Morountodun Joseph is the Executive Director of Ejaosan Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that focuses on the girl child’s empowerment. In this interview with OVWE MEDEME, she discusses some of her experiences running an NGO in Nigeria.
How has the journey been so far running a non-governmental organisation focusing on the girl child in Nigeria?
What I can say without a shadow of doubt is that it has been a very fulfilling journey. Truthfully, the impact we make and feedback we get have been incredible and these have been our driving force. It is nothing like what I projected when it all started about four years ago. Seeing lives change, seeing tears turn to laughter and watching our girls come out of their timid selves to become confident, and purposeful individuals have kept us going. This is not to take away the fact that we have faced enormous challenges in the past and still do. We have had challenges in many ways, especially in the area of funding, but also with access. Every non-profit organisation needs funding to actualise their vision and we are no different. Sourcing for money requires time, patience and consistency. And so we have sought for various ways to raise funds to support our cause and we continue to seek more strategic ways to do so.
Regarding access, we work primarily with public schools and we often need to get official approval from Local Governments and key officials and this is sometimes cumbersome. The bureaucracy is often discouraging but we forge ahead.
When you started in 2015, what did you initially set out to achieve?
We had no grand plans. We just wanted to change lives, one girl at a time. For me, it began long before the organisation was formally registered. It was a passion to empower those around me to be the best they can. That was, and still remains a key objective. As human beings, I believe that we all (or should all) have the innate capacity to empathise with those around us. It is not complex at all; it is all about being able to share your— time, a smile, food, a hug, money, knowledge or anything at your disposal that can be beneficial to the next person. We had no funds or government assistance but knew that the best way to get anything done is just to start. And that has been the motivation behind the organisation. Every time a life is touched, we are fulfilled.
We have become more structured and we continue to work towards building a generation of female leaders in Nigeria and the best way to achieve this is through education and mentorship.
What specific area does Ejaosan Foundation focus on?
Our core areas of focus are education, literacy and mentorship for girls. Why? Because Nigeria has an estimated 13.2 million out-of-school children, and according to the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF), it is the highest in the world. More than half of this number are girls. What this unfortunately means is that the future presents the girl-child as terribly disadvantaged. Ejaosan Foundation’s focus is to fill this gap and drastically reduce this figure. We empower silenced, voiceless, vulnerable and deprived girls through education and structured mentoring. We advocate for and promote gender equality by providing opportunities specifically through education, literacy and mentorship. We purposefully align with the United Nations’ (UN) Global Sustainable Development Goals 4 (SDG 4) to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
How many States and Local Governments do you work in?
Since inception, we have worked primarily in two states in Nigeria; Lagos and Kwara States. When we started out in Lagos in 2015, we worked closely with several public schools in Agege Local Government Area. In 2018, we expanded our work to Kwara State and there has been no looking back. I cannot say it has been easy, but it has definitely been worth every sweat and sleepless night. We already have plans to expand our community development projects to other states in the country. We have collaborated with the Art of Play Initiative and together we are working on a film project about girl-child education. This will be taken to different communities in Nigeria and beyond, beginning with local governments in the South and Mid-West.
What projects have you embarked on since inception and how many girls have you been able to reach?
We have embarked on a number of projects which are still running and they include the Ejaosan Foundation Centre for Learning and Development which aims to provide a learning hub that is equipped with modern resources to educate and advance the knowledge base of young girls in Ilorin. This is in line with the organisation’s vision to empower, inspire and build the next generation of female leaders. We have a team of skilled volunteers and staff who devote their time to mentor, guide and train in computer skills, oral health, drama, games and much more.
We also have the Feed-A-Child Project. Through this program, we raise funds to provide daily lunch for girls from deprived homes in public schools who go to school on empty stomachs. This adversely affects their concentration in class, and consequently, their academic performance and wellbeing. Every month, we provide lunch for a minimum of 60 school children. However, our immediate goal is to feed 1000 deprived children across schools in Kwara State every month.
We also have the Literacy Club, End of the term Award, Sponsor- A-Child, as well as the Girls with Purpose programmes.
What targets does the Ejaosan Foundation intend to achieve in the next five years?
We project incredible impact. We work for impact and not just for numbers. While we believe that every child should be in school, we also believe in the importance of having an identity, being focused, confident and self-reliant. There is so much negativity in the world and it is very easy for girls (especially) to bow to pressure and this comes in different dimensions—peer pressure, pressure from the media, boys, family and school. We focus a lot on Education and mentoring so that a child is not only educated, but is also well grounded. Having said that, we aim to have a representation of our centre in at least five more states within the next five years, God help us. This will enable us reach further. We also hope that in five years, the number of out-of-school girls in Nigeria would have fallen by half through awareness and enlightenment projects. We believe strongly in collaborative effort and we have begun to collaborate with other NGO’s with similar visions. It seems like a big dream, but it is achievable. However, we know for a fact that we cannot achieve this on our own. We need support from individuals and organisations who can key into our vision and partner with us to build the next generation of female leaders.
What’s the story behind the name Ejaosan?
That’s a very interesting question. Well, the origin of the name is very personal to me. Ejaosan is what I am very fondly called by my Father who named me “Morountodun”, which literally means “I have found something sweet”. The sweet thing is Ejaosan— a special, delicious and rare species of fish among the Yoruba people. But for me it is much more than that being rare and delicious- which are good things in any case. For me, it means being invaluable—the price of a girl child cannot be named. It is a reflection of my father’s love towards me, which then translates to how I envision every girl child— as priceless and purposeful. Ejaosan is a metaphor for being inimitable and invaluable. That is what every girl we encounter or mentor at Ejaosan Foundation means to us. Our girls are priceless!
Who is Morountodun?
Morountodun is an academic, a researcher and a girl-child activist, but at my very core, I am a humanitarian. As a little girl, my earliest memories of me saying prayers would be me fervently asking God to make beggars rich and to heal all sick people in hospitals. I didn’t know them and couldn’t offer them anything, but felt I needed to do something. All I could offer were my prayers, which I did. Of course, my family fondly teased me about this at that time and they still do. This innate desire to stand in the gap for people developed into my years in secondary school where I would stand against bullying of any sort, especially towards my friends. I have found myself using things at my disposal, be it my voice, time or money to help those around me in my own little way. Currently, I try to balance work and passion. As a PhD holder in Film Studies and a lecturer in film production, I am finding ways to balance my skill and passion for developing others. Hence, I now work on projects that employ film as a tool for community development and empowerment.
Are there any projects that you have worked on that focuses on using film as a tool for development?
We are currently working on one, ‘Among the Stars’, an advocacy film which details a poignant story of empowerment for the girl child. All hands are on deck and it will be ready before year ends.