Blog / COVID Response Grant - West Africa Grant Winner Spotlight: Olanike Timipa-Uge

Olanike Timipa-Uge was our winner of the COVID Response Grant - West Africa. Olanike shares the inspiration behind her Safe Girls Project, along with firsthand experiences working with adolescent girls, her project goals, as well as the long term effects of the project in Nigeria.

Posted by Mitchell O'Neill on July 17, 2020
Contained in this blog post are topics of sexual assault, child labor, and abuse. Due to the sensitivity of these topics, reader's discretion is advised.

According to Globalcitizen.org, Nigeria has the highest number of-out of-school children in the world. Teenage pregnancy has been a major cause of the increasing rate of school drop out among adolescent girls in Nigeria. In the past seven years, Olanike Timipa-Uge has been working with adolescent girls to reduce the increasing rate of adolescent school dropouts.

Olanike finds that teaching sexual education and leadership skills, along with providing access to sanitary pads has helped girls be able to stay in school even during menstruation, and thus continue their education.

Olanike and the Nigerian education system (just like others around the world) were not prepared for COVID19, and it has only exacerbated the situation: shutting down schools and making adolescent girls' financial situations more dire, has now forced them to choose between working or an education. Despite new adversity, Olanike is not giving up. Instead, she has shifted her strategies to social media, radio, and help lines where the girls can report gender based violence.

Olanike realized that her social media pages, helplines, and radio stations are not as accessible for girls in rural areas in Nigeria. To solve this, Olanike created the Safe Girls Project. This project's goal is to create a safe haven for girls by providing protection against violence, access to COVID19 testing, and education specifically in rural areas.

Olanike Blog Inline 1
“When I asked them for their facemasks, they simply pulled up their tops or covered their nose with their palms. We certainly cannot end the pandemic this way.”

During outreach at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria, Olanike noticed that although the schools are shut down, not all girls are staying home. The lockdown has increased child labor. Around 60% of girls in rural areas are hawking (an occupation where people are offering on sale household items, vegetables or cooked food on streets for a living) 5 days a week. Many girls have been unable to participate in educational programs on the radio because they are helping their families survive. Adolescent girls are working without any protection against COVID19. 

This increase in child labor is due to increased financial hardships from COVID19 that parents are facing. Many parents are having to choose between buying basic necessities and food. Some families are being forced to marry their daughters out in exchange for money and food. This has only brought girls closer to abusers, and violence against girls has increased. 

Olanike Blog Inline 2
“Until girls are able to live to their full potential. I will continue to advocate to these community heads to ensure girls rights are protected and that girls have access to quality education”

Olanike identifies the communities that need help by interviewing adolescent girls. Then, she schedules a meeting with the village heads to request their approval to speak with the adolescent girls in the community. If approved, Olanike and her team along with local volunteers hold an event for the girls.

In some rural communities that Olanike visits, she is instructed not to speak directly with the adolescent girls. There is a fear that speaking with them will incite the girls into speaking up about their rights. Olanike and her team are persistent in their outreach, they continue to visit communities that try to silence them. She believes that these girls deserve to know their rights and that their rights need to be protected.

Olanike Blog Inline 3

“In one of the villages I visited, 60% of adolescent girls have been married out and they forbade me from speaking to these girls about it.” 

In one instance, Olanike was chaperoned by an elderly woman in the community to suppress what she could share. She was only allowed to speak about COVID19 and menstruation. Normally, she likes to talk about child marriage, and other forms of violence as well. Upon her departure, she was able to leave fliers with the information that she was barred from sharing. She plans on returning to continue to advocate for girls living in that community.

Safe Girls Project faces other roadblocks as well. Girls will come to them requesting financial support for medical care and other needs. Unfortunately, there are not enough funds to help every girl and they are usually unable to support them financially.

Olanike Blog Inline 4
“We must end sexual violence against girls. It is estimated that 70 million babies will be born by teenage girls in Nigeria by 2030.”

When asked about what needs to be done to reduce the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria, Olanike mentioned another venture that she created called the Teenage Network, an organization created to help out-of-school teenage mothers by equipping them with leadership skills, and the ability to become financially stable through community education.

Olanike also emphasized that teenage mothers cannot be left out when Nigeria is pursuing implementation of the sustainable development goals. This neglect has negatively impacted their economy. Olanike, via the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education, provided some data to back this claim up.

“Girls who are uneducated are less likely to educate their child and illiterates earn 40% less than their literate peers. With each year of education, HIV transmission will reduce by 6.7%, increase enrollment rate in secondary education by 10% will reduce war by 3% and 2/3 reduction in maternal and child mortality rate”

This data shows that the focus, or lack thereof, on education is detrimental Nigeria. 

Olanike Blog Inline 5
“It is difficult to see girls suffer the consequences of other people's actions”

Olanike describes the mental toll it takes on her intervening in these girl's lives. She shares the story of
one girl who became pregnant at the age of 13 after she was raped by a 45 year old man while hawking bananas. It pains Olanike to know that this young girl will miss an entire academic year, and that she cannot help to provide baby food when the girl asks for financial assistance. “These girls do not deserve this”. Olanike added that it pains her when she sees this and she is unable to help. Olanike’s team manages to meet some needs, but oftentimes needs cannot be met due to a lack of finances. 

Olanike Blog Inline 6
While I was practicing, I saw a lot of parents sweep cases of gender based violence under the carpet because they do not want to be stigmatized”

Prior to working on the Safe Girls Project and the Teenage Network Olanike worked as a nurse. Her experiences as a nurse were a major push towards getting her involved in preventing gender based violence. Whenever there were any cases of gender based violence, her colleagues would call her. However, 90% of the time the victims would not receive PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis), a preventive medicine against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Olanike’s background as a nurse has also helped her educate girls about their bodies. Olanike would visit schools to teach menstruation with charts and also teach girls how to do breast examinations by using mannequins. Olanike says that the girls enjoyed learning from her, and that they often tell her that “no one ever provided them with such in depth details about their body”.

Olanike Blog Inline 7
My goal is to reach 1,000 adolescent girls on the Safe Girls Project and to continue providing support for victims of gender based violence”

Upon winning the COVID Response Grant - West Africa on ShareYourself, Olanike expressed that the future of the Safe Girls Project is to create girls support clubs within the rural communities and to work with community leaders to abolish dangerous cultural practices involving adolescents. Going forward, Olanike says she is looking for individuals who are skilled in counseling and fundraising to join her team. “Adolescent victims of gender based violence do not often receive psychological assistance and the effects of this violence often take a toll on them” It is her desire that girls everywhere are free from violence and can live their lives to the fullest possible potential.

#youth #covid #health #nigeria #education #humanrights
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