Building the Next Generation of Female Leaders: The Girl Child Education

Salutation……………
This is a great day for me, perhaps it is one of my best days in many years. To see longtime friends and classmates; it’s simply refreshing, I feel so good. I am glad we all made it to this Maiden Global Reunion of Egbu Girls Old Girls Association (EGOGA), an epoch-making event, indeed. Here we are, a mixed grill of generations, young and old, mothers and grandmothers. Together, regardless of who we are and where we live, we are here in ala-Egbu live! We have started ajourney of rebranding our dear alma mater that made each of us seated here today. And we are not going to back out. We are a great force that will surelycause a great change.
Few months ago when I saw pictures ofEgbu Girls Secondary School (EGSS) and the unacceptable level of dilapidation, I must confess that memories ran through my mind and I became so emotional even to the point of tears. I once again relived some of my moments as a very young student at Egbu Girls before the Nigeria-Biafra war, in the days of Miss Hubbard, our dear founding principal who we fondly called “Nda Hubbard” when girls were trained for knowledge, character, cleanliness, and talents groomed in music, arts and sports. For the juniors in classes 1 and 2, like me, we wont forget so quickly the scrubbing of the floors of dormitories, dinning halls and toilets. We hated being on the roster for toilets. Everybody loved seeing her name on kitchen roster because you would eat to the fullest and pack some food for your friends or “supe”. Before the war, students cooked for the school during weekends. Apart from saving some money for the school, I believe it was also part of training girls to be good home makers and managers.In those days, Egbu Girls was good in home economics with MrsOnonuju on my mind. We all looked forward to class 3 when we would escape those menial duties of scrubbing floors and fetching water from Otamiririver for the seniors or “mothers” as they were so referred. Unfortunately, our educational pursuit was truncated by the outbreak of the civil war that lasted almost three years. After the war, the devastation on humans and infrastructure including Egbugirls was obvious. Things have fallen apart! I eventually finished in 1972 withMrsKirkPatrickas the principal. With the take over of schools by government the decay progressed even faster until in recent times that the public out cry has forced government to have a rethink of returning schools to their previous owners having recognized the fact that government cannot do it alone. It is a matter of joy to note that Egbu Girls is back in the hands of the Anglican mission of Egbu diocese but in a terrible bad shape. The sorry state of Egbu Girls even under the management of the church led to a call to action for old girls to lend a helping hand to restore Egbu Girls to her past glory. Seeing all us gathered here today is an indicated that the call is being heeded. I appreciate you all!
I started this address with a preamble of my experience at Egbu Girls in the 60s and 70s. Those days, as my contemporaries here will agree, were full of struggles due to our humble beginnings and your being a girl even makes the struggle double. Most of us who attended secondary school back then was because of the family we had. Majority of us were children of headmasters, teachers and civil servants. They were products of colonial masters and had the advantage of being trained in teacher training colleges ran by white people and knew the role of education in climbing the social ladder and breaking the vicious circle of poverty. Remember, Nigeria was a new independent nation with majority still illiterates. Not much attention was paid to female education. Male children were the first to be considered for college. Female children were married off to get enough money for the training of their brothers.
Culturally, from time immemorial, girls have been lowly rated in status and subjugated to conform with the settings within their environment. As girls, we were expected not to speak in public; we must not aspire; we dare not dream; we cannot compete, we were good for marriage and sadly at early age. Some had questioned the benefit of female education reasoning that it would be a waste of money training a girl only for her to get married and answer somebody’s name. Our potentials were thought to be no potential at all. These debasing ideologies were well articulated in our cultural practices, which today I can confidently tell you are very wrong ideologies. The greatest error of mankind is the idea that men and women are not equal. In the face of this limiting patriarchal societal norm however, my father (of blessed memory)was a renown headmaster in many Anglican mission schools in Owerri diocese believed that women can and should fully participate in engineering the development of our beloved country, Nigeria. He never raised me and my sister Stellain the way society defined girls; instead he raised us as he was expected to raise boys. And here I am today, owing everything I have achieved and will continue to achieve to my beloved father, Chief B.U.B Anyanwu, the Enyioha 1 of Mbato community comprising Emeabiam, Eziobodo and Okolochi in Owerri West local government, Imo State.
Today I am living my father’s dream, I have dedicated my life to empowering the women folk simply because I understand that a prosperous woman equals a prosperous family and in turn a prosperous community. This ideology drives me and I believe it should drive every individual seeking a better world today. Although, the older generation of women may seem to have lost many years to silence and passiveness towards national development, I still believe it’s not too late for everyone to get involved in the noble cause of empowering the girl child. At least we can work in unison to get the next generation women, who are the girls of today, ready for a life full of innovation and impact. It is sad that up to this very moment we continue to hurt ourselves badly as a nation by not investing in the girl-child. An investment in the girl-child is not only an investment that secures our nation’s future but one that also transforms our present state. Young girls are vibrant and smart; they have potentials yearning for expression locked inside them. We will be astonished at what they can do if we support them in unlocking these potentials. Little wonder the saying that “when you train a girl, you train a nation”.
