Impact, we say begins from home, such is the case with Stella Olusami, Founder, The Stella Ihwechi Foundation, a non-profit that is focused on transforming the lives of street youths that live in the slums or remote areas. Over time, the Ihwechi Foundation has fiercely conducted health tests, carried out enlightenment sessions on wealth creation and provided a platform for mentorship for these youths. In a society where such issues are neglected or with little or no funding, Stella is defying all odds and saying Yes to community impact.
Tell us, who is Stella Olusami?
Stella Olusami is a mother, wife and a career woman. She is the Founder of the Stella Ihwechi Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organization that focuses on the growth and development of the disadvantaged youths (referred to as Area Girls & Boys) in our society. She has worked with different development agencies with focus on conflict management. She assisted and facilitated the management of several conflicts in the Niger Delta region before setting up the Stella Ihwechi Foundation.
You have extensive experience as a Conflict Mediator, tell us about this?
For over 10 years I worked with several organisations and the government to manage the Niger Delta Crisis, which extended to the youth groups, security agencies, Ministry of Community Affairs, and the women groups. During the course of my job as a conflict manager and mediator, I was exposed to the poor living standard of the people living in the villages and creeks and that ignited a passion in me to contribute and advocate for these disadvantaged people so they can live a better life. However, marriage moved me to Lagos where I also realized that there are several disadvantaged youths lurking on every corner. This became a thing of concern for me and that led to the setting up of the Stella Ihwechi Foundation with the sole purpose of rehabilitating and integrating them back to the society.
Your Foundation helps boys and girls that live in the streets, tell us the highlight of the initiative so far and how measurable has the impact been?
My experience as a conflict manager / mediator in the Niger-Delta exposed me to a lot about this so called street boys and girls. Growing up, most of them didn’t have a smooth drive in life due to one situation or another. Some are orphans condemned to the streets. Some are from broken homes or polygamous family. Some are from very poor homes where they have to fend for themselves and learn to survive. Some migrated from another State to where they are, seeking greener pasture. So they lack proper upbringing and lived with wrong orientation. You will agree with me that they will or are constituting what the society call ‘menace’ which we cannot really blame them for. So, at the foundation, we work with the mindset: when street youths are approached and treated differently, rehabilitated and empowered, they will become better persons.
With the Stella Ihwechi Foundation, we have been able to approach and positively influence some of the street girls and boys. Our last project took us to the slum in Ajah axis in Lagos metropolis. We provided them with healthcare service and provided them with counselling sessions. We hope to take them through series of rehabilitation programs, empower them to start small businesses or get jobs and then teach them precept by precept how to become better citizens of our country. However, we need help as we can’t do it alone.
What has been your greatest challenge in the course of running your foundation so far?
Our major challenge has been funding. I will like to admit that our Foundation has been finding it difficult to access financial support from corporate organisations and individuals to carry out major programs for the organization and also building human capital for the organization in terms of staffing and more conducive operating space as against what we presently have. So, this medium provides a platform to appeal to corporate organisations and individuals to support our course of rehabilitating the areas boys & Girls. If changed, we will have no reason to be afraid of being in traffic at night, thinking someone will break the side windshield and point a gun at us.
At some point you flagged off a project that had to do with conducting health related tests, tell us how you were able to do this?
Yes, the Stella Ihwechi Foundation went to the den of this areas boys and girls to conduct a health test. We also carried out health test for those living in the slum who are patronised by the well-educated folks to work for them as cleaners, errand boy or girl, public transporters. Some work in restaurants, night clubs and bars. So if they happen to be disregarded health wise, I believe the community is in great danger. It was indeed a task that the organization didn’t just venture into but took proper study and research before carrying out.
Firstly, we went to the slum to pre-inform the people about the medical test, which they found very interesting. Secondly, the consent form they signed was read and explained to them before the test was carried. We always endeavour to schedule our programs in three phases (The Orientation, The Screening Session and the Talent Session) so we can captivate and capture them. The orientation session is when the facilitators start the program with an energizer to light up the place before passing the information to the recipients with common street language—pidgins—that is best known to the recipients.
The second phase is the screening session where the screening test was carried out on the recipients- the area boys and girls and the very poor in the slum. The last phase is the Talent Session. This happened to be the session where different youths with talents ranging from music to comedy took the centre stage for the fun of entertainment and to identify with what they truly want for themselves.
Finally, the awareness of the healthcare service rendered was taught by medical practitioners willing to support the course.
In our social clime, it is a bit uncommon to find anyone interested in alleviating poverty selflessly and caring about the health of residents in remote areas, what inspires you? And what do you hope to achieve?
Maybe it was the pain and feeling of abandonment I felt as a child. My father was a drunk and returned home, almost every day drunk. I watched how my mother cried several times and how his drinking habit didn’t allow us to get the best of him. Maybe it was from the job I took working with young girls and boys who lived away from their parents love and attention. Whatever it is, it led me in this direction. I believe these disadvantaged ones sometimes feel abandoned and need someone to talk. They need someone to educate them. The girl child in the slums, ghettos and villages need someone to help them express themselves and carry themselves in a dignifying manner.
Let’s talk about your 5 year plan for the foundation and how do you hope to actual use these plans.
In the next five years, we hope to have located all the slums and ghettos around us and sensitized them on the need for a healthy plan for their lives. We also hope to partner with schools, institutions to educate those who have indicated their interest in going back to school. We also hope to help them find a career path that they have chosen. On achieving these plans, we hope to partner with organisations to bring this to fruition.
Let’s talk about mentoring, do you believe it is important? Can you name some mentors that have helped you over the years.
Oh yes, I do believe in mentorship! I have a lot of mentors but one does resonate in me whenever I hear of her. She is a good mentor and she happens to be my former boss—Dr Judith Asuni. She is not just my boss, she is also a mother. Well the list of having a good mentor can be endless because we grow every passing day and we learn new things every day. I still look forward to adding more mentors to my endless list of mentors. This time, I need good mentors from the Non-Governmental Sector.
Any words of advice to youths out there with a similar advocacy?
Your assignment is your story and struggle. Learn all you need to learn before rushing out. Don’t bother about what you look like from the outside; look inside of you. The greatest strength you have is what you are meant to solve and someone is waiting for it. Don’t waste your opportunity, implement them!
The LLA Grassroot Series is a monthly interview series that highlights the achievements and journey of African female 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 through impact 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.