Shirley Hills: There shouldn’t be feminism or masculinity if we can all be humans

Shirley Nkechinyere Hills

Sickle Cell Disorder survivor, Shirley Hills, is a multi-award winning serial entrepreneur. She is the Chief Executive Officer of a number of organisations including the prestigious Crustos Lifestyle Limited. In this chat, Hills shares her story and plans with KINGSLEY JEREMIAH, especially her health advocacy for Sickle Cell Disorder and related terminal health challenges in Nigeria. She also discussed her dreams, including plans to harness and celebrate the values in women and men, too.

Who is Shirley Hills?
Shirley Nkechinyere Hills is a young Nigerian Christian woman and mother from Enugu State – a passionate humanitarian who is concerned about the socio-economic wellbeing, emancipation and renaissance of women, girls, and young adults of the world. Being a dynamic, professional with a high knowledge and practical understanding of local and international consumer service business environments, she has become a privileged multi-award winning serial entrepreneur and now the CEO of Crustos Lifestyle Limited as a global concierge & lifestyle management specialist, and is referred to as “The Quintessential Lifestyle Connoisseur” serving a sterling list of discerning clientele within Nigeria and beyond. Shirley Hills is a Sickle Cell Warrior and runs a health advocacy for Sickle Cell Disorder (SCD) and related terminal health challenges through her foundation-the Shirley Hills Foundation. She is concerned about strategic revolutionary leadership through education, entrepreneurship, and empowerment, and is a passionate purpose-driven lifestyle encourager and mentor, empowerment speaker, and a stickler for excellence and positive social transformation.

How did you survive sickle cell disorder?
My survival of the Sickle Cell Disorder is an on-going one, as I battle with it everyday, because I still experience bouts of health crisis and attacks, although not so frequently anymore. Nonetheless, the victories have not been possible without God helping me overcome each episode at every point in time. Thankfully, my health is being maintained through God, a healthy diet, proper supplement intake, a regular exercise culture, prayers, routine health-checks, genuine love and care from family and friends, and stress-free living (which most times is inevitable, as I am always working). Nonetheless, I do hope that I can have a Bone-Marrow Transplant sometime in the very near future.

What informed your decision of running a sickle cell foundation?
It’s not exactly a Sickle Cell Foundation per se. What we are running through the Shirley Hills Foundation, is a humanitarian service; a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization that has been established since 2015 to bring hope and honour to our people and society respectively, by addressing global health and educational challenges through informed actions and collective commitments, because we know that education is the bedrock of any society, and physical wellbeing is priceless.

However, one of our signature health initiatives, the ‘Red Crystals Afrique Initiative’, was set up and is committed to promoting the awareness and advocacy for the prevention, control and management of the SCD in Africa, and provide support and succour to carriers of the trait, and sufferers of the disease respectively, through counseling, awareness outreaches, advocacy campaigns, educational programs, treatment, and research.

As an SCD Warrior (or survivor, as you may choose to call it), running the RedCrystals Afrique Initiative through my foundation is for me, a call-to-purpose. Having experienced first-hand the near-death encounters, stigma, rigours, pain, trauma and setbacks caused by the SCD, and the agony most families have to go through in caring for a sufferer or of losing a loved one (as has been my case), I decided to be a part of the solution-either in finding a cure, igniting awareness for prevention, or supporting sufferers in any capacity that I can, because I know what SCD is and is not. I am quite passionate about it, and hopeful that through combined efforts and commitments, my foundation, as well as other sister organisations and government agencies will work towards ensuring that by the year 2060, we can record a zero-level SCD prevalence in Africa.

You mentioned near-death encounters, stigma, trauma and so on. Can you share some of your low moments and how you overcame them?
I don’t quite like to share my low moments, but low moments are part of our existence, part of our story, and part of life. And for the purpose of inspiring someone else to overcome the same or similar challenges, I’ll share. At age 10, being a bubbly, brilliant little girl, I was kind of knocked down when I encountered my first SCD health attack and blood transfusion, which kept me in the hospital for six months and caused me to miss out on my academic activities as well as an entrance examination interview into secondary school at the time. Other ill-health episodes followed and set me back in many ways, as I was always told I was not ‘normal’, and couldn’t do what ‘normal’ people do and so on. By age 17, I had my first near-death encounter with the crisis. Surviving this episode gave me a purpose-consciousness – to live for others! I was just leaving secondary school at that time, but ever since then till date, I have been battling SCD with everything in me. There’s been stigma from society and even family relatives, as well as a bad traumatic experience I encountered from an abusive marriage, but no matter how mentally depressing and emotionally overwhelming all these negative experiences have been, I always overcome with God on my side. I have never allowed any of them deter me in life or kill my positivity. Rather, they spur me on and give me more momentum and motivation to carry on because I am mandated by a purpose that is designed and committed to help the people in my world, and emancipate them to fulfill their own purpose.

Statistics show that Nigeria has the highest number of sufferers of sickle cell disorder in the world. What is responsible for this, and what needs to change if we must clamp down the figure?
Sadly true! The cause is obvious though. Lack of knowledge, and or lack of the decency and discipline to adhere to knowledge that comes from the awareness that a man and woman who are both carriers of the SCD trait (HbAS) should avoid bearing children together, because the outcome of an HbSS offspring is inevitable. That’s it.

The high prevalence of Sickle Cell Disorder in Nigeria is firstly as a result of lack of compassion and love. If we love ourselves enough and care about the coming generation, we would be careful enough not to bring forth children to come and suffer SCD in this world. Secondly, another cause is lack of abundant awareness, especially at the grassroots level. Nigerians in rural communities are yet to get the awareness, knowledge and full grasp of the impediments and life-threatening damage caused by SCD.

