Keeping up with BEMORE Girls in the COVID-19 Era By Arabinrin Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu
First Lady of Ondo state and Founder BEMORE Empowered Initiative
( A pep talk delivered on November 1, 2020)
Very recently, I came across a tweet by a popular Nigerian Twitter influencer called “Aproko Doctor” (@aproko_doctor) which read thus:
“Here is what I have noticed:
If you give an average poor mother extra income, she wants to better her kids.
Her second priority is her house.
Many poor men are different, when they get extra, they focus on themselves.
You cannot eliminate poverty if you don’t empower women”.
While this seemingly harmless thought-provoking tweet triggered many likes, comments and retweets on the bird app (twitter), I couldn’t help but ponder about more innovative ways I could continue to empower young girls educationally, socially, economically and politically. My mission is simple and clear: to engender self-awareness among women and girls and equip them to fight feminized poverty. For many who are familiar with my projects in Nigeria and Ondo state in particular, I believe the BEMORE empowered initiative easily resonates with the tweet above.
For the past 3 years, through my private Foundation, Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu Foundation (BAAF), we have strategically approached women empowerment by attempting to confront age-long patriarchy that limits the potentials of young girls to aspire in life and compete favourably with their male counterparts. The BEMORE methodology is strategic for so many reasons.
First, we take advantage of the young age of our girls. If you like, you could say we “catch them young”. At a younger age, girls compared to older women are more malleable such that it becomes easier to change unfavourable gender perceptions that relegate women to the background as mere second-class humans in almost every sphere of life. This is the only way we can foster a new era of gender equality and equity and ultimately combat feminized poverty.
Secondly, the BEMORE Academy is a school of life. Our girls receive training on many diverse life enhancing themes such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), health and environment, taekwondo (self-defence), and several entrepreneurial and vocational skills like bead making, shoe making, gele and make-over, tailoring and fashion designing, confectionary, and lots more. The STEM training focuses on basic renewable energy modules (solar panel construction and installation) and Information and communication technology (basic computer appreciation, coding, gaming, etc.).
Without mincing words, it has been a memorable and impactful 3 years journey (from 2017 to 2019) in the BEMORE Empowered Academy with wonderful testimonials from over 1000 graduates many of whom have now gone ahead to blaze the trail even in higher institutions of learning and where else they have found themselves. Every BEMORE girl leaves training camp with a brand new ideology and perspective to life as a girl child, and is now ready to confront and overcome societal limitations and leapfrog all gender related obstacles to the development of the girl child. This is the BEMORE legacy.
As I continue to reminisce our giant strides in the development of the girl child in Nigeria and juxtapose with the tweet from @aproko_doctor, it becomes clearer to me and indeed the BEMORE family that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic has temporarily halted our progress and taken us aback. Evidently, the fourth edition of the BEMORE empowered initiative Summer Boot camp could not hold this year due to lockdown restrictions imposed by the government following global recommendations to reduce spread of the virus. While I am very concerned and interested in the health and wellbeing of our girls (old and prospective), partners and facilitators, I also understand quite well, the need to keep up with the BEMORE girls in this COVID-19 era.
We have made enormous progress, so much that we cannot afford to lose track. I am convinced that the only way we can sustainably achieve women empowerment and combat feminized poverty in Nigeria is to continue to encourage and empower young girls educationally, socially, economically and politically. We must look forward towards a brighter post COVID-19 for our girls. The logic is simple and clear: women are natural caregivers and, when you train a girl you train a nation. As posited in my reference tweet, if a nation must defeat poverty, it must first defeat feminized poverty. Indeed, you cannot eliminate poverty if you don’t empower women.
Moving forward, I remain committed to the development of the girl child and no doubt the BEMORE empowered initiative will be back. Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, I had a virtual Zoom meeting with my girls sometime in May this year. I was elated to see my BEMORE girls share their COVID-19 lockdown experiences and what they had been doing in the face of the pandemic. It was inspiring to hear them talk about birthing amazing ideas impacting other girls and their communities. I can confidently tell you that I am proud of my girls. The Zoom meeting also afforded us the opportunity to educate the girls on COVID-19 safety precautions. We also extended a caring hand to the girls and their families by providing palliatives to cushion the economic hardships associated with the pandemic.
As I conclude, I want to thank all our partners, sponsors and facilitators for their efforts and commitment to empowering young girls. Thank you for identifying with the BEMORE vision and improving the quality of our work. To all my BEMORE girls spread across Nigeria, Grandma cannot wait to see you in the BEMORE Summer Boot Camp 2021.
Keep up the legacy and keep shinning the light.