Monday, 24 November 2014

My story from being a roadside recharge card seller to becoming gov. Fashola's SSA-Chinyere Anokwuru

Fondly known as Nigeria's Ambassador of Possibilities, Chinyere Anokwuru is currently the Senior Special Assistant to the governor of Lagos State on Women Ethnic Groups, Mobilzation and Empowerment. The Executive Director and Founder of Selfworth organisation for Women Development and, and CEO of MultiDreams International, recently launched her first ever book "Who Says You Can't?" In which she narrated her grass to grace story from being born into abject poverty, to ending up a graduate and then a roadside phone recharge cards seller to finally becoming the SSA to a governor. She spoke with Morakinyo Olugbiji at her recent book launch which had a lot of celebrities and top government functionaries in attendance.

How did you find the time to write this book?

I had to find time because I really wanted my message to be passed across. I want it to get out there. I wanted to let the youth know that there is nothing the youth cannot achieve. If somebody like me who was hitherto hopeless can make something meaningful out of my life, I want them to know that all hope is not lost for them. So I titled the book, "Who Says You Can't?", who says you can't achieve your dream?, who says you can't pass that examination?, who says you can't make it in Nigeria? Who says you can't rise above your challenges in life? Who says it is impossible?

You talked earlier so passionately about your first time in a plane and travelling abroad, many people would ask what's the big deal?

Like I wrote in the book, it was an incredible experience, one that retrieved memory of a past lacking substance-a past from which I could hardly have envisaged the possibility of this present. Triumph! No, I had not accomplished a feat unprecedented in history. But for me, every ascent, every forward placement of one foot after the other, is a call for celebration, for gratitude. I could not believe that I was actually travelling to the United States of America for a conference and thereafter would visit the united Kingdom for holidays. This was the same young woman who could barely feed or cloth herself, who lived in the gutters. The one who had lost a child to poverty. If you knew my story, then you'd understand why I shed tears my first time inside a plane.

Could you briefly share your story with us?

It's a story of abject, extreme poverty my dear. I came from. My parents were of low income and my dad had just lost his job in a manufacturing company. He used to work with them as a technician. My mum was just a petty trader and that was what she used in taking care of the entire family. It was so bad that most times, her shelves were always empty because all her profits was going back to feeding us and taking care of other family burden. My other five siblings immediately they succeeded in struggling through secondary school had to go learn commercial bus driving and to be conductors just to survive, support the family and save for university. Yes it was that bad. There was even a heartbreaking period for my family when a motor-park tout slapped my brother over motor-park fees, and my brother mysteriously became deaf and dumb. But through God's intervention, he miraculously got normal again nine months later. As a result of that, my parent had to advise them to leave the job, and they later got employment as factory workers in a fishery company. For me, I was more of a househelp for our neighbours because at an early age, I would run errands for them in exchange for used clothes, shoes, and sometimes little money. Once I got back from school, I would quickly dash down to their houses to fetch water for them and help them buy items from the nearby markets. Everyday, I visited about three homes to do their chores and later run back home to complete my school assignments.

How did your mum influence you to succeed?

Whenever I go to neighbours house to run errand for them, I used to get motivated to become successful in future whenever I saw the good lives they lived. So anytime I got home, I would describe to my mom in colourful details all the beautiful things I saw even the way they expressed themselves. In my naivety, I would ask my mom if it was possible to achieve the same thing, can we ever be like them? And my mother would reply in our local dialect "who says we can't?", even as her eyes lighten up. But her little reassurance always gave me hope and that statement had been my motor through my growing years. I made up my mind that I would take my family out of poverty by working hard to get a university education and make my mother happy. My mother eventually died because of stress she got from doing all types of hard jobs coupled with her petty trading to raise money to send me to school. I had just gotten a university admission then. She died just a few days to resumption at the university and my hope was dashed again.

So what did you do to survive after that?

I started selling fairly used clothes at Tejuosho market. This was how I managed to survive throughout my university days. Their was even pressure from my mates to sleep with men for money but I knew I could not afford to mess up. Even after graduating, I traversed the labour market for years without getting a job. I still hadn't gotten a job when I met and fell in love with a handsome intelligent but also a broke young man with big dreams and ambitions. I thought, the dreams will be enough to take care of the rest. That's my belief, actually. We got married in a tiny one-room apartment in a very dirty and over populated compound, at Ijeshatedo area of lagos state. The room was very dark and small and was in front of a smelly gutter. We shared the toilet, bathroom and kitchen with eleven other families and most times when it rained heavily, the rainwater would mix with flood and seep into our room. The mattress would have been extremely soak and we would wake up at night to scoop water away. I can't tell it all, it's a long story.

