Growing up in Akure, Ondo state, Nigeria, Ms Olajide Olaronke sold newspapers in the market and soft drinks in city parks. Her income helped pay the family’s rent and the tuition that kept her in government schools. Others were less fortunate in a culture where powerless women and children suffer daily indignities. Murder, rape and abuse are still too common, committed with impunity by men who count on the silence of their victims, complicity of clans and lax prosecution of laws.
Thanks to her drive and to supportive parents, Ms Olajide stayed in school and eventually earned a masters degree in Development Communication. Her degree in hand, she wanted to ease the misery that forced children onto streets and women into hiding from violent men.
In 2008, she helped launch Restoration Of The Dignity Of Womanhood, better known as ROTDOW.org, based in Akure, Nigeria’s capital with more than 4 million residents. As project manager since day one, Ms Olajide orchestrates programs that reach out to underprivileged women and children bullied into silence.
A debut book fair raised the initial funds that subsidized tuitions for boys and girls doomed otherwise to wandering streets, exposed to intentional violence and injuries by automobiles. “People can’t be great in life without education,” says Ms. Olajide. “They don’t know their rights, they don’t know they have power, they don’t know they have a voice in society.”
Today, in partnership with the government of Nigeria and private relief agencies, ROTDOW pursues ambitious initiatives under five banners:
- Caring for orphans and vulnerable children
- Education campaign against child marriage
- Gender and women’s rights and governance
- Community mobilization to fight malaria; support family planning and reproductive rights; and prevention of violence against women
- Vocational skills acquisition and poverty alleviation for adolescents, nurturing skills in technology along side sewing and hairdressing.
The work is hard but results are rewarding. To name a typical success, Ms Olajide recalls a young brother and sister who lived with their parents as virtual prisoners. They had not been allowed to attend school, seldom went outside, never attended church or social functions. Accompanied by police, Ms Olajide visited the home where she met parents who saw no value in education. Anything useful they could learn at home, their father insisted.
Eventually, however, Ms Olajide convinced the father that school teaches much more than reading and writing. It became evident that poverty humiliated the parents. Their objection to sending the children to school or even allow them freedom disguised inability to pay fees for tuition, books and uniforms. When ROTDOW stepped up with the money to send the children to school, the parents eased their objections. Today, says Ms Olajide, both children are in government schools and doing very well in grades 1 and 2.
Ms. Olajide credits ROTDOW’s success to asking lots of questions and lots of collaboration. “The hardest part,” she says, “was that we did not know how to start.” Fortunately, for hundreds of Nigerian women and children who have received refuge and support, ROTDOW’s founders took the first steps. Courage and determination keep them going.