"He is DEAD"

OKOCHA NKEM
Posted June 9, 2016 from Nigeria

"He is dead", those words changed my life for the worst eighteen years ago.

I was born into a family of four ,with two brothers and a sister. I am the first daughter of my parents. Growing up was fun, because I had a loving father and mother, my dad loved me so much hence my name NKEM which means mine, because he had no sisters.

My mom was a trader, but later stopped her business to take care of us. My dad became the sole bread winner of the family, he left his job to start his own business, he was an electrical engineer who worked with a German company called BAYER, now GEMINI . My dad wanted us to have good education, so we went to private schools. After he resigned to start his business, things became tough for us,but he kept on trying his best to provide for his family.

After a while my dad became ill, and this was a week before he was to be awarded contract worth millions by a shipping company, while he was in the hospital, we went to see him and he told us that we should not worry he will be back home soon. The hospital discharged him and my mom had no money to pay for his bills, she went begging his brothers but they all gave excuses, due to this his Blood Pressure rose and the sickness came back ,he had to be transferred to a General Hospital, few hours after they got there, he died .

My dad’s death changed my life drastically; I was very close to him, the family who had no money for hospital bills, brought money for him to embalmed and taken to the village for burial.

After the burial they made promises to help with our feeding and education, as I write this, after 18 years I have not seen some of my uncles or gotten a dime from them. My mom came back to Lagos with just a few food stuff given to her by her parents. After that life became so difficult for us, feeding and going to school was a big challenge, mom used a token given by a family friend to start a small business by going to local bush market close to Lagos to get vegetables to sell in our community. This was still not enough to feed four children, my very intelligent late elder brother was had straight A’s in the his WAEC ,the best in his set in school got admission in to the university, deferred his admission to go look for work to help my mom take care of us. This was still not enough, because he was working with his WAEC result.

I was writing my WAEC when my father died, so I was not allowed to travel for the burial, because of this trauma, I could not concentrate and hence failed almost all my papers with only an C4 in Physics.

So here I am with no result, and no money to write the alternative G.C.E. So I had to look for a menial job to get money. I started working in my former Landlords cosmetic company, we will produce Shampoo and go to major markets in Lagos to hawk it, market like Badagry, Aswani, Idumota etc. I saved the money to buy the G.C.E form, wrote the exam and all the result in that center was ceased, this was like a big blow to me, so the next year my elder brother bought the form for me and all the result in that center was ceased also. At this point I was so annoyed at life, why was everything going wrong, I felt I was jinxed.

Luckily for me, a neighbor who my father helped to get a driving job, came to tell me, that if I knew any young girl from my village to go help his boss’s wife , she was looking for a house help to help take care of her two children, I told my mom and she said she knew no one, so I told her I will do it, she said no, that we will continue to manage the little we had, that no daughter of hers will become a house help.

One day after she had gone to the market, I collected the woman’s address while going for my normal hawking I visited her in her office, she worked in the bank. She interviewed me, after telling her my story she offered to pay me, feed me, clothe me and be good to me. I was so happy, but how do I make my mum understand, I told my mum all about this offer but she still refused, so one day after she has gone to the market, I parked few of my clothes and went to the woman’s house to start work, she asked me if my mum agreed I said yes and prayed for God to forgive me.

My mum came back she could not find me , she threatened to arrest our neighbor, so he came told the woman about this, she was troubled , she did not want me to go back to my mum because her children loved me immediately we met and I was educated most house help were not, so that weekend she drove with her husband to my house to assure my mum that she will take care of me and not maltreat me and also promised to send and pay for my G.C.E lessons, my mum was still not convinced but I pleaded with her for us to give it a try. We did and that became the turning point.

I wrote my G.C.E and made it, I wrote Jamb and I was told I absconded with my result, I had to write Polytechnic exam, She bought the form for me and I passed the exam.

At this point I left her house and went back home, I kept on waiting for my name to be shortlisted but it was not, so I decided to visit Edo State and stayed with my mummy’s distant cousin, where I made calls to my mum a business center, I met some young men there who were already students in Auchi Poly,I was later given admission, I was able to get some little amount from my brother and a distant relative, for just my school fee, but no accommodation, these young men in Auchi after hearing my story, helped to secure accommodation.

I studied Business Administration and Management, came out with an Upper Credit in 2003.

A month after I finished my former boss whom I took care of her children called me, she wanted me to help take care of her children again because her current maid had to leave for the Christmas holiday, so I went back there, helping with her children after 2months the bank she worked for needed note counters , I submitted my CV, we had a test and I was the second best among all the candidate, I was interviewed and later got the job. That was how I started my banking Career, while working I started registered company that sold motivational books, Christian books etc . I was thirsty for knowledge I knew I did not want to be poor and I also wanted to help others, so I attended so many trainings and seminars examples are The Platform by Covenant Christian Center, Daystar Leadership Academy , Enterprise Development Centre free trainings, SADC, etc. I got married in 2007, I was still working in the bank, and I had written 2 books (120 Businesses you can do and succeed in Nigeria and the beautiful pot and other stories). I also started a Bachelor’s degree program with the Lagos State University as a par-time student.

By 2009 I lost my elder brother due to kidney failure, this was so devastating because I was so close to him, he used to advise me a lot and he was the one that pushed me to become an entrepreneur. My mum was dealt another blow; she went almost mad, for losing her first son who stood by her after we lost our dad. I began to question the essence of life, during his wake-keep people kept on commenting on how he helped them in different ways, in our local church he set up a computer coaching lesson for the youths and bought them computers and a lot more, so I said to myself what will people say of me, after my journey here on earth.

