By Ebunoluwa Sessou and Franca Odia
Olutosin Oladosu-Adebowale is the founder Stars of Hope Transformation Centre, an initiative that believes in turning what is regarded as trash to treasure. She specialises in empowering women in life skill and economic survival strategies through the trash to treasure initiative.
An initiative that makes women transform trash into assets and training children on prevention of sexual assault.
Working with fabrics to create beautiful art, bags, among others, Tosin says, transforming the lives of the abused women positively was what informed the trash to treasure initiative.
In this interview, she speaks on her life as an abused woman and how she was able to pick up her pieces from trash to treasure.
What exactly is trash to treasure?
Trash to treasure is a business venture that uses trash to create wealth, beautiful things. So the proceed, of whatever we sell from trash to treasure we use it to support our organization which we call star of hope transformation centre. At trash to treasure we pick trash, we use them to create beautiful things that we sell.
What informed this laudable initiative?
I was an abused woman; I was treated like trash. So after that treatment I used to think that I was actually not good for anything, maybe people treated me like that because that was who they thought I was but it got to a point that I began to see some good things about me and what I could do. In order words, I had to change my mindset.
I now began to use what people considered as trash to something so beautiful and precious. My thought was to change the narrative from what people think things should be to the way I think people should see things.
If I could make something out of nothing that people thought I was then, I should be able to treat things differently. And I should be able to turn my life around and become what I will be proud of. When I look at what I create, it boosts my self-esteem and I look at those things and I then turned them to treasure.
Who are your audience?
I work with women who are abused, who share similar experience with me, women who were beaten and battered. I used my experience to change their mind set.
What we do is to go to tailor’s shop to pack those materials considered as waste. Most women I am working with are those who have been thrown out by their fathers, husbands and even their sisters. When I created things, some of them would walk over them the same way people walked over those women.
We have seen situation where men walked over their wives. And for women in our organisation, turning those trashes to treasures, they would point at some of the art work and say, this is a replica of the way they were abused and thrown out of the house by their husbands, fathers or even family members.
For instance, whatever art work I made, those women look at it and say “he threw me out just the way that tailor threw away her waste.
It will interest you to know that those wastes are what we are able to turn to beautiful things. For them, if some women could survive domestic violence and become great ambassadors, they can also survive. They love what we produce, they embrace it and many of them make a living out of it.
…And the challenges?
The major challenges are the customers that patronise our art works. Most of them do not like what is produced out of trash, so most of the time nobody want to buy our product in Nigeria, it is only people who are abroad that have to do with recycling and refill are the ones who patronise us.
When I started, I created art work from trash, I took them to many galleries in Nigeria but Nigerians do not want to see them except the foreigners. They love and appreciate them. Unfortunately, those women who reach out to especially on social media are illiterates so, I try my best to communicate with them especially when it comes to selling the trash to treasure products.
So the major challenge is that Nigerians do not want to buy trash but they love new things.
…and your Ibasa story?
I started working at ibasa about eight years ago, it is a community that was neglected just the way men allegedly neglect their wives, I went there for a program and I just love the place.
I saw the pains in the eyes of the women. No hospital, no road, no bridge, no secondary school, no market, no police station and no essential amenities.
My concern was that, I needed to be among those people. Before then, I was seen as someone that was neglected and cast away. I was like a burden to people especially my people. So when I got to that community and saw those people, they were like a burden to the government.
I travelled to that community by boat and unfortuantely, nobody or organisation was on ground to enlighten those people in that community. That was the time, I started my programme in Ibasa. The women and the girls of Ibasha were eager to learn and then they became my sisters. We started programs for the girls. Today, there is a programme running currently called ‘Saturday with Olutosin and the girls’.
Amazingly, Funmi Iyanda sponsored the programme and we started a training for women and now to the glory of God we built our center there. We have our animals there, we raise money locally and we did lot of things with women.
Your NGO is not common; is it deliberate?
This is because we have different vision and mission. Our organization work with women who are in the rural area.
Interestingly, we have more than 2000 women in other countries who have been trained in different rural areas including India and South Sudan and they have become trainers. We have spread our tentacle to Omu area of Oyo state, Nigeria where we train women freely. Which means, if we are invited to come and train women on how to turn trash to treasure, we will be glad to honour the invitation.
The truth is that, in Nigeria, many people do not want to have anything to do with trash, they rather patronise new things.
How many women so far have you trained? And how do you convince women to become entrepreneurs?
We do not need to convince women, when a woman has an issue with her family and she can’t feed herself, we do not need to come and beg her to come and learn a trade. We train women on how to make bags with pieces of Ankara, how to make shoes, how to make throw pillow and lot more beautiful things. When they see the progress in their lives, I do not think they need to be convinced. We work with rural women only. We have trained more than 2,000 in Nigeria, India and South Sudan.
How do you recognize those in need?
I create wall art works, many people buy this wall art works because they believe in what we do, it is easier for me to raise funds through this art work and we are able to support these women in giving them startup funds, and sometimes I have friends too, very close friends that know what we do, so most of them help in supporting the women. After this we ask the women the type of business they will want to venture into and support them financially.
We do not force them into doing a business, we do not force them to sell what we produce because what we produce may be very hard for them to sell in their communities, so they have the freedom to choose between tailoring classes, bag making classes among others, while some of these women decide to go into selling of provision and other items especially those who are widows and those that were abused.
How do you think government can empower more women?
Do I need to advice government? Every human being know that when you empower a woman, you empower the nation. When I give to a woman I know her children will eat out of it, even her husband that beat her will eat out of it. If I give to a man, there is no guarantee that the wife and children will eat out of it. Nobody needs to advice any government, will they listen?, will they read?. Advising them is like a waste of time, they see what we are doing and they also know what is happening in the society.