Ever the bubbly child, Blessing Agbor Ekiko especially loved dancing with her friends.
“I would be the one dancing until the end of the party,” Blessing says, recalling her early years in Limbe, Cameroon.
Blessing, now a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow, television presenter, ethical coach at HiTv Cameroon, and founder and chair of BAE’s Pillar Foundation, noticed years ago the ways in which local school systems sidelined young women.
“Education is an integral part of growth at any age,” Blessing says. “But many girls are refused an education because we don’t see the need for them to go to school.”
Compounding this is the country’s widespread child marriage rate, with over 20 percent of girls aged 15 to 19 already married, according to a 2014 UNICEF report.
In May 2017, Blessing decided to address the issue and hosted a YALILearns session on the YALI Network Online Course “Understanding the Rights of Women and Girls,” specifically the lesson “Supporting a Girl’s Right to Learn.”
“I needed to work with girls in schools,” Blessing says. “I wanted to use them as ambassadors to educate their communities back home.”
As Blessing worked to plan and host her session, she faced a recurring challenge: gaining the trust of participants and their families.
“Some parents didn’t allow their kids to attend the session,” Blessing says. “They didn’t know what we would be teaching; they were scared of change and of something new.”
To address this, Blessing partnered with NGOs and recruited volunteers in the women’s empowerment field to garner trust within her community.
“We worked with people who were already involved in achieving these goals,” Blessing says. “They were already invested in the girl child.”
Blessing also advises Network members looking to organize YALILearns sessions to start by visiting communities to understand local issues fully.
“It’s important to go to these communities and do some work,” Blessing says. “Find out for yourself: What is the challenge? What causes it? How can you best meet the needs of community members?”
Blessing adds that the best facilitators follow up with participants long after their session has ended.
“You have to be sure that your session was effective,” Blessing says. “So follow up with participants, understand how they’re implementing what they’ve learned.”
Over the course of her work, Blessing has come to realize that all community members could use a listening ear and organizing a YALILearns session is one way to offer that support community-wide.
“Every human being has a story, a pain, a worry,” Blessing says. “It’s up to us to ask the right questions, to listen, and to be attentive enough to help.”
As Blessing sees it, being an inspiring leader is just that: It’s realizing that everyone has a story to tell and giving them the opportunity and encouragement to tell it.
Interested in Blessing’s work? Find out how you can organize your own session on our YALILearns page.