By Olayinka Ajayi
Mr Lawal Charanchi is the coordinator of the Service to Humanity Foundation, a non- governmental organization set up by the First Lady of Katsina State, Dr. Fatima Ibrahim Shema, to empower women and the vulnerable. In this interview, he explains how foundation has done so far in complementing the state government efforts to reduce poverty in the state.
What is your assessment of the empowerment programme so far?
This programme is a continuous exercise since the present administration came into power with her excellency, the wife of Katsina State Governor as the initiator. There have been many of this kind of activities that cut across all the 34 local government areas and what you witnessed recently was just one of the activities, which as you rightly mentioned, attracted a mammoth crowd.
The state government views women empowerment as something very important because the contributions of women in community development cannot be underestimated, and that is why the women here in Katsina are continuously being empowered so that they can give their maximum contributions to the economic development of this state. Let it be stated however that this empowerment programme was actually in conjunction with the state government as represented by the Ministry of Women Affairs.
The foundation empowerment programme is in many stages. There is the area of capacity building, that is giving them training in their chosen skills acquisition and in the area of supporting them after graduating. Apart from acquiring the skills, the First Lady through the foundation, supports them by giving them all the necessary equipment and tools needed in their chosen skills and then add N50,000 so that they can begin new lives. So what you saw recently is a clear indication that the foundation and the state government are ready to continue to keep this empowerment programme for women.
Apart from the occasional assistance by the state government, what other sources does the foundation generate revenue from to carry out its programmes?
The state government has been very supportive, particularly in relation to the recent empowerment programe, greatly supported by the state government through the ministry of Women Affairs. The foundation here as a non-governmental organization working with international donor agencies as well as local ones, so it is from there we leverage a lot of support in terms of material, financial and technical support and that is why the foundation is under the leadership of her Excellency Dr Fatimah Ibrahim Shema who is able to harness so much resources with which to conduct this empowerment.
Perhaps, I should say that the empowerment programme for the women came into being in 2008 and since then the center has been impacting vocational skills to women and men alike. We started with the traditional one, that is soap making, shoe making, foam making, catering. We have now expanded the center. Just recently, in collaboration with NAPEF national, we sponsored some women here to South Africa where they went to acquire skills in cream making, shearbutter production even moringa production and we are now bringing down that training to as many women as we can.
What is the criteria used is selecting the beneficiaries of the programme?
That center has been graduating because of the people that are acquiring these skills and we make sure that after graduation these women have the kind of support they required to put those skills into practice. The criteria really, when we started, we were targeting widows, female orphans and children, these were our area ofv support.
So instead of just giving them nutrition support food clothing and other things; we decided to develop the vocational skills for those women so that they would be able to take care of themselves and their orphan children. So the issue of having some educational qualification does not arise ,no matter the level of education, as a matter of fact, education is not considered at all, I think vulnerability is the most important criteria here.
We are after empowering the vulnerable because once they are taken care of economically, they will spread the empowerment to others, and once that is done, it reduces crime and increases economic activities and we are all better for it. It is a win win situation here. Once the hands are doing something, it cant be workshop for any evil.
How many of the beneficiaries have graduated so far from the various acquisition centres across the state?
By early this year, we have so far trained over 6,800 of these women.
The figure is what we collated as at February this year. Between then and now, we have graduated a large number of them which we are just collating now. We have a monitoring unit here which goes from time to time to assess the work of our trainees as well as to give additional support because sometimes you go and there and there would be problems and challenges faced by these people and then you try to know the challenges so you can advise them on how to move forward.
Generally, most of the women trainees here are doing very well ,Most but not all are actually doing extremely well. And for those who are yet to catch up, we try to find out what challenges they are facing and we discovered that their challenges are traditional issues. For example, a lady trainee or a widow trainee who eventually marry or remarry, some abandon the project because of the new marriage, but more importantly because of the new comfort derived from the new marriage or husbands.
While the trainees may be facing one challenge or the other, the foundation too has its own, and that is the area of recovery of loan to the trainees. This is one area that we are concerned about. While some of them are judiciously using the loan facility, I must say that recovery same is very low, But that is expected anyway. Our joy in all this is that we are impacting lives, that is the bottom line for which the foundation was set up.
The relationship between the foundation and the state government and ministry of women affairs is very strong and cordial, mutual beneficial working relationship. The ministry of women affairs is empowered to look after the affairs of women. We want to complement Government efforts and to work with the women ministry and even our programmes are determined by the area of priority of the ministry of women . so we are partners in progress.