The best way to clamp down this health nuisance is to be informed and then have the decency, decorum and discipline to avoid procreation between carriers of the trait. If we must clamp down the figure, we must come together as informed persons or organisations, and stand up to this ‘killer’ called Sickle Cell Disorder, through collective efforts, that’s all. If we are fully informed and aware of SCD and dread it like we do HIV/AIDS directly and indirectly, we would stand up and prevent it with all our elements.

Furthermore, for those already with HbSS, I would appeal to the Government at all levels, well-meaning philanthropic individuals, international health organizations and donor agencies, to make efforts to provide special healthcare services, funds & aids, and subsidized prices for supplements to reduce or curb totally the suffering rate of SCD Warriors…most of the supplements and haematinics I take to prevent SCD attacks and stay healthy, are very expensive. We would appreciate it if our government agencies can make these supplements affordable and assessable by all, especially to warriors in the rural areas.

What current programs are you running in this regard?
Personally, I have an online awareness campaign that I run through my social media platforms, and I also speak about it at every public speaking engagement that I feature in, as an inspirational story. Also, my organization hosts a friendly informal Sickle Cell Support program for SCD Warriors and Caregivers, and we also partner with other organizations during their awareness campaigns.

Additionally, I did mention that we have a signature initiative called the ‘RedCrystals Afrique’ Initiative for Sickle Cell Disorder, and as part of our effort to create more and more awareness, and also as a way to give back to my own rural community, the Shirley Hills Foundation will be embarking on a nationwide Grassroot KYG Awareness Campaign (Know Your Genotype) which we would be flagging off starting this September, to mark the Sickle Cell Awareness Month, and we would be kicking it off from my community in Udi Local Government area in Enugu State.This is not an exercise that we can handle alone, as such, we humbly call on the good and benevolent people of the public, government, and organisations, to stretch their arms of support to us.

From your recent public engagements and activities you’ve been supporting and creating platforms for women’s development and empowerment. What drives this passion?
I am concerned about the personal development and empowerment of all – whether children, youths, women, and men alike – because we all make up our society. However, my current activities through my organisation – the ELITE Women Network, that seems to have been centered around women, stems from a passion that’s geared towards the emancipation and empowerment of women, while engineering the renaissance of men. Our focus is actually on the men in our society, while our channel is through the women. You may ask how? I will explain.

It is true that for so long in the recent past, we have popularised words like “feminism” and little or nothing is being said or done about ‘masculinism’ for the most parts of the world. The word feminism in itself exists because for past centuries, there’s been an obvious gender-equality gap. This is because a certain gender has, and still feels marginalized, while the other gender claims it’s their world. My standpoint is that there should be no such thing as either feminism or masculinity if we can all be humans, respect and care for each other alike.

Considering women’s development and empowerment, my take is that women are so powerful and useful beyond measure…well, men too, and this is not from a feminist point of view. But let’s recall from the time of Creation how that during the existence of the first humans, the devil used the woman to lure the man to sin against God…this may not cut my illustration perfectly…so let’s fast-forward to the expectation of Christ, how that God used a woman to bring forth the Messiah to this world for the redemption of mankind. Now this is what informs what we do. If women and girls are properly encouraged, educated, and empowered, they would be able to impact positively in the society, raise productive and functional homes and families, and be equipped through capacity building and personal development programs to take on leadership positions that would in turn positively move our families, communities and nations to a glorious height without any gender-bias.

We want our men, women and the enlarged society to understand the value of every woman, regard it, and be better for doing so. We are not in any battle with the male gender…not at all. Women have long felt less protected by the men who were created to protect and nurture them, and so it seems we now want our own ‘freedom’, and as a result, it seems we are fighting to create our own territories and protect ourselves because the men don’t seem to be living up to ‘expectations’. Therefore, if empowering and equipping women will rub off on our male counterparts, thereby making them to rise up to their full potentials as men and live up their expectations, then we are glad to do so.

Tell us about your organisation and some of your current programs?
I have had the support and partnership of a friend and sister Mrs. Uyi Nicholas Odinuwe, as a Founding Partner. The organization is called the ELITE Women Development Network International® (simply called; Elite Women Network™), with Elite being an acronym for ‘Excellence, Leadership, Integrity, Transformation, & Empowerment’. We have been in existence since 2011 and officially registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria since January 2016 as a non-governmental organization. It is a faith-based, for-purpose, and pro-legacy network, set up for the renaissance of godly women pioneers and professionals in business, career and social enterprise. The Network is established to “Harness and Celebrate the Value in Every Woman”, while positioning the woman for a life of purpose, positive impact, and possibilities. It is a ‘Queen-Hive’ where women and girls are encouraged, empowered, and enthroned to put on their crown, and crown on, while rooting for the renaissance of men.

At ELITE Women Network, we believe in the power of collaboration over competition. As such, we strategically accommodate two types of women – ‘Aspiring’ women and ‘Achieving’ women – because we nurse the philosophy that the success story of an achieving woman is an inspiration for an aspiring woman. Whether it is through our mentorship, volunteerism, outreaches, workshops and conferences, all our signature programs, events and initiatives are tailored towards personal capacity development for women, girls, and men alike from all walks of life. Our membership is non-denominational, non-discriminatory, multi-disciplinary, global and void of racial, gender or ethnic bias.

In this article:
Shirley Nkechinyere Hills
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