By Mary Agidi

Educate a woman, you train a nation. Unarguably, the most valuable and result-oriented investment that can be made is to invest in human beings. Every right-thinking individual would appreciate it better if a benefactor teaches him/her how to fish than to be given a fish.

African women were being incapacitated to actualize their dreams and to attain their maximum potentials; they were being limited to certain responsibilities as a result of gender-disparity due to how the society was structured on old traditional beliefs and norms. African women were being treated as second hand citizens, to the extent that before the advent of the colonial masters, even early post-colonial era, they were denied access to formal education, and were rather subjected to early marriages.

The year-long yearning of the wife of Ondo State governor, Mrs. Betty Anyanwu Akeredolu, being a gender activist, to change the narrative about womanhood was what birthed the BEMORE Summer Bootcamp for girls’ naija initiative. Less than six months of her assumption into the office of the First Lady in 2017, Mrs. Akeredolu launched the BEMORE programme.

Through this BEMORE Empowered initiative, Mrs. Akeredolu tends to correct the impression that women were just created for the purpose of child-bearing and to cook for the family.

Before now, no one could believe that a woman would be able to build and install solar energy panel, because it was assumed to be a male’s job. But Mrs. Akeredolu proves it wrong as the BEMORE girls were committed to the training on renewable solar energy generation. The ASHDAM Solar group, one of the BEMORE technical partners took up the responsibility of training the girls on solar management.

With the inclusion of the 250 girls who attended 2019 class of BEMORE Summer Bootcamp, which was the third edition, the total number of Nigerian girls who had been trained through the initiative has risen to 1000. This signifies that we are creating a society that would be dominated by vibrant, outstanding and selfless women; who have acquired confidence to stand before Kings and defend the interest of womanhood. It means that the generation of courageous female politicians, who would correct the perception that women in politics are promiscuous, has been raised.

The girls, who mounted desktop computer each, were committed to thorough training on Information and Communication Technology, ICT, facilitated by the SeedDev group.

Aside the skills acquisition training, the BEMORE girls were also taught moral lessons, fitness and menstrual hygiene, and nutrition. Mrs. Akeredolu gave them stern warning against early marriage. She emphasized the need for girl-child education in order for them to actualize their dreams in life. She told them, “All of you must go to the University, nothing like marriage for now”.

To further prevent them against early marriage which may occur from an incidence of rape, Mrs. Akeredolu introduced Taekwondo training to the Summer Bootcamp to serve as self-defense against rapist.

Mrs. Akeredolu who was not left behind in the early morning exercise, also served as a Yoga instructor; she led the girls in Yoga exercise and also dined with them in order to ensure they were fed with nourishing meals.

Furthermore, about menstrual hygiene, it was reported that higher percentage of Nigerian girls couldn’t afford menstrual sanitary pad as many of them make use of pieces of rag, tissue paper, etc. Meanwhile, unhealthy menstrual practice has been identified as one of the causes of reproductive infections, which can subsequently lead to infertility. To ensure that these girls maintain healthy menstrual practice, the service of a public health instructor, and Child Advocate, Lolo Cynthia was engaged to train them on how to make reusable clothes sanitary pad.

According to Mrs. Akeredolu, the two weeks BEMORE Bootcamp is a University of life where young girls are groomed to become self-reliant, and where talents are discovered. This assertion is not far from the truth; the 2019 BEMORE edition featured Talents discovery, there was a music class, where those with dancing skill were discovered, while they composed songs which they presented during the closing ceremony programme.

Mrs. Akeredolu who also learned how to play Violin musical instrument at the camp, affirmed that there would be BEMORE Orchestra group in the nearest future.
No single day went by at the Bootcamp that these girls didn’t acquire new knowledge. They have been empowered with entrepreneurial skills ranging from, artworks, shoe making, tying of Gele, bead, making of disinfectant and liquid soap, among others. Some of the products they made were exhibited on the day of closing ceremony.

Even, medical experts both in Nigeria, and Germany took the girls on a lecture relating to HIV/AIDS and on how to prevent against infections. They later had the HIV test and all tested negative.

While declaring the 2019 edition opened at the Public Service Training Institute, PSTI, Ilara-Mokin, Mrs. Akeredolu said “For two years we have trained 750 girls, 750 girls that will change the narrative of the girl child; that will bring that balance to the gender world; that will ensure that no girl is looked down on again because girls do amazing things. We are here today to welcome another 250 girls who will join their compatriots already on the battle field, fighting for the cause of women, showing to the world that women can be more than what the society say they are”.

Giving her closing remarks, Mrs. Akeredolu affirmed that the BEMORE girls were now new breeds of selfless women without greed, who had been empowered to change the society positively, especially the presupposition about womanhood in Nigerian society.

Her affirmation that BEMORE Empowered initiative is a world of endless opportunities and a ground for grooming talents was evident in the testimonies of some of the new girls, aside the evidence-based testimonies of the returnees who had represented the state in Solar energy competitions in Nigeria and abroad.

One of the BEMORE ambassadors, a returnee at the 2019 edition, Akinola Barakat who emerged as the best student in solar class was given a solar energy panel, solar Air Conditioner bulb and fan by the ASHDAM solar company.

In an interview with this writer, Barakat described the opportunity as a rare one, her experiences as wonderful, and the training very impactful.

Sharing her experiences, she said: “In the aspect of solar aspect, we learnt about renewable energy, climate change, and how we can introduce the renewable energy to affect our society and bring solution to the problem of climate change.

“Her Excellency is also trying to bridge a gap whereby females can also have a voice in the society. So this BEMORE foundation is a voice to the girls to BE MORE, and so far it has really been a great one”, she said.

Barakat who affirmed that she can now install solar panel successfully, lauded Mrs. Akeredolu for the opportunity and referred to her as a mentor and good mother.

Mrs. Akeredolu therefore, charged them to go out there and make impact, by putting into practice, all what they learned at the two weeks training camp. She encouraged them not to give room for intimidation, saying, definitely we are in a male-dominated environment where men would want only their voices to be heard, but they shouldn’t agree to be silenced if they are really determined to bring positive change to their environment.

Stakeholders at the closing ceremony of the 2019 edition were astounded while watching the excellent performance of the girls. The 250 BEMORE girls showcased to the guests all the skills they acquired, and some of them were rewarded financial-wise.

Some guests at the closing ceremony, after witnessing what the girls have really become, recommended that the initiative be sustained beyond the tenure of the current administration in the state.

The Director of the National Institute of Transformation, Prof. Vincent Anigbogu, who was the chairman of the closing ceremony acknowledged the effort of Mrs. Akeredolu for building a legacy that would be beneficial to not only Ondo State, but Nigeria as a whole.

Anigbogu who was represented by Prince Tunde Akindele noted that if so many Nigerians are passionate to effect positive change through innovative programmes like Mrs. Akeredolu, we would have had a country to be proud of as ours.

The BEMORE girls went home with Laptop computer each, and a certificate of participation.

The initiative has really spread its tentacles beyond Ondo state, as girls from other states of the federation enrolled for this year’s edition while some stakeholders who witnessed the closing ceremony had promised to sponsor a certain number of girls comes 2020 edition.