By 2012 I graduated from Lagos State University with a B.SC in Banking and Finance, I was tired of working in the bank after working for 8 years I knew I wanted more out of this life. I resigned and focused on my small business, while running my business I began to see a lot of women sitting idle , some used to come and ask for my help while working in the bank and also they used go come to my mum also. So I sat and thought of what to do to help these women because they were experiencing thesame challenges we had too due to the death of our father.

I wanted to help this women with skills and also fund to do business, I kept on waiting to save enough but it was not forth coming so I started in June 2013 by using all the money I made in a week in the shop where I used as my office for internet services, to organize FREE vocational skills acquisition Training for the women in my community.

That was how I started, so every month women from different ethnic groups will come for our trainings, I continued this using my money until 2014 where I was opportune to attend training for three months on Social Entrepreneurship at Fastlaunch Incubator, my business was finally incorporated as Mamamoni in 2015. We did a proto-type to test our model and the women paid back their loans successfully.

So Mamamoni is a Social Enterprise Fin-tech Social Enterprise that empowers low-income rural and urban slum women with free vocational skills and Loans. Our web platform www.mamamoni.org enables people do Social Good by lending low-income women money to start or sustain their business.

At the beginning of 2015 I applied for the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program, and Mamamoni was selected on the 23rd of March 2015 as one of the 1000 businesses to be funded.

I also got selected to go for The President Obama’s Young African Leadership Training at the Regional Center in Accra, also in 2015 I was inducted to be a LEAP Africa Social Innovator fellow.

So far we have empowered over almost 4000 women in different communities with different livelihood skills to help them generate income to feed and educate their children we have also given out loans to these women to start or sustain their businesses.

We are currently running a partnership with the US Consulate to empower 1200 women in different communities in Lagos with Free vocational acquisition trainings and also financial literacy using our Business Toolkit.

The journey has not been easy but I thank God, that through my ordeal he was preparing me for a greater cause, to help women in Nigeria and Africa break the chains of poverty, I had to pass through all this experience for me to understand the plight of most children and women out there, who lose their children daily because they are financially handicapped to pay for health services, who bring up touts because they cannot afford to educate their children, who have lost husbands and relatives because of poverty.

This is what I was born to do, and will continue to do until I leave this earth. The quality of leaders we have is 90% dependent on the kind of mothers they have, a women who is empowered with education and is financially independent is in a better position to make wise decision concerning her children’s health, education, etc

According to the former Nigerian Minister of Women Affairs, "70% of Nigerian women live below the poverty line", a lot of Nigerian women are poor and something has to be done to mitigate this.

As an organization (MAMAMONI LIMITED) we will continue to innovate new ways to help more women break the cycle of poverty.

We recently launched our web platform www.mamamoni.org to enable Socially Conscious individuals’ world-wide lend poor women money or donate to us to impact more low-income women with FREE vocational skills.

I believe when a women is economically empowered it reduces violence in the home, because most reason for couples disagreements here in Nigeria is money, also when she is economically empowered she can afford to pay for services (internet connection) to go online to make her voice heard, educate her children etc

Recently "Mamamoni" was nominated for the Youth Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition in the Best Project 2016 category you can support our project with comments and votes!

You can also use this short link: https://goo.gl/pYGnML

You can support our project by

a) voting for it b) commenting and giving positive feedback c) tell your friends about it to do the same.

Like I will always say, "NO WOMAN CHOOSES TO BE POOR, BUT WE CAN CHOOSE TO HELP POOR WOMEN , BY INVESTING IN THEM"

Facebook: www.facebook.com/mamamoni.org

Twitter: www.twitter.com/mobilewomenbiz

Web : www.mamamoni.org

This story was submitted in response to #SheMeansBusiness: Women Entrepreneurs.

Comments 6

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Ese Ajuyah
Jun 15, 2016
Jun 15, 2016

Dear Novine,

Your story is very inspiring. I admire your great strength of character. Your ability to overcome obstacles as well as helping others live above challenges. It is great to hear from an amazing survivor like you.

Warm regards, Ese

OKOCHA NKEM
Jun 16, 2016
Jun 16, 2016

Thanks Ese, those obstacles I experienced was God preparing my for this cause,

Olaoluwa Abagun
Jun 16, 2016
Jun 16, 2016

Dearest Novine,

Every time I am privilege to hear your powerful story, I learn something new and get inspired beyond words.

It is amazing how you rose up with so much passion to start Mamamoni, changing the narrative for low-income women, having been held back by the shackles of poverty yourself.

I have voted Mamamoni as the Best Project 2016! Well done. You are a true hero for women and girls.

OKOCHA NKEM
Jun 16, 2016
Jun 16, 2016

My amazing sis Olaoluwa, thanks for your continuous support, thanks for voting for our project.

CATHIE
Jun 16, 2016
Jun 16, 2016

Hi Novine,

       Congragulations on the so many achievements that you have made despite the various hurdles that you went through ! You have such a loving beautiful spirit, your determination to uplift the women of your community is too inspiring and encouraging . I admire your strong spirit of helping others get out of the hurdles that you once faced.You are an amazing lady and a hero to many !

Best wishes dear,

Cathie.

OKOCHA NKEM
Jun 16, 2016
Jun 16, 2016

Thanks for you kind words Cathie, by God's grace I will continue to work to advance the economic empowerment of low-income women.