Founder and president of Afrigrowth Foundation, Mrs Dayo Keshi, has a strong commitment to support Women, Youth and children in needy communities. She tells us more about her life, her career and passion to help the less privileged in this interview with CECILIA OGEZI.
What was the inspiration behind starting the NGO?
My children studied in America and it was so because back in 1993, there was chaos in education sector in Nigeria. It was the time of the Abiola strike and one day, when returning from work, I noticed over 40 to 50 young people gathered at a place, just talking mainly about the situation. That night, I spoke with my husband and I told him that as much as I don’t want my kids to school abroad because I didn’t and I turned out well, it was time to reconsider because coming back and seeing this children, it might turn into something we might not be able to control. Knowing my family background, I am a believer of family togetherness. I didn’t know how I would leave my husband, there’s no employment there for me but I had a job here. So, I knelt down and prayed and I made a spiritual commitment with God that if my children travelled abroad, excelled and achieved what they were sent there for, I would change as many lives of young people as he would allow me to touch and they finished without any problem because I know many who went and derailed. That was how I brought Afrigrowth to Nigeria. It was actually in Georgia where again, I was invited as wife of consul general to a book inferno where they burn old books published for long period of time to allow for new editions. I looked at them, they where still new and good reference materials so I asked them if I could ship them to my country. They said it was not a problem but they would not pay for shipment and they wouldn’t give me as an individual because I had to have an NGO, a non-for profit organisation and so, I quickly established Afrigrowth. We were able to ship 80,000 books to libraries in Ondo, Abeokuta, Ebonyi and Lagos and I liked the reception. I got accolades and that was how I broke into some of these states. I thank all those who sponsored the shipment through fund raising here in Nigeria and Georgia. At the end of my husband’s tenure, I came back in 2004 and realised sending books was not enough. Noticing how despondent the youths were, I decided to have a long talk with about six young people in my house and I told them I would not give them money. So, I started by attaching them with those who had made it in the society to mentor them and mentoring is taking a bit of yourself positively and impacting it in another person younger or who does not know as much as you. That was how I started the conversation of youth mentoring in Nigeria and Afrigrowth is the first Nigerian organisation that put a structure into youth mentorship and it’s our mantra that whoever is mentored must mentor another.
Two of your other programs are the orphan and vulnerable children care (OVC) and Back To Reading Culture (BRC). Can you tell us more about them?
It is amazing the little you can do to make a difference in the education and lack of education of a child, in the child being in school or being ravaged by disease. I am not saying we have done much but we have done our bit. Some children in primary and secondary schools can not read and most of our children do not read for pleasure its for this reason we focused on young children in primary school and below, we talked with LEA schools and got sponsors to donate children’s story book, we were giving spaces to build libraries today we have over 28 libraries opened in Abuja and environs, we taught the children to read we got volunteers to sit with these children during library times and read to them and get them to read we could not leave it for the teachers alone and we started the reading competition to encourage them to read, and watching these children who were not reading six or one year to the competition read eloquently was fulfilling, one of my most ecstatic moments was when i saw them walking in confidence far from what i saw earlier.
Your passion for the youth is obvious, you just held a youth summit, tell us about it?
Young people are very interesting and in this foundation, it’s all about assisting young people find their way in life. Our vehicle is mentoring; we believe everyone needs mentoring to be successful in life. This foundation focuses on getting hold of good mentors who have achieved heights in their area of expertise. In our recent youth summit, there was a lot of talk about young people not being innovative enough, they need to be pushed, like I said they are interesting people and they put up a front so as not to look weak but deep inside there is pain, fear and uncertainty. Youths between the ages of 18 and 40, have enough time to be a force to be reckoned with, we talked to them about repositioning themselves as leaders. Youths are the strength of a nation and they are among custodians of the future. People tell me it’s a thankless job but I don’t think so. If you don’t focus youths of a nation into purposeful national building, no matter what you own, you are wasting your time. The youths will turn the guns at you in your big homes and beautiful cars and take those things from you.
How would the youth reposition themselves to make impact in the country?
They must be clear cut about what exactly they want to do; clear cut about how they want to do whatever that is and they must be determined to succeed, no body gives anybody anything for free. There is a price tag attached to everything, I think whatever youths are owned they have been paid back through youthful government policies but not all of them know how to take advantage of that which is being offered to them. They still feel someone owes them something, so they need to work at making themselves meaningful in the society.
In What ways can they achieve this?
When I meet young people, I tell them to forget the 9am to 5pm job, what they need to do is look into the creative industry. The average make up artist makes between 12 to 35 thousand naira, without creativity you can’t get anywhere. It’s the biggest employment agency, it is the new frontier, even if you have a well-paid job in the government or private sector, pick something in the creative industry. I see no reason why a young person will not hold down two or three jobs, the other jobs are for the few elites and many people are not in that category.
What drives you?
While growing up, my father used to tell me to aim high. He was my strongest driving force; my immediate family also gives me the drive I need to do what I do.
What is your favourite food?
My favourite food is porridge beans and plantain.
What are your hobbies?
I love to travel, i see it as another form of education.
Tell us more about yourself…
Well I am Dayo Keshi. I am married to Ambassador Joe Keshi and I have three children and five grand-children. Professionally, I worked in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for over 30 years, as director, Cultural Industries and Heritage.
In culture I did my best in promoting the richness and vibrancy of Nigerian culture internationally because Nigerians stand tall even amongst other Africans but they take their culture for granted and the bottom line is we must push the values of what makes the Nigerian and that has been my focus for a number of years. I moved on from there to be the Director General, National Council For Arts and Culture.
How would you describe your personal style?
I say keeping it simple is the way to go, doing every thing in moderation. I used to wear Nigerian Fabrics when on postings with my husband outside Nigeria because I wanted to project who I am through my dressing. Our asset in Nigeria is our multiple style, we have different styles that emanate from diverse cultures, what is happening now is making it modern to suit the occasion, our traditional wear in the past and even now is elegant the Ero and buba, gele all make a classy outing, I remember when we were in the United States, we always dressed in our Nigerian regalia especially in Atlanta people are always captivated and they will ask if dressing in our full traditional wear was for royals, to me it meant one thing our dressing is rich that is why it is hard to say Nigerians are poor we all dress the same way the only difference is the cost of the fabric and jewelry. From East, North, West and South we have our modes of dressing.