Inspire Inclusion: Women Letting It Shine

JJ. Omojuwa
5 min readMar 8, 2024

Stella* had done her time at the correctional home. However, having lost her parents whilst in that juvenile detention, there was no home for her to go to. She was condemned to transit from one form of detention to another where she’d be a free child but one without freedom. This was the promise that the future intended for Stella until Damilola Feyide came into the picture. Stella’s future had in that moment gone from uncertainty to one where it was now her script to write. She was going to be handed a clean slate where she could live and dream.

Dammy returned to Nigeria for her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme. She intended to do the compulsory one-year national service and then return to be with her family abroad. Several years on, Dammy is yet to return to her family in that sense. Except for visits, she instead went from that person that was going to be visiting Nigeria to one who was now committed to Nigeria from within.

Even though Dammy had a plan, the universe had a different one. Because during her service year, she started a creative school that was designed for children from marginalised backgrounds, especially children from Correctional centres and Remand homes. That project became a school in 2021. She now runs a government registered private school — except that this private school is completely free for all the students, down to their uniforms, books — FREE everything!

A friend, Lanre Messan, told me about the school. It sounded too bold to be true. I was already used to supporting organisations who were helping to either put children from marginalized backgrounds in school or keeping them there. However, this was the first time I was hearing and then reading about a different model of support for this group. I immediately connected with Dammy over the phone and met to discuss her vision. She had many stories to tell, starting with hers and transiting to that of some of the 150 children in her school, Let It Shine Academy (LISA). When she spoke about her children, you could see the light in her eyes brighten.

I was at LISA school earlier in the week. Dammy is on the left

I visited LISA school on Monday, joined by Elijah Olowe who ended up making commitments to the school on account of what he had heard and seen. Dammy was spot on, LISA isn’t just about free education, it is intentionally designed to make it qualitative too. That bit is essential because often, free education moved with low quality education.

What I love about the LISA model is that it is a system that is intended for these children, curated to address their specific needs and stories. It has an ecosystem for that purpose.

Like Dammy, Añuli Aniebo finds her purpose in nurturing people. She founded the HEIR Women Development and HEIR Women Hub. Through these platforms and her book, “More than just pretty,” Añuli consistently designs spaces and platforms to centre women and also programmes to help empower them.

Olamide Osareimen Apejoye is a lawyer. She has however found greater purpose in providing platforms for other women. This was what inspired the DELT-Her project. Supported by NASENI, Developing Engineering Leaders Through Her is working to create opportunities for women in engineering, a field that continues to be seen as a reserve for women. DELT-Her intends to create spaces to inspire more schoolgirls take up engineering courses whilst also providing visibility for women engineers.

True to the diversity of Nigerian women, there is also the women in Nigeria who aren’t Nigerian but have adopted the country as theirs. People like Sneha, originally from India but has learnt to love Nigeria and tells better Nigerian stories than even some Nigerians.

There is Lehle Balde, born to Senegalese parents in Canada. Lehle lived in about a dozen countries feeling like she belonged to each one and taking them with her to the next. Then seven years ago, she discovered Nigeria and never let go. She came to Nigeria for a conference, stayed two weeks with friends and soon realised this was the country she wanted to live and work.

At a time many Nigerians, given any glimpse of opportunity, move out of the country, especially to Canada, Lehle did the reverse movement and has simply grown and thrived in this country. She has hosted the National Debate on Poverty Eradication at the Nigerian Economic Summit, been platformed by the likes of MTN, Business Day and has created platforms herself to amplify Nigerian stories and help advance financial inclusion.

Then there is Maryam Ahmad, senior associate at Gatefield using the platform and her other passions to advance development conversations. There is Hassana Maina, the founder of ASVIOL, helping to empower women and providing the tools to help fight sexual and gender-based violence.

Nigerian icons like Amina Mohammed, Ibukun Awosika and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala have shown that the Nigerian woman is capable of a lot more than the country, by design, permits them. These women, and others like them, have defied the rules and inhibiting structure that have historically held women back. Dammy, Añuli, Lamide, Lehle and others like them are leading a new charge for our country, in their diversity are helping to empower people across backgrounds.

There are many others like Dammy, Añuli, Lamide, Sneha, Lehle, Maryam and Hassaina. Like these women, they defied the barriers and different forms of discrimination and are now themselves helping to break down these barriers. They are ensuring and forcing inclusion in spaces that have hardly known or seen diversity. They are not waiting for others to make change happen, they are the change. You couldn’t write their names to fit into a short article, let alone write their individual stories in same.

As a people, men and women, we must look to not just inspire inclusion, we must provide the platforms to empower new generations of people to do more and to be. Like Dammy Feyide, we must look at what we can do, and then set out to do more.

  • Name has been changed.

This piece also appears in the THISDAY Newspaper of 8 March 2024