Interview

Conversations About Nigerian Education: Interview with Seun Toye-Kayode

Author:
Onyinye Enwereji
Contributor:
Publication Year:
2020
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality

BIOGRAPHY

Seun is the Creator of the 3-D Living Empowerment movement. She is passionate about young people realizing their potential early by holding themselves accountable to three pillars in their lives: earning, dreaming and sharing. To spread this message, she has a blog and hosts events around the world, e.g "Live Your Best Life" which has been run in London and Lagos so far. She is also the founder of 'ACAW,' an online and in-person vulnerability movement which aims to provide an environment to discuss ideas affecting women to those who need it. The quarterly events are in their 12th edition. She is also the founder of Teach A Girl Nigeria, a Lagos based NGO focused on mentoring and sponsoring young girls. Day to day, she works as an Associate at Goldman Sachs International in the Global Markets Division in London. 

 

In 2013, Academy Award nominee, Richard E. Robbins, directed Girl Rising, a feature film which details the struggle of nine girls to get an education. Written by accomplished authors and voiced by household names in Hollywood, the film has inspired many across the world, including Seun Toye-Kayode, founder of Teach A Girl Nigeria. 

“The film really just showed me my privilege. It showed me that because of my education, I had so many more choices than other people. Also, it made me feel like I had a responsibility, therefore, given what I then knew, to make sure that I used my voice in a productive way to further the cause of education,” Toye-Kayode said. 

After watching this film while living in Paris, Toye-Kayode knew that it had to be screened in Lagos. A successful Lagos screening organized by the investment banker and a few friends garnered media attention and rave reviews, igniting calls for her to set up an organization. 

“I remember the day of the screening, towards the end of the day, someone actually asked what the name of our organization was and when I said we did not have one, I was told I needed to register one because the event had been so impactful.” 

The need to set up an organization became even more glaring after a special encounter Toye-Kayode had. Following the documentary screening, she visited Makoko, a large slum in Lagos where she met a handful of girls. She was particularly drawn to a clever girl who happened to be the head-girl of her school. A desire to give this girl and others like her, the opportunities that they deserved, led to the birth of Teach A Girl Nigeria in 2014, a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the cause of the Nigerian girl child’s education. 

Akin to many other homegrown non-profits, Teach A Girl goes into communities to speak with parents and local leaders, utilizing familiar languages.

“When we speak to parents, we speak to them in Nigerian Pidgin English or in Yoruba or whatever language they understand. We partner with somebody who is seen as a leader in the community and he’s always there when we’re talking to the parents in order to bridge the gap. We are building trust in the community in general, it's not just about the girls.” 

Interestingly, they aim to switch the archetypal power dynamic by positioning themselves as the ones who are in need of something.

“We don't like to position ourselves as people who are coming to solve all their problems. We position ourselves as people who are coming to them to listen,” Toye-Kayode said. 

In addition to listening, the all-female board of the organization also enables community members understand the necessity of education by highlighting its life-changing benefits. 

 

“When we do our outreach days, we don’t just invite the children, we also invite the families, and we spend a lot of time speaking about the importance of education. We want them to understand the notion that when a girl goes to school, it doesn't just change her life. It changes the lives of everybody in a community. That’s the power of investing in female education.” 

 

Admirably, Toye-Kayode is particularly cautious about preserving the dignity of the children who live in slums. Do they consent to their pictures being taken and published? This is a thoughtful question some may neither ask nor answer, yet it is front and center for the Teach A Girl team, during their community visits. 

“People in Makoko have said that they always get a lot of attention. You would have seen them in the news. People come take pictures of them, and then they leave. So actually, when we go, we take pictures only with their permission and we try not to include those who have not consented. There’s a distance between where they are and where you are and taking pictures is just a reminder of that.” 

Such thoughtfulness manifests in Teach A Girl’s unique approach. It is unusual for a non-profit to commit all their wherewithal to few beneficiaries; although the non-profit reaches many through their annual outreach days, they only sponsor two girls for now. Yet, Toye-Kayode considers the personal connection she has with her girls, as she fondly calls them, to be invaluable and a product of her organization’s size.

