Sports and gender activist, Aderonke Ogunleye Bello has said her pet project, FAME is maximally utilizing the power of sports to achieve Sustainable Development Goals for the girl-child in Nigeria. In this interview with Trust Sports, the journalist and social influencer explained how FAME is mentoring the girl-child to access economic participation and helping women to know their rights, for them to be part of decision making in the society. She also spoke on the need for sports authorities in Nigeria to give priority attention to the welfare of female athletes.
What informed your decision to set up the Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) known as FAME?
FAME is actually an acronym for Female advocacy, mentorship and Empowerment. It is a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) borne out of my passion for the protection and emancipation of women and the girl-child. I started the foundation because I want to help the next generation of the girl-child. They need access to economic participation and to be part of important decision making in the society. We want girls and women to know their rights. We are deeply convinced that an empowered woman will give power to her children and the society. It is never too late to learn.
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FAME is visible in sports especially among students and IDPs. Is the organization essentially about encouraging the girl-child to realize her potential in sports?
We are not into only sports. We are present in other areas as well. You know because of my sports background, most of my colleagues in sports have keyed into our programmes. It is for this reason that one may be tempted to feel it is basically about sports. Our sports initiative for development is known as ‘PLAY it, DREAM it’. And it is aimed at using sports as a tool for achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is nothing that unites Nigerians more than sports. Although the country is heterogeneous in nature, any team that is representing Nigeria enjoys maximum support devoid of ethnic and religious sentiments. It is against this background that we are using the power of sports as a vehicle to drive our sustainable development goals to help the girl-child in Nigeria. ‘PLAY it, DREAM it’ initiative is to tackle SDG 3, 4, 5 and 10 which is about good health, well-being, quality education and gender equality. The sports initiative teaches the girl-child the dangers of early marriage, the need for economic freedom and critical decision making.
Are there plans for your organization to float a female football academy in future?
Floating a football academy is not in the pipeline to be honest, at least not for now. At the moment, we are concentrating on sport for actualisation of our development programmes and expanding the project beyond the FCT. We want to see how FAME will sustain itself. Honestly, floating a football now will be an unnecessary distraction. We have a lot on our hands for now.
What would you say were the initial challenges you faced?
I don’t like talking about this. I don’t see any of the hurdles as a challenge per se. I see them as things that usually happen along the way. The major challenge is changing people’s mindsets from their religious and cultural beliefs. If a people’s culture says a 13-year old girl is ripe for marriage and you want to change what has been in existence for over 80 to 100 years, it is not always easy. If all of a sudden, I come around to say at that age, the girl should be in school, there is usually resistance. To be honest, I have been abused and molested several times. Sometimes, I go back home crying because we have been unable to change some unfounded beliefs. However, I am so happy that with our passion and consistency as well as emotional intelligence, we are making such people to see reasons with us. Those who work at the grassroots will understand what I am talking about. Secondly, accessing funds is also not easy. Some NGOs are lucky because they get big funds. For us, we have good friends who support our programmes individually. After my 10 years of active participation in gender advocacy and four years after the birth of FAME, it is only recently that we signed a financial agreement and partnership of 20, 000 Euros with Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD). The grant will support the PLAY it, DREAM it initiative of FAME that aims to use sports as a tool to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3, 4, and 5 through 200 Internally Displaced Girls in the Federal Capital Territory and its environs. The Swiss government is also helping out with our educational programmes for girls with physical disabilities.
How much support have you received from the government, either federal to the states?
We are getting there but support from the government has not been much. Maybe we have not reached out enough. We would reach out more. However, it is important to acknowledge the support from the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology. The ministry through the Minister of state makes available its facilities for our training programmes. We want to say a big thank you to the ministry. And on the day FAME was launched, the Wife of the vice-President, Her Excellency, Dolapo Osinbajo was there to support us. In fact, she brought a lot of gifts for the girls such that we took some to the IDP camps.
How soon do you hope to take activities of FAME beyond the FCT where you appear to be concentrating presently?
Although we are headquartered in the FCT, we are planning to work with stakeholders in Nasarawa and Benue State. We are also planning to go to Lagos and Ekiti state before the end of the year. It may interest you to know that before now, we have worked in Delta, Rivers and Lagos as well. We are also partnering with a local NGO in Maiduguri to sensitize the rural women on the peace making process and conflict resolution. It is true we have done more in the FCT but we are looking beyond the Federal Capital Territory.
As a sports and gender activist, would you say you are satisfied with the attention being given to female athletes, particularly women football in Nigeria?
I can’t get tired of talking about improving the welfare of female athletes in Nigeria. I am not only looking at football. I will say it is a bit better than the last five or six years. I am happy that few of us are still advocating for better treatment of female football players in Nigeria. The Super Falcons must be given the treatment due to them as the most successful female national team in Africa. I am happy NFF is trying to make some adjustments. As much as I am not completely satisfied, there are efforts in the right direction. It would have been a serious problem, if efforts weren’t there.