Abiola Dejo-Richards is a very simple person. What you see is what you get. She has the strength of character and can carry her own. She is not afraid of not being part of a large crowd. She’s a happy person, love to smile, easy going, friendly and warm. She’s also a giver and compassionate. “It hurts when I see children suffer and in need of basic care and love. Abuse on children of any form literally breaks my heart, it brings out frustration and helplessness in me“. A single mother of three kids, whose career as a specialized nurse (for toddlers) has seen her developed passion for kids (and by extension kids with disabilities). V4S Has given her structure and enabled her to channel her natural God-given talents to good use. This she says has come with a good sense and drive of purpose. “I feel I am a new creation and living a life of purpose and making a lasting impact for generations to generations in my lifetime. I feel fulfilled for the first time in my life. “I now understand my several attempts in failed relationships was all because I was missing my purpose as I did not channel my passion in the right direction. My life has a focus now, it is purpose-driven. I have found my ministry. My ministry is to give voice to the voiceless and give liberty and hope for a desirable life to young girls and children and Humanity as a whole” says the lady in her 40s. Ediale Kingsley writes.
What motivated you to start the V4SISTAHS NGO here in Nigeria?
What motivated me to start V4S? The birth of V4S is a journey, a personal journey and testimony of my life. As a woman in her 20s and 30s, I had no clue of who I was and I struggled with being me and expressing myself as a woman. I did not know who I was before I contemplated relationship so I just followed who they wanted me to be. I lost a lot of myself growing up in relationships. I suffered a lot of pain, fear, hurt and rejection and they were all bottled up I had no support system I could trust. I had no mentor no sisterly friendship I could genuinely trust. I was lost with my own thoughts and just learned from experience and mistakes. Learning I did, and to God be the glory it has made me who I am. I am ever thankful for the pruning.
My personal life experience has helped me tremendously to be focused and keep it real, I know who I am very well and I am contented with ‘her’ and ready to allow people to see the real me. Can a light be hidden? Trials and challenges almost derailed my purpose. I was consumed by my single parental status and wanted desperately to prove to people I was a good woman and wanted to be married at all cost. It took me to reach rock bottom of confusion and focus-lacking. Seeing my life dwindling, unfulfilled and hiring a Thought Coach to transform my life 360 degrees. It was a light bulb moment and I found ADR and fell in love with this amazing strong loving passionate woman I became. I married young, and got divorced by 28 with 2 young children. I had no clue about marriage or living with a man. However, I found motherhood very rewarding and loved being a mummy.
Motherhood was one thing I really loved and found easy. I was a victim of both emotional and physical abuse in my marriage and was very miserable and unhappy. My ex-husband could not love me. However, despite having no clue in marriage, one thing I could not trade was my happiness. I knew if I did not leave, the hatred for him will either kill me or him as I was slowly losing myself. I was strong even though I had no one to really tell me what to do I took my life in my hands and decided I had to leave, looking at it now I was extremely brave to go through it all alone. Not minding the stigma and the unspoken gossips behind me. All I knew was, I wasn’t bringing the children into that dark environment, which would amount to failing them as a mother. My kids deserve stability and consistency and a worthy role model of how to behave. I knew the environment was toxic for both me and the kids. One of the best decisions I ever made was leaving my abusive marriage and going through it alone.
What is the motto for V4SISTAHS?
Voice4Sistahs is all about sisterhood friendship and having a SAFE place to be you and empowerment of YOUR thinking. V4S represents all women. We all have a story to tell. We all have hidden scars whether married or single it is irrelevant. I never had a big sister mentor or guide growing up so I wanted v4s to, first of all, revolve around building the friendship with women.Then we then go deeper and focus on women who are survivors of Domestic Abuse who need emotional, practical, financial support in the foundation and build them up.These 3 three key components mentioned are important in survivor’s rehabilitation after abuse: Battered women need skills acquisition, trade, job, entrepreneurship followed by emotional succour through women network, sisterhood and friendship. Women need an outlet to express their self through art, drama, creativity and a foundation for women’s voices to be heard: a place to build self-love, self-esteem and self-worth.