Tell us about selling Recharge cards and doing phone call business by the roadside?

Yea, when there was no jobs for me and my husband, I resorted to doing that. We were surviving on the phone call business. I had an embarrasing time of my life when someone came down from a car one day to buy recharge cards from me and low and behold, it was my university classmates. I was so embarrassed that I burst into tears. I soon lose. Everything to a bunch of weed-smoking hoodlums who attacked me one night and stole all my earnings. That was when we went back to square one again. There were times I almost got hit by vehicles after their brake failed.

You also talked about how poverty was telling on your marriage because your husband had no job and you were just a roadside phone centre operator, some women would have betrayed their husbands?

Forget the fact that we didn't have enough, my parents brought us well to be responsible and disciplined. My father was a disciplinarian who would not condone any form of. Misdemeanor. So that helped me a lot. He instilled so much values and morals in us. We were not desperate, but passionate about making it. He made us understand that a good name will always outlive silver or gold. My dad will beat us If he found that we've gone to eat or watch television in a neighbour's house. Notwitstanding ever since I was young, I've had a picture painted of the kind of life I wanted and I knew I was going to achieve it. Even despite the hardship, my dreams never left me. I kept it in mind all the time so I that helped me not to derail. I wanted a change in my life. I wanted to beable to help others in need and to also help my families too, so I didn't let go of my dream.

You also lost a child because you were poor?

Yes, I lost my first child after waiting for a while to get pregnant. However, the pregnancy finally came but because I couldn't afford antenatal fee, good foods and everything needed for the survival of my baby, she came out dead. I didn't know I had complications because I couldn't afford scan.

How is your family now, how many children do you have?

Wow! My family is beautiful now, God has blessed me with three beautiful children; two boys and a girl. My husband too is doing very well now and everything is beautiful. God has changed our story.

How do you feel not having your mom around despite her struggle to see you successful, and she even died in the process?

That's the only sad thing I remember now. I wish God could just give me an opportunity to spend atleast one day with her and shower on her all the love a child could shower on a mother. This woman sold everything to make me successful; her clothes uptil her wrapper. She never smiled, she struggled all her days for her family. I Just wish I can give her one full day of happiness.

Can you tell us how you manage to go from a roadside phone call operator to a Special Adviser to Lagos state Governor?

It can only be God. The governor saw the NGO project I was doing for women in Lagos state and he was like who is this woman doing so much? So he decided to hand me the appointment because of effort I was making towards the betterment of the lives of grassroot women in Lagos state. My book "Who Says You Can't?" Is written to reach more women all over the country and the word in general. Infact we are embarking on a tour of schools, women groups, churches and so on all over the country just to spread the message across. We want them to know that there is nothing they can't achieve.

It is believed that reading culture is dying in Nigeria, how do you think people will read this book?

Those who truly need the message will read it. That's all I'm going to say about that. I want to use this opportunity to encourage all women to read, not only my book but other books. If a woman knows that reading just two or three chapters of a book will change her life, why won't she read? Reading can broaden your horizon. Please read. Reading changed my life. A book gives you the opportunity to rob minds with people who have gone ahead of you; intellectuals.


Dayo said...

True saying 'who says you can't?' Nothing is impossible 2 dem dat believe

Anonymous said...

So inspiring!

Anonymous said...

Though d story was too long but I was lifted. Very interesting!

Anonymous said...

No condition is permanent! As long as one doesn't give up

Joseph said...

I hope our ladies and young girls are reading this

Anonymous said...

Dreams come true; with hard work and determination, I'll like 2 read dis book.

Betty said...

Where can one get this book?

Anonymous said...

What a story!

Tokunbo said...

Living without a dream is merely existing in life.

Bimpe said...

Thank u ma 4 sharing dis touching and soul lifting story, hw can one get a copy of d book?

Janet said...

There is always a light at the end of of the tunnel! Thank you ma! May bless you richly. Ma I need a copy of the book.

Anonymous said...

Hw much is the book and where can I get a copy?

Spurred World said...

Thanks for sharing your story with us.Im re-energized to take my world.
The world is up for Grabs for whoever wants it.

Folasade Olajuyin