As the founder of the No Girlchild Must Dropout campaign, Olanike Adesanya helps girls to dream big and create plans for the future.
“I tell the girls I work with that bright and good futures don't just happen by chance; they come by design.”
As a young girl, I thought my future would take shape naturally. Little did I know that for a girl child to have a promising future, she needs to start working toward her vision as early as her teens.
It took me 50 years to realize that a girl child has to spell out a vision for her future. Now, I work across schools and churches in Nigeria, educating, sensitizing, and empowering teenage girls before they become adults and marry. My campaign is called No Girlchild Must Dropout (NGMD). I tell the girls I work with that bright and good futures don't just happen by chance; they come by design.
I help girls envision a new future for themselves so that they can make it reality — because in my case, nobody told me to think about my future. The closest I had was my mother warning me to study, keep my body clean, and maintain my virginity. "Don't come home with a pregnancy that would disturb your academics because the moment you get pregnant, you stop being my responsibility,” she warned me.
My mother’s warnings worked. They instilled in me the kind of fear I needed to work hard and concentrate on my studies. Her warnings pushed me to achieve the academic excellence she and I desired. "If any man is seriously interested in you, let me meet him first before you say yes to his deceit,” my mother once said. “He must not wear a single tribal mark on his cheeks.” It sounded as if the fallacy mattered – that a good husband was determined by clean cheeks.
Nobody had ever sat me down and asked me what I wanted for my future or what I envisioned for my life once I no longer lived with my parents. As an average student, I believed that as I grew up, things would fall in place. All I did was study and pass exams. I did what I was supposed to, but not enough to create a purposeful future.
I met ambitious, successful people who knew what they wanted to be. Doctors, pharmacists, engineers, nurses, accountants – name the profession, and they became it. All of these people around me had dreams, mentors, and plans for what they wanted to become in the future…. except for me.
I had no vision for my future. No dream. No plan. I was just taking the next thing as it came most times. I remember wanting to buy a Jeep, like a lady I admired so much. It was the closest thing I had to a dream, but I had no idea how to achieve it.
When I grew up, I graduated from the university, became an account executive, and met my husband. Yet, I wasn't able to buy the Jeep until I added an incidental vocation. The Beijing Women's Conference and Millennium Development Goals around gender equality and women’s empowerment inspired me. I picked up my pen and wrote a fictional story in my mother tongue, Yorùbá, supporting gender equality.
My story, "Odun A Yako?" was published and recommended for Junior Schools Examination by the National Examination Council of Nigeria. With copies of my story going to schools across the country, I required a vehicle to distribute them. I finally got the Jeep. This experience led me to believe that if I had a better dream than buying a Jeep at that time, I could have achieved it.
And so, I have made it my mission to help girls in my community dream of a future. My findings reveal that in Southwest Nigerian public schools, at least three out of every 10 girls drop out before 12th grade (middle school). While a small portion of girls who drop out learn a trade, they will often marry young.
About four of the seven other girls who stay in school find their way to tertiary institutions. Unfortunately, by Southwest Nigerian standards, a high school degree no longer earns the holder work beyond a housemaid, and those who receive post-secondary degrees are grossly unemployed.
Nigeria is now more of a consuming economy than a producing one. We have fewer production line jobs that gainfully employ young people. I want girls to be well informed so they can make decisions to benefit their future.
Through No Girlchild Must Drop Out, I make information available at schools and churches. I share anonymous, personal experiences of women who have missed a thing or two about their future because of negligence, lack of access to useful information, and a nonchalant attitude. As a fiction author, I reach out to vulnerable girls through stories, which helps them connect to what they’re learning and pass exams.
I also pick up the responsibility of paying fees and bills for students who struggle financially. I strongly believe that increased dropout rates among girls, paired with poverty and illiteracy, contribute to domestic violence. If all girls had the opportunity to gain an education and skills to plan for the future, they would be bound to excel in their professions and less likely to end up in domestic violence situations.
I would have loved to discover my love of writing and teaching girls earlier in life. Yet, I’m grateful I can help other girls pursue their dreams through No Girlchild Must Dropout.
A girl child must choose a purpose for her living and stir her efforts towards achieving this vision. A Jack of all purposes is good, but a master of one is better. When a girl child spells out her vision, she becomes aligned with her life purpose.
This story was published as part of World Pulse's Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.