By Moses Nosike
Dr Raphael James is a multi-award winning Nigerian who believes in creating jobs via skill acquisition especially among the women to add value to their families and reduce economic pressure.
He is the founder, CRIMMD Skills Acquisition Centre, he studied Psychology in the university and holds a diploma certificate in Journalism but found himself in the media world doing mostly research. He has written 56 books and published 23.
In this interview with Moses Nosike, he revealed how a strange widow woman walked into his office asking him for money to buy food and to feed her children raised in him an idea that gave birth to CRIMMD Skill Acquisition Centre. Excerpts:
How did you initiate this free offering acquisition centre?
The idea started in 2015 through an incident. A woman walked into my office asking for alms and I told her I wasn’t a bank and I don’t run a canteen to feed her. Then she exposed her body and offered me sex in order to get money to take care of her children. I refused and asked her to leave my office.
The following day she came back and explained to me that almost all her husband’s friends had slept with her ever since she lost her husband because they are trying to assist her financially. She went on to reveal that five thousand Naira is the highest and fifty Naira happened to be the lowest she has received from any one of them.
Feeling for her situation, I asked her if she learnt any trade or skill she could engage in that will give her a regular income in order to take care of her family and she said none. I offered her the little I could afford knowing that wouldn’t make much difference, so I encouraged her to learn a skill.
When she left, I asked myself two questions; If it were to be my wife that my friends would want to sleep with her because she asked them for money to help my children when I drop dead? And how many other women are out there facing this same challenge? I felt quite bad and that was how the idea of setting up a skill acquisition centre came up.
I discussed it with my wife and she agreed and offered to support by being part of it. Luckily, she is a seamstress and she was willing to take care of the dressmaking class. That was how we started; rented a place, bought six sewing machines and commenced classes in February 2016. At the end of 2016, we were able to train about 124 women in different skills and that was because we were still battling then to get women understand that what we are doing is free.
I had few challenges along the way. The Local Government officials came to lock up the place but I told them that we are training the women free of charge but they found it difficult to believe. Since inception we have been running it free till date.
So far, we have trained over four thousand women in nine different skills; catering, dressmaking, bead making, liquid soap production, Ankara classes, music etc. We’ve also had some guest instructors. Also a friend of mine who is based in the US flew in to teach the catering class how to cook Igbotic type of soup.
How do you get the instructors that teach at the centre?
I have two permanent staff members; a lady and my wife. Others are guest instructors and I pay them when they take the classes. I’ve also had voluntary teachers. A particular woman was handling the bead making class for free for two years but she encouraged the students to buy the bead materials from her because she runs a bead shop. That’s basically how we are running it since 2016.
How were you able to create awareness and gather these women?
It was a one-on-one thing. We talked to woman A to talk to woman B to talk to woman C and it went on and on like that. We also printed hand flyers which we shared to churches; I post it on social media for those living within the vicinity to attend classes. I went to some schools too and even the police station to speak with the police women.
How have you been able to generate your funds to pay for the bills incurred from the centre since is free?
Over the years, I’ve refused to calculate how much I’ve spent on the centre for me not to be discouraged. I aimed at running it free ever since I set the place up and thank God it has been so since 2016. What I do is that I use the income I get from my other businesses to run the place.
For example, if we’re repairing our machines which we do every month or two months, depending on the usage, the guy who comes to service the 10 sewing machines charges about twenty to thirty thousand naira and I can’t ask the women to contribute the money.
Of course some of them can afford it but that mindset of it being free is already there, so we have to do it free. I must also say that I’ve had one or two women who after training showed appreciation. I’ve had a woman who brought a bottle of wine and said it is her own way of showing appreciation. A women also did a big banner for the centre but unfortunately, the Local Government officials came to remove the banner and asked that I come to the office to pay.
What has been the achievements so far?
On a scale of 100 not minding that it is mine, I’ll say we’ve had over 85% success. We did our first exhibition in October last year where we encouraged our students to exhibit whatever they have produced over the years, whether they’ve left us or not. And interestingly we had a full house; the compound was filled up with over two hundred people.
We did a fashion parade, our catering class made kunu and zobo which we used for entertainment instead of buying soft drinks, the soap we used in washing the plates was produced from the centre, and also the materials we used on display was made by the centre. The women that passed through the tailoring class wore the clothes they made by themselves that day. we also visit schools and train the girl child in the schools free.
What are the challenges that have opposed your determination to move on so far?
This might sound funny, but you can imagine me begging the women to sweep the place where they come to learn free of charge. I feel embarrassed each time I tell them to sweep because they always want to leave it for the lady in charge which I tell them isn’t proper. That is one of the challenges I’ve been facing. When I started, I provided the materials they needed for the training but then I discovered that they were taking full advantage of it.
I normally ask them to sew and keep some for us as sample but they will prefer to sew and take it away. So I stopped providing the materials. Another challenge is rent. Our rent is already due since last December. The place costs us almost half a million Naira per annum and whenever it is due my eyes turns red because the fund is not somewhere begging for me to use it. I just spoke to my landlord and plead with him to give me till February or March ending and good enough, he has been very understanding and I’ll say that’s his own little contribution to what I’m doing.