no woman or girl around me would go through life feeling helpless and vulnerable.
Passion for philanthropy
Like I said, I understand what poverty is. I have experienced what it means to go to bed not knowing where your next meal would come from. I know what it means to be threatened with a quit notice. I know what it means to be sent out of class for non-payment of school fees.
Therefore, immediately I found my feet, I knew I could not allow other women and girls go through the same thing, particularly the widows who have their children depending on them alone for their every need. These factors birthed in me the passion to do whatever I can for women and girls. I practically have to empty myself to do all that I do, but you see, what matters is the feeling of fulfillment; I can’t begin to describe the peace and joy that overwhelms me whenever I give of myself.
Empowering widows and girls
In order to effectively carry out my social responsibility, I founded Self-worth Organization For Women Development; a non- governmental organization that works with the rural and urban poor to alleviate the lowest form of poverty and create wealth through skills-acquisition, capacity building, leadership training, advocacy, gender mainstreaming and entrepreneurship training.
Our women empowerment project replaces aid with sustainable income and helps women to “graduate” from extreme poverty by giving them the tools they need to start small businesses in their communities. We implement a high-impact poverty graduation program for ultra-poor women. We help them acquire life skills. We fund them to start small businesses in their rural communities. With these, they can pay for food, school fees and medical care for their families. The organization has had significant success in developing a micro lending scheme that empowers women to break cycles of poverty and become financially independent. We have conducted several teen girls’ conferences and have empowered the girls with personal self-esteem kits. Many women have received generators, chillers, sewing machines, hair dryers, industrial stoves, etc to boost their businesses.
Decision to open a skills acquisition centre.
Having experienced extreme hardship and poverty, then losing a child due to the same poverty birthed in me the desire to experience a more fulfilling life for myself and for other women at the bottom of the pyramid. Our skills acquisition centre was developed in response to the need and demand for quality training by local women in undeserved communities who cannot afford the exorbitant fees charged at other high end specific training schools. We believe we can achieve this by empowering rural and urban slum women, with free professional training in different vocations as well as provide them with micro credit to help them buy their business support tools in order for them to start their businesses without delay, thereby breaking barriers in accessing finance for their business start up and ultimately breaking the cycle of poverty. We provide participants with high impact free training in different vocations such as Fashion and design, catering, makeup artistry and gele tying, computer technology, liquid soap production, Ankara craft and bead making. We take it a step further by giving them access to Micro credit specifically targeted for the purchase of their own trade tools like sewing machines, ovens, etc to enable them start up their sewing businesses upon completion of their training. Upon successful completion of the training program, participants will receive a certificate of completion.
Our training center boasts of modern equipment like the industrial sewing machines, stoning machines, regular sewing machines, a fully equipped make up studio, computer systems and modern catering unit. We focus more on practicals, than on theory. The trainers are professionals and are passionate about passing these skills on to the participants.
Why the Marginalized woman needs help
According to estimates, women represent 70 percent of the world’s poor. Women are at an economic disadvantage and are more likely to live in poverty than their male counterparts. Yet studies show that when women in developing nations get access to money, they use it very differently than men – often investing 90% to feed and educate their children and to improve conditions within their own communities .We recognize that violence against girls and women is directly linked to economic vulnerability. Many women depend on their husbands to provide their every need. To truly transform our current social paradigm, we must bring an end to the multiple and interconnected vulnerabilities that women experience. Our organisation invests in local women to help them acquire life skills and start up small businesses to help ease the conflict between work and family responsibilities – one of the many reasons for women’s economic inequality.
Opening more Skills Acquisition Centers across Nigeria
Yes. We hope to open more centres across Lagos State as well as in other states in Nigeria.We hope to have presence in 25 out of the 36 states in Nigeria by setting up professional skills acquisition centers, providing free vocational training and access to finance for at least 5000 poor women in each different state, to achieve this we will work with relevant stakeholders and partnering organizations. We strongly believe in the power of ripple effect, where each trained woman goes back to her home and community and in turn train her daughters and other women with the same skill she has been taught, thereby building stronger communities and driving socio-economic development.
Like every other humanitarian organization, our major challenge is funding. There are so many women and girls on our list waiting to receive aid. We do the much we can, but there is still a lot to be done. We are constrained by limited funds. We are thinking outside the box on how to establish social enterprises that will generate the needed support for our projects.
Tempted to give up?
I have never felt like throwing in the towel on this cause. No one forced me to do what I am doing. Nobody talked me into it. This is a cause that is very dear to my heart. I am very passionate about this. Therefore, there is no stopping me.
Testimonies of impact
Well, I have been blessed with a lot of testimonies from women who have benefitted from our empowerment projects. For me, this is the greatest reward. Seeing their confidence restored and their initial despondency turned into hope. No other reward beats this feeling of fulfillment. My joy cannot be quantified when I come across these women and they just run up to hug me. Another game changer for me was when I was appointed as Senior Special Assistant to the former governor of Lagos state for my efforts in alleviating poverty and empowering women in Lagos State.
Let nothing stop you. Lack of education, poor communication skills or your background should not prevent you from pursuing your dreams and excelling. This is not the time to wallow in self pity. Think outside your circumstances. All over the world, women are rising up and smashing glass ceilings. Your success depends on you and on the actions you take. Understand that chatting all day will not put money in your purse. Buying every Aso Ebi that they bring to you will drill more holes in your pockets faster than you can imagine. Who says you can’t go back to school? Who told you can’t learn a new skill even as a graduate? You can become whatever you want.
Being a woman of rubies
In addition to being a mother and home maker, i am also an author, inspirational speaker, empowerment expert as well as a business woman. I feel blessed knowing that my role as a key player in improving the socio-economic conditions of women and girls has been widely recognized. Today, you have nominated me as a woman of rubies and I am greatly honored. Thank you.