How did you become a philanthropist and what motivates you?
Maybe it was when I was about 10 years old in Lebanon, I liked putting smiles on people’s faces. When I see old people carrying their bags, I would help them carry the bags. Perhaps that explains why I like to spend time with lonely, old people. They don’t pretend to be someone else but their true selves. Speaking with them I usually feel the true meaning of real peace that humanity yearns for. They have nothing to show off.
I used to go to the hospital even when I had planned to visit someone close me that is sick but instead I would continue to visit all the other patients since I believe strongly we are here for each other even in bad situations.
So what is your original nationality?
Lebanese, but I am a global citizen as I have travelled to so many countries. My family is in France and my husband’s family is in Australia.
Why come to Nigeria, and how has it been?
My husband’s work brought me to Africa in 2007. Nigeria was the first country I came to and found the most amazing people. I lived in Minna, Niger State for a while but I visited other states with my husband before I got my kids. Now I live in Abuja. I saw it as my real home, though Africa is portrayed differently by the media.
Life here is just nice and real and not fake. And the city of Minna showed me this. I like to work with people who take drugs to get them to help themselves. I used to be in some associations in Lebanon that assisted kids with cancer. Even in Nigeria, I do visit mental centres to give them two hours of music class every week voluntarily. The idea is to help them forget their pains as life is about giving.
How do you reach out to underserved communities?
I do this with my salary and the income I get from teaching private piano lessons. Also, a lot of people I know support the course with personal effects donated. I personally don’t take money. Instead, I take things and share them. I visit poor families, check their needs and try to get the things they need. For them, it is like a dream when help comes their way.
Happiness is not about material things. Happiness comes from inside you. Peace too. Sometimes, I don’t give anything. I only would share my time, my love and my smile. A lot of people need love; need someone to talk with. If they are poor, it doesn’t mean they are not good. Money doesn’t make the person. Today, for instance, I read stories to a lot of kids in poor villages. You know with education, you can change the world. I give them advice and encouragement for education. I try to get old books from people who don’t need them. I give them to the kids. I work on the floor with the families. It is sharing time and their needