Ifeoma Theodore Jnr. E’s advocacy for the well-being of adolescents, teenagers and young adult is evident in the authoring of her book Trapped in Oblivion, a certified Literary reference in the “prevention and impact mitigation of the effect and lack of sex education, generally, starting from adolescents, teens and young adults.” The book which has recorded incredible milestones has been endorsed by the Nigerian Ministry of Education and is a useful resource in bringing to an end, the stigmatization of people living with HIV. On this month’s Impact and Community Series, we sit down with Ifeoma as she takes us on her journey as a Social Entrepreneur and Sex Education Advocate.
Hi Ifeoma, its such an honor to have you on Leading Ladies Africa. How would you describe Ifeoma Theodore?
A peaceful person who sees life as a gift that should be valued, and most importantly, enjoyed to the fullest.
You have an educational background in English and Literary Studies, did that in any way prepare you for what you are doing now?
No, my educational background didn’t in any way prepare me for the path I’ve taken. Rather, the society itself influenced my chosen path.
Your advocacy for sex education is very commendable. Would you say a combination of personal experiences and exposure fanned your interest for this path? Why sex education?
I believe the society as a whole has relegated the interest and well-being of adolescents, teens and young adults to the back burner, which is detrimental to the society and the lives of these young ones concerned. I decided to take the bull by the horns and address issues like Sex Education, Teen Pregnancy, Molestation, Cyber Bullying, STDS to enlighten everyone especially the younger generation.
Given the social terrain of the Nigerian community, how have you been able to effectively get word out there about sex education without disregarding cultural nuances?
It’s not been a breeze, but with the advent of technology, and the influence of social media, albeit sometimes negative, which our diverse cultures have somewhat accepted, it can’t be denied that some sort of balance has to be created between our social values, and the influence technology via social media has on the society. That’s what I have done with my books and road shows. This has been welcomed with positive feedback from those who have been opportuned to be a part of the movement.
What has been your greatest challenge so far in the course of your advocacy?
Getting the older generation like parents and guardians to understand and accept that it’s time we start educating the younger generation on sex education. Religious bodies and schools also have not helped in this aspect. Sex education should be addressed and taught in these places, especially as these bodies have a great influence and impact on the society.
And the memorable moments? Can you share 2 life defining moments birthed from what you are doing right now as an empowered woman championing this cause?
When my books, Trapped in Oblivion and My daughters and I, were approved by The Nigerian Ministry of Education, to be used as a text in schools. It felt good knowing that students would have the opportunity not only to read for tests and exams, but also to learn something that would influence their lives positively outside the school environment. The other defining moment, was when, after donating some copies of Trapped in Oblivion, to HIV positive youths in a health center, I got a call some weeks later by some of these youths, who told me that they were tired of hiding their status, and wanted to let the world know of their status. They told me how they were encouraged to do so after reading my book. This led to a short video which we made (now on YouTube), educating everyone on the importance of knowing their status, and the importance of not stigmatization HIV patients.
Let’s talk about your debut book: ‘Trapped in Oblivion? The book has done quite well and is a literary recommendation for secondary school students. Would you say its a culmination of things unsaid about the sexual mindset of Africans? More so, what is the inspiration behind the book and how have you been able to measure its impact?
Trapped in Oblivion, like I said earlier has been approved as a literary text by The Nigerian Ministry of Education to be used in schools. The book has been accepted because it bridges the gap of starting the initial conversation on sex education. The book lays the foundation for discussion, making it easier to engage in discussions, thereby reducing the discomfort though unnecessary, but brought about by our cultural backgrounds. I was disappointed by how ignorant the younger generation was about their well-being, when having discussions with them, and how parents and guardians would shy away from such discussions, leaving their wards to get information themselves whichever way they could. This inspired me to pen down the book, hoping it would bridge the gap, and get everyone engaged in these necessary discussions.
The impact is immeasurable, because everyday you get an email from a parent or a young adult on how your work has influenced their thought process positively, or a request by students that they’ve chosen you to speak in their schools because they feel you can relate to their struggles and their quest to know about transitioning to adulthood, you simply just flow with the tide, knowing that it is an ongoing course, because there will always be an adolescent or teen that will always need to be heard.
In the course of your several road shows in schools across the nation, and interaction with students- females especially, what would you say is the greatest challenge of the girl child and in what specific ways would you advise she goes about dealing with this challenges?
The greatest challenge of the girl child is not knowing and understanding that she is already empowered from the day she was birthed, as against what the belief is, that, you have fight to be empowered. You can’t fight for what you were born with. As soon as they know it’s in them, they begin from the very onset to understand that every other thing they achieve in life, is to complement and add to what they have always had. She has to accept and understand who she is, not just by her gender, but by her name. As soon as she starts seeing people not as genders, or stereotypes attributed to genders, but their names as beings, she becomes limitless in the course of achieving her life’s purpose. That is the most important hurdle for any girl child to cross, every other thing would simply fall in line.
Mentorship definitely makes the journey a whole lot easier. Can you share briefly, some women you consider mentors?
Every woman is a mentor. Stay at home mothers, who sacrifice a lot to organize the running of their homes, working mothers who have to go out there to earn a living, food peddlers in the market who have to stay under the scorching sun to put food on the table, teachers who we have to entrust our children with, domestic helps who help us reduce our already occupied workload. The list is endless. For me, everyone of these women make a great impact o how I see the world.
Let’s talk about your personal life and family for a bit. Would you say your advocacy has helped you become a better parent? If yes, how?
I think it has just made me a better being. Once you’re a ‘human’ being, you become a better person, not limited to a collective noun.
Do you have a life philosophy, personal mantra perhaps that keeps you steady when the going gets tough?
When you feel overwhelmed, try singing and dancing. It helps all the time.
What is your advice to fellow sex educators out there?
It’s more important to listen to enable a better understanding . You can go a long way in helping and educating, if you just listen, and not be judgmental, irrespective of what you hear.
So, what are your projections for the next 5 years?
Nothing is more important than staying alive. Once you’re alive, a lot can be done. My projection is to be alive by God’s grace.
A word of advice for women going through abuse in whatever form?
Please get some help from someone or organizations you could rely on. There are people ready and waiting to support you, get to them.
The LLA Impact and Community Series is a monthly interview series that highlights the achievements and journies of African women who have demonstrated exemplary initiative at the grassroots level.
The vision is to showcase the Leading Ladies who are transforming Africa and the African narrative and impacting lives at the community level.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes leadership, inclusion and diversity for women of African descent.
If you know any kick-ass women of African Descent doing phenomenal things at the grassroots level, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and she could possibly be featured.