BY JOSEPHINE AGBONKHESE

Alhaja Zeenat Abiola Kalejaiye is an exceptional woman. A sincere pursuer of societal development, the devout Muslim would stop at nothing to ensure anyone that comes her way smiles for life. This trait has trailed her from childhood and doesn’t seem to let go soon. An Islamic lecturer, missioner and businesswoman of repute, Zeenab who is Founder, Al-Ghityath Lil-Muslimat Foundation and Executive Director, Zeekay Vocational Training Centre, ZEVOTRAC, had a chat with Feminista in her Ikorodu office in Lagos where she is saving hundreds of lives from lack.

What attracted needy people to you in the first place?

I attended primary,
secondary and Arabic school here in Ikorodu before going to study Islamic Studies at the Lagos State University. As a young girl, while in Arabic school, I was a ‘senior girl’ and that entailed learning to bring bring people together and showing love. You, in fact, lead congregations. Back then in Arabic school, I would intuitively call my junior ones together and begin to mentor them. So, people have always gathered around me.

Who were you before the conception of Al-Ghityath?

I’ve been a businesswoman and an Islamic lecturer. In the course of my work, I’m able to network with people of great minds. So, I decided to use the opportunity to float a foundation as a response to people coming to me for financial aid, unendingly.

So how did you set the ball rolling?

I started by sharing the vision with a big sister and friend, one Alhaja Khadijat Ayanwale. We started by giving N25,000 to about four indigent widows. But at the end, we realised they didn’t manage that fund wisely because we also did follow-up. Sometimes, we distributed about twenty machines for grinding pepper and others. But soon, these women would come back for money.

You kept giving out free money after realising it won’t take them far?

We were like doing a test-run. We finally realised the best was to empower them with skills. I love creativity, so, I once trained at Singer School of Fashion at Mushin in Lagos, and I’ve always been a fashion-freak. I decided to marry my foundation with my business. That gave birth to Zevotrac in 2010. If you ask my regular students who are not on scholarship, you’ll find that I let them pay as little as N20,000 ten times because I simply want them to pay and be committed. I pay my instructors from my own personal business money. Sometimes we have close to 50 trainees on scholarship and they learn entirely at our expense. At the end, we still give them start-up materials. Another thing we do is a programme called Fasting Without Stress in which I give out loads of foodstuffs free of charge during Ramadan.

All these would never have been possible without the help of a number of good-spirited Nigerians who have stood solidly behind my vision. A special thank you goes to Senator Ganiyu Olanrewaju Solomon, my husband Chief Abiodun Kalejaiye who is our Chairman, Alhaja Khadijat Ayanwale and many more.

What new are we expecting from you?

I’m starting a TV programme soon and it will be called The Real Mind Builders. It’s a mentoring programme that will bring together Muslims of like-minds just for Muslim women to meet and talk to celebrities.

Is it not against your religion to give worldly exposure to women?

No. If I were indoor, all these happy because they have access to free training wouldn’t be. I’m invited at different times as resource person to society and state events and that’s happening because I embraced exposure. Moderation is key.

What gives you joy about all you’re doing?

I’ve had to sell my gold jewellery to organise a free health programme when I couldn’t get sponsors three years ago. The truth is: what you have in your bank account is not your money. What’s yours is what you actually give out.

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