“Even though we are called Teach A Girl Nigeria right now, we only have two girls. All of our resources and all of our attention is on those two. It may seem small, but to me, it's everything,” Toye-Kayode said. 

The Teach A Girl approach sees the team foster an uncommon bond with their mentees, one that is almost similar to parenting. 

“It's a long-term commitment, which is why we only have two girls for now. The team and I really had to have a real conversation about how to achieve maximum impact. We wondered whether our focus right now should be growth in terms of people on our programme, whether that would put pressure on us financially and if we would lose the connection and relationship we have with our girls that we have built for six years, ” Toye-Kayode said. “It’s a very hands-on approach and it's very detailed. We know everything about their lives, that’s my family,” Toye-Kayode concluded. 

A steadfast desire to maintain this model makes her skeptical about collaborating with larger international organizations. Having a tight-knit relationship with her girls is eminently important, something Toye-Kayode would not trade for anything. 

“If I partner with a bigger organization, I will lose my autonomy to be able to operate in that directly personal way. So if bigger organizations can partner with smaller ones purely by sending funds and not getting involved in the running of the organization, that will be preferable. But I also understand that if I'm an investor, I'm not going to invest my money in something that I can't have a say in. So it's difficult, which is why we've not gone down the route of raising money through organizations, because we don't want them to change the way that we do things. We believe that we found that model that works for us and we don’t want to interrupt that.” 

Additionally, there is a lot of publicity associated with the work international organizations do, which is probably helpful in drawing the sympathy of donors. Yet, thinking about the human receiving the helping hand, Toye-Kayode wonders how such widespread media coverage may make her girls feel. 

“We also don't want to make them feel like they are such charity cases. We don’t want them to have to do any press. I just want them to have a normal life, the same life I had when I was at school. That’s what we’re trying to provide. So bringing more eyes is just not something I think we're personally interested in.”

In a sector where barriers abound, it is easy to forget about the challenges that are not as obvious as poor funding or the lack of assistance from the government. Yet, when asked about roadblocks, Toye-Kayode mentions a psychological issue that many of the girls face - low self-esteem. 

“Confidence. It sounds so simple, but it's so true. Right now they are both in the secondary school that my mum went to, a really good secondary school in Nigeria. We put them in this boarding school to give them an experience outside of Makoko but they were hesitant about mixing with people from a different socio-economic background. They’re brilliant, they get incredible grades but it’s that confidence. So we spend a lot of time encouraging them, affirming them and giving them the tools to be more confident,” Toye-Kayode said.  

Seeing as this issue is not peculiar to the Teach A Girl beneficiaries, Toye-Kayode believes society has a role to play in causing the problem and as such, should play a role in fixing it. 

 

“It’s the stories that society tells that do not include women. Everything that they see is not telling them that they can be confident and that they can ask for what they want and get it. Honestly, it’s not just a Nigerian issue. A lot of women struggle with confidence issues, particularly women that come from third world countries where women don't have the same rights as men. It's a human rights issue. Women’s rights are human rights.” 

Toye-Kayode’s vision for the future is three-pronged concerning herself, her girls and women in general. For herself, she sees a future in politics as she believes that is where the decisions are made. 

“Policy is critical. We really understate the power of governments. I think now with Coronavirus we see the power of governments more clearly. If the government says the country is locked down, there’s nothing you can do, and it will affect your business, your life, everything. So I don't underplay the role that the government plays. One day, I hope to be in government and then I will influence policy. Policy is the most important thing.” 

What does she want to see for her girls and for women everywhere? World domination. Okay, maybe not world domination but at the very least, more opportunities, more success and revolutionary wins. 

“I want my girls to have as much opportunities as the boys. My girls will go to University and get great jobs and then I will see them doing what we did all those years ago, going into communities and reaching out. For girls at large, I just want to see them growing in confidence and I want to see women in every sector. I don't want it to be abnormal for a woman to be president. I want that to be the norm and I hope that I see that in my lifetime.”

To learn more about Seun and Teach A Girl, check out: 

blog.seunawo.com

teachagirlng.com 

 

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