By MOSES NOSIKE
Francis Chilaka is the Programme Director, Keep Up The Hope (KUTH) Foundation, an organization that is poised to affecting lives positively.
Because of his up-bring, he is an advocate for youths empowerment in Nigeria as well as the physically challenged. He is a career counselor, mentor and a motivational speaker.
In this interview with Saturday Vanguard Business, he stresses the need for parents, the church, government and the society at large to empower the less privileged ones and the youths without which the Nigerian society is a failure. Excerpts:
Youth development, KUTH Foundation for the less privileged, what prompted this?
It’s something that started as far back as 2009. I have always been in the system, educating the young people especially the youths. I had a background that allowed me to mentor youths and I believe if our youths are not mentored properly, we will have a country without a future.
So in my little way, I have been doing youth evangelization and all of that. I have also delivered a lot of papers on drug addiction, prostitution and the need to start one’s life as a young person, etc.
I have equally had opportunities of talking to fresh secondary school leavers, university graduates as well as those who are undergoing their NYSC programmes. I do a lot of counseling.
KUTH Foundation formally came into being in November 2011. However, it was around August 2011 that I met a man who in my own language I would describe him as a chronic giver, a man with a very large heart when it comes to charity, Mr. Gerald Agbonoarue Azonobo, the Principal Promoter of KUTH Foundation.
As at the time we met, he was preparing for a football tournament in Festac town and its environs and wanted to lace it with motivational talks.
After our very first meeting, it was obvious that we both shared something in common, motivating the youths and impacting on the lives of the less privileged. Ironically, he too has been involved in charity work as far back as 2009.
So during our second meeting, I merely suggested to him of the need to have a corporate platform for carrying out all the laudable charity works he had in mind and as God would have it, he bought into it and before I knew it, he had on his own started the process of registering the foundation, all I did was to get the name which we both agreed upon.
That is how KUTH Foundation came into being. The vision and mission statement of two people who shared the same dreams.
However, talking about the youths, I always believe that the Nigerian adults particularly have not been fair to the youths, because we seem not to know who the youths are. There is no delineation in terms of age. People will say I’m 60 or 70 and still young at heart.
That is not the kind of youths we are talking about. The youths we are looking at are those who fall within the age bracket of 13 to 45.
For this set of young ones, there is a lot of transformation going on physically, emotionally and psychologically in their minds and trust me, a lot of them need someone to help them in focusing their energies and strength to something productive, so as to be better ambassadors of themselves and their families.
It is this category of young people that I like to talk to and help them in taking wise decisions with respect to their careers and future.
For instance, in my church I have always talked to these young ones to stop wasting their time every year writing JAMB and failing, when they could easily get enrolled into Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, rather than roaming round the streets and becoming bed-fellows to social vices.
The issue of social vices is one area the foundation has not rested for one minute; frankly speaking, this is one cancer that is gradually consuming our nation’s youths. In our desire to stem the tide, we have gone as far as developing a programme that stands the chance of mitigating the continued proclivity to these vices by our youths.
The Stay Alive Project initiative.
The foundation sees it as her duty to always talk to these youths and encourage them in taking wise decisions for a better future, because no matter what anybody is saying with reference to change and transformation, if we don’t carry the youths along and collectively fight the scourge of social vices, we will not get there as a nation.
If you look at the youths of today compared to the youths of 60s, you would see a big disparity.
The youths of the 60s had vision, passion, goals. They took risk, they wanted to be educated. The embraced hard work. But what do we have of the youths of today, the so called youths of the 21stcentury, drug addicts, prostitutes, ritualists, cultists, examination cheats, thugs, etc.
Youths who hardly have time for education, but want to get rich over night. This is simply a pointer to the fact that we have a lot of work to do to re-orientate and change the mind set of these youths.
Did you see future in these less privileged ones or passion that led you to them?
Passion yes, but nothing is as good as passion shared by two people. My upbringing had a lot to do with my passion for the less privileged so also does that of my Principal Promoter, Mr. Azonobo.
For my part, am a Catholic and I ventured into the priesthood because I wanted to be a priest or should I say a Monk and I attended the school for years. One of the trainings I received then was how to visit prisons, hospitals, homes of abandoned children, displaced children, and orphanages and during that period I saw a lot of future in these children.
I saw children who despite their conditions wanted to be successful. All they wanted is someone to encourage and mentor them. On the other hand, Mr. Azonobo is someone whose growing up in Festac equally saw a lot of youths who were going astray and needed someone to lead them back to the light.
I guess when we both saw an opportunity in life to give back to them out of love we did not hesitate because we believe there is a future for them just like any other child. So, frankly speaking, it’s a matter of love, understanding and affection that is lacking in this part of the world.
For instance, we have come across a family who has a child with Down syndrome and the only thing they could do is to dump the child in one of the rooms and treat the child less than a dog. And I tell you a lot of these children are wonderful. There is a girl in one of the homes we visit regularly she writes with her feet.
I saw her drawing and I said God is wonderful. This takes us abroad where you see a lot of people who don’t have arms but some of them have become motivational speakers because the society created enabling environment for them to thrive.
It’s that same enabling environment that we are seeking for the Nigerian youths and children with disabilities.
Running a foundation is very challenging especially one like ours. We have developed very serious innovative programs from our annual football tournament to reaching out to widows, prison inmates, physically challenged children and paying of medical bills, all of these require funds. So the challenge has really been with funds.
We want to use this medium to appeal for support from corporate and high net worth individuals to come and share in our dreams of making the world a better place.