Growing up in a violent home in Lagos, Nigeria, Nkechi Abok took refuge in the one place where she found the stability and creative freedom she craved: school.
“Going back and forth between home and school felt so often like a tug of war,” Nkechi says. “But I loved school; there I could learn freely.”
Nkechi, now a television producer and editor, is fighting for the rights of women and girls in Nigeria, namely through workshops at local schools.
“I live in a community where 11- and 12-year-old girls are getting pregnant,” Nkechi says. “These women don’t have mentors.”
Nkechi is providing that missing support with her volunteer organization, the Growing Up Affairs Initiative. It connects health specialists with teenage girls to discuss topics ranging from sexuality to sanitation, all in an effort to equip the country’s young women with the information they need to make safe decisions.
As a workshop facilitator, Nkechi stresses the need to integrate small-group discussions wherever possible, especially when sessions cover sensitive or highly personal issues.
“It’s only in these small groups that the girls we’ve worked with open up and feel comfortable enough to talk about their sexuality.”
Nkechi also makes a point of distributing surveys before and after each training session to ensure that students are understanding and benefiting from the topics discussed.
“Sometimes students will call to tell me how much they enjoyed our workshops,” Nkechi says. “It’s a great feeling, knowing that you’ve helped someone.”
One challenge Nkechi has faced, though, has been resistance from schools hesitant to delve into these sensitive topics, many of which extend beyond a school’s established curriculum.
Nkechi counters that gender issues and health literacy are key to a functioning society.
“It’s not just about math and physics,” Nkechi says. “If girls are forced to drop out of school because they are getting pregnant or don’t have access to sanitary pads, this is a topic worth discussing.”
It’s in the throes of such resistance that Nkechi returns to the vision that first inspired her: a dream of nationwide gender equity.
“People are always going to criticize you, especially if you outshine them,” Nkechi says. “But if you’re doing something you’re passionate about, you’ll be able to withstand the criticism.”
For Nkechi, following her passions is a unique kind of service, one that comes from the heart and radiates to those around her.
“Service stems from our character,” Nkechi says. “It’s what you do every day.”
Interested in Nkechi’s work? Learn how you can volunteer to serve Africa on our #YALIServes page.