For me, I accepted the challenge and joined the cause of enhancing girl-child education more than a decade ago. It was a way of remembering the legacies of my father and also to continue his good work which made me who I am today. As some of you may already be aware, I am from Emeabiam in Owerri West Local Government Area of Imo State. Emeabiam is representative of a marginalized community with little or nothing to write about as far as infrastructural development is concerned; to the successive governments of Imo state we do not existbut I am hopeful that the narrative will change with the present government, sooner than later. This scenario is peculiar to many of our communities; and with limited family resources, if you have to choose who will be enrolled in school between a male and female child, the male child usually gets the upper hand. This was the situation in my days as a young girl and it was essentially what motivated me to begin in my own little way to changethe narrative starting with my community, Emeabiam.
In 2009, I founded my private Foundation, Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu Foundation (BAAF) which provided an avenue for me to impact primary school children in my community. We started small by ensuring every child knew how to read and write in English Language throughReading is Fun Project and subsequently spelling bee competitions were organised to promote interest in education in my community. When I became First Lady, it was indeed an opportunity to do more and of course, I took off like Tsunami!As part of my contribution in empowering the girl child, I have started several initiatives aimed at improving the well-beingof girls, and also offering them a platform to dream big and live their dreams.
In the last 3 years BAAF through one of its programs, the BEMORE Empowered Initiative has trained over 1000 girls on renewable energy technology, solarenergy to be precise and ICT. Some of the beneficiaries are from Imo State and are in our midst. Permit me to state here, without sounding immodest, that the BEMORE summer boot camp for girls is Nigeria’s largest girl focused STEM boot camp. We have given out over a thousand 1000 laptops to girls from humble backgrounds and have offered a life changing experience that will forever remain green in their memories. Some of the beneficiaries of the BEMORE programme have gone on to win awards both locally and internationally. ToluEhimosan, a BEMORE girl represented the BEMORE Empowered Initiative at the Global Energy Awards that held in Iran early this year. MarvelousJegede has also gone on to light up her home after many years of darkness. Team BELIEVE participated in the Technovation competition in Lagos organised by Silicon valley where they pitched with an app develop to facilitate birth registration in Nigeria. Although they did not make the cut, the exposure was invaluable which had upgraded their knowledge and positioned them for a better performance in subsequent contests in ICT. BEMORE girls are change agents, groomed to understand issues as they affect women. Many likeFunmilolaAkeremale, Kate Iheloghara and ChisomSylvia are dedicated young breast cancer advocates spreading the word that breast cancer does not kill if you do the right thing at the right time. Simply put that “ early detection saves lives”. The success of the BEMORE programme has shown how far the girl child can go if given just a little push. My girls have set the standard and have made a bold statement that they will not be pushed aside.
Let me also mention our effort in the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) space. The lack of WASH facilities in schools affects both boys and girls, but girls are affected more. Research has shown that girls skip schools more when they welcome their monthly visitor and are more prone to other environmental risks linked to open defecation. This is why for the past 3 years, BAAF has provided not less than 50 toilet units for schools both in Ondo and Imo States. I am glad to inform you all that Egbu Girls Secondary School is the most recent beneficiary of our WASH projects as we just recently built and commissioned 12 units WASH rooms and toilets in the school dormitories. Now, the girls need not go to the bush to defecate or skip classes during menstruation days as they can now comfortably observe menstrual hygiene.
Time will not permit me to mention many more of my initiatives geared towards empowering the girl child; However I believe that these few I have mentioned have set the ball rolling and put everyone here today in the mood of giving back because it is indeed “A TIME TO GIVE BACK”. I want to congratulate Egbu Girls Old Girls Association (EGOGA) for putting this event together and taking up the challenge of improving the poor state of infrastructure of our alma mater. This Global Reunion is the beginning of better days to come for EGSS. I am glad that the dormitories now have functional and neat toilets and bathrooms; there is however more to be done and all hands must be on deck. Let me also use this opportunity to solicit for the support of the Anglican Church and school management to ensure that all projects implemented by EGOGA are successful and sustained. To ensure the sustainability of allEGOGA projects, I propose that at least two EGOGA members, as a matter of urgency, be appointed as members of the governing board of management of Egbu Girls. There is need to work with the church to ensure that our labour of love is sustained and hopefully, generations of EGOGA will emulate what we did thus far in words and deeds in line with our alma mater motto “WITH LOVE SERVE ONE ANOTHER”. EGOGA has come to stay and I will use this opportunity to invite other old girls who are yet to identify with us to grab this opportunity. Indeed, there is no better service than the service to humanity.
Finally, as women, it is only natural for us to be more passionate about issues that concern girls and we have the ability to make more impact. We all have our individual stories, and mine will continue to be an inspiration to the younger generation. Once again, I want to congratulate EGOGA on the occasion of its MAIDEN GLOBAL REUNION and I look forward to working with the old girls to bring real change to EGSS and ultimately foster the education of the girl child in Imo State and entire Nigeria.

Thanks for listening.

Long Live EGOGA!
Long Live Egbu Girls Secondary School!!
Long Live Imo State!!!
Long Live Nigeria!!!!

Chief (Mrs) Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu
First Lady of Ondo State.