…as she celebrates girls all over the world
By Chris Onuoha
Adesewa Josh is a Nigerian international media personality and the founder of ‘Project Smile Africa’ (PSA). Her work with PSA spans nearly a decade on issues bordering on Africa’s growth and development, politics and diplomatic affairs, gender issues and refugee crises.
Having started with a cable news station in Nigeria, Channels TV, she had also worked at United Nations Television (UNTV) in New York, and currently a news correspondent covering sub-Saharan Africa at TRT world in Istanbul, turkey.
Adesewa has received several recognitions for her reporting on gender violence in fragile communities, won the Xceptional Women in Media Award in 2014, and was named one of Nigeria’s 100 most inspiring women in 2019. In 2019, she co-authored the Refugee’s Messenger, an anecdote on reporting on the frontlines with other seasoned journalists. She is an associate fellow of the prestigious Nigeria leadership initiatives, a platform for distinguished Nigerian leaders and a member of the overseas press club. Having chosen a day that coincided with her birthday, October 11, she went down the memory lane to reflect on life experience that sparked the initiative “Project Smile Africa.”
In the beginning
I started PSA in 2010, and it has been a serious work since inception. In the process, we have carried interventions to various communities in Nigeria that include Ilaje Community in Lagos, Police Barracks in Ikeja, Government Girls Secondary School Kuka in Kano State, Ojota Secondary School in Lagos among others.
One vital question that always comes to my mind is “Where would you be if no one had paid your school fees?” This will also bring to mind the essence of celebrating a girl child in the society; funding her education for her equal Future.
I didn’t grow up poor but at some point in my early adult life, my mother became a widow. As many of you know, our mothers’ wealth is usually insured for as long as their partners live. When mothers weep for their departed beloved, what’s primarily stirring their tears is life without a pay check, enough to cater for the kids. Years of undercurrent family feud automatically lock many women and children out of their rightful inheritance. So, we became poor.
Luckily for my mother, I had just graduated from the university. Unfortunately for me, it was the early 2000s when Nigeria’s job market had begun to shrink. Those who studied overseas, especially in the UK, were returning home with their “Abroad Certificates.” To be honest, it made the job hunt harder for the local hatch. Nigerian companies just loved to see those CVs from abroad. They still do.
Suddenly, securing a good job became unlikely with only a first degree. To become more competitive, many Nigerian graduates of that decade began augmenting their CVs with a second or third degree, as did I. It was the year 2009, and I was already working two jobs which barely paid my bills. One, Client Service, was an 8-5 and paid 40 thousand naira. The other, TV presenting, was on weekends and paid 15 thousand naira.
Unfortunately, a second degree was impossible with the two jobs. And I had no daddy. I enrolled for a part-time course at the Lagos State University, anyway.
With half my tuition paid, money I saved from my two job, I had to strategize on how to evade the debt collectors on exam day. Get to the exam hall, write as fast as possible, sit at the back of the hall so it’s hard for the invigilators to find me. Akin Ogundeji, my class rep that year, was in on the plan. May his soul rest in peace. He would stall the debt collectors to buy us more time to write. I heard one of my classmates wonder how a TV presenter couldn’t possibly afford to pay tuition.
Hard to explain, but I managed to graduate among the top five students that year, despite writing most of my exams within half the stipulated time. Now an alumna of Columbia University, home of the world’s most prestigious ivy league journalism school, I remember how that disturbing period of my life, which paid off eventually, shook me to the core.
Still, I consider myself lucky compared to many of the ten million plus girls in Nigeria currently out of school. Unlike me, many of them didn’t even get a head start. The situation is much worse now with the coronavirus pandemic. Deep budget cuts to education and rising poverty caused by the pandemic could force at least 9.7 million children out of school forever by the end of this year, according to Save the Children. Of this number, girls are likely to be much worse affected than boys, with many forced into early marriage.
As an international journalist, issues like this form the core of my reporting across the African continent. A decade ago, I decided to be part of the solution and started Project Smile Africa, a community led Non-Governmental Organization with a mandate to do whatever I can to help any girl child determined to succeed and declutter the space between their dreams and their destinations. After all, I too know well how difficult it is for girls to rise, be seen, be heard, and be independent. We’ve since helped many girls, mostly from poor communities, eliminate their legitimate excuses; no shoes, no school bags, no pencil, no sanitary towel, and taught them to avoid teenage pregnancy, the worst killer of dreams.
That’s why October 11 isn’t an ordinary day for me. It’s my birthday and a day dedicated to girls around the world by the United Nations. This year’s theme—my voice our equal future—will acknowledge their struggles and amplify their voices as they stand up for their rights.
For those of you still wondering what the fuss about girls is all about, and even demanding a day “for the boy child.” Think of it as a last minute effort to correct generations of social policies and constructs that robbed women and girls the opportunity to get education, to vote, work, to earn equitably, to own properties and the likes. See it as an attempt at equity for women.
Tonight, I’ll have a COVID-19 rules compliant dinner with friends. It would normally be at a secondary school with a bunch of teenage girls, but not this year, due to the pandemic. Since the greatest gift I have ever received is tuition, I have asked my guests to head over to http://www.projectsmileafrica.org to donate as little as a dollar, instead of buying me any fancy gifts. And funds raised will be spent on girls in some of the poorest communities who have been told “there are no guarantees you’ll return to school, ever.” Happy International Day of the Girl Child!