You lived in Nigeria and also in the UK. Whose styles of living do you like the most? And why?
Why Nigeria? I have always wanted a connection with Nigeria after living abroad for so long and to make me come home regularly and be connected to my people. I have a lot of experience through my nursing career and personal development and my passion with working with people is what I do best and I wanted to be part of the change and have a global impact on women’s issues and rights for a better life for women and their children. No place like home, I am proudly Naija anytime and time to serve my people. I want to lead by example. Giving and loving is selfless.
Nigeria is facing an identity crisis with regards to women challenges and issues of Domestic Violence and a radical approach is warranted ASAP. Tackling domestic violence in Nigeria is a work in progress and what is on the ground is a public health issue, as lives are being lost every week. We need a governmental campaign on TV, radio and billboard to spell it out, saying NO to all forms of Domestic Violence. What is on ground is not good enough; I feel the government is too far from the grassroots women and children who are suffering from the impact of DV. Lives are cut short due to killings and injuries. Generations destroyed, leaving a traumatic legacy for our children. We need to act and give our children a better outcome in life.
My passion for my native country is still very strong and I understand the struggles of the voiceless woman as I can empathize and put myself in her shoes. The only difference is I have had the privilege to live abroad be self-sufficient and have a voice after all these years of silence.
Silent because I was afraid of being vulnerable of letting people or sharing about my challenges openly. My personal life has brought a lot of challenges, a lot of heartache and rejection. All I wanted was just to be happily married and just be a dutiful wife. I just couldn’t get it any matter how hard tried. I was looking at all the wrong places, taking on board a lot of compromises because I felt I deserved 2nd best due to a failed marriage and relationships. But I wanted better I wanted to fulfill my purpose and voice 4 sistahs have given me another lease of life and a fulfilled life. I am being me, and me is just enough.
The motto for voices4sistahs is scars don’t make us, speak out.
Our scar, our pain, our past does not define us and we should speak out and share our stories to encourage women and give an informed information on how to bounce back from domestic violence and sustain a desirable life for you and your children. We are not defined by our abuse or title; we are defined by our impact on society.
UK- I have lived more than half of my life in UK. Over 25years, so the British way of living has been my environment and a way of life with a mix of my naija upbringing I speak my native language very well and attend a Nigeria church so I am still influenced by Nigerians too. I grew up here. Studied here, had my children and all my life changing experiences has been in up. I grew up in the UK all my survivor skills and life skills were learned and developed here. Nigeria was idyllic and safe and cushioned I was isolated and protected. The UK was a land for surviving. Uk obviously for the freedom and liberty we enjoy and even though our culture is still part of our lives a good balance is achieved.
How much support did you get?
Support has grown from far beyond the initial zero. This time last year I had no presence on Facebook any activity. I did not know how to use Facebook for making a name or advocating for your passion. I have had to learn everything from scratch. I was blessed to have people who guided me with ideas and suggestion, and good friendship on social media. It really can only be God. 98 percent of my supporters and followers, I met online. It has been a humbling experience for people to see my passion and drive through Facebook. I am just a simple girl with a big heart that wants to touch and make an impact on lives. I want to see battered women smile and give hope with a promise of a better life.
Do you think media can act as a tool for gender equality?
The media is a powerful tool and provide a source of all forms. However, we need to think outside of the box and be creative and present it in the 21st-century format and start from the schools. Personally, I prefer the creative angle instead of protest and marching with shouting slogans. Songs, drama, poetry and merchandise. Yes, media is a powerful tool to pass across the message of gender equality. Social media is powerful it gives us the presence and networking to start a platform of awareness. However, we need to be mindful and know the core people we need to take our message to her grassroots women and girls who are not on social media and have no clue there is another world of freedom and hope. Creating awareness through jingles, drama, creative writing, art, poem and music are useful tools. Even talk shows on radio and TV.
What institutional and societal changes need to be made?
Institution and society change is one of the biggest overhauls when it comes to women’s right in Nigeria. It will be a total transformation to undo the stinking thinking when it comes to the Institution of marriage, culture, religion and domestic violence. Charity begins at home. Families need to stop selling out there daughters. A child you have brought and slaved on and spent a fortune is giving to marriage and allowed to suffer just to save face and afford stigma in the family. The Religious leaders have to come united and start condemning domestic violence and should be vocal on the day of the wedding what is unacceptable in marriages. Tougher sentences for murders who have been convicted they killed their spouse. Laws, legislation protecting women’s right, financial aid and support for NGO so we can support women and rehabilitate both mother and children survivors of domestic violence. Culture and stigma domestic violence are killing people in the toxic marriages. Families are not helping matters and religious organization is burying their head under the sand. The amount of Christians in toxic marriages is alarming. Women affairs dedicated for equality legislation for women and creating a robust link between the grassroots women to the influential working party.
What are your plans for the future of V4SISTAHS?
The goal is to go global and:
· To have branches all over Nigeria. To facilitate skills acquisition workshops.
· To own rehabilitation center and day center for survivors of DV and their children:
· To have our members acknowledged by supporting them as eligible with small business start-ups.
· Partnerships/champions and Ambassadors of V4S.
· To have an office and sell our merchandise to raise money for the org.,
· To solicit funding and work with both federal and local government in partnership.
· I am ready to be the voice to speak out and speak out real and express the need of our women.
A talk show for empowerment and for survivors of DV. We want to a face to the women who have survived to tell their stories so we can empower women to Leave to Live and have a better and desirable life free from violence and torture. Implement the 3 core empowerment triangle through V4S: financial, emotionally, and rehabilitation.
Do you believe women are not enemies of their own progress? What are the hindrances and obstacles that you face in this drive?
We, women, are our stumbling block in Empowerment and championing women’s right to the maximum. Our Luke warm way of addressing issues that concerns us is sad. We find it difficult to support and speak in one voice. Rather preferring to speak in one voice so we get so many variables of problems instead of taking the pertinent issues on the ground (the core problem facing us). The evidence is there. Resources are limited. I am aware do is not an attractive empowerment project due to the emotive subject and it is about the institution of marriage, culture, stigma, religion no one’s want to explore deep and people just want to sweep under the carport to go it aunt going anywhere. As for hindrances, first I do not live in Nigeria so that limits my networking and making myself and the purpose of the organization visible and known.
· No physical office
· Partnership and regular sponsors
· Resources , manpower and
· Finding more people to buy into the mission.
How can men be involved in the drive?
Men are very instrumental to this drive. We are in it together and together we can do more. We have an affiliated men’s group called V4M. The aim is to support our vision and support us to speak out more by adding their own voice. The more men who champion and supports us the quicker our message will be heard. We want men to speak and add their voice to the slogan our scars don’t hurt us speak out. We want men to change the narrative to speak to men and tell them No TO WOMEN ABUSE: women are to be cherished and loved. Men are very vital to the movement because We have spouses /loved ones etc. who are good men and worthy role models to showcase. We want to mentor men. We both need to advocate for a Healthy Relationship. We need our men to support the campaign. We are not against men at all. Men do suffer as well and it is on the increase too. So we need to address this epidemic ASAP.
Do you have any final comment you will like to share with the readers?
V4S is going to loud. We are going at it empowerment on a simple formula and targeting the voiceless and grassroots women. We need to build hope, we need to be the change and ensure no one is left being. It is about sisterhood networking and nurturing. We are all going to be lifted up together in V4S. Business will grow. Women will be financially strong to care for their needs. Purpose will be developed and nurtured. I want to work at the federal level I have a lot of initiatives to bring hope for the voiceless in the society through small start-up imitative such as social entrepreneurship and co-operative. Free Health clinics for survivors of Domestic Violence. I am optimistic the platform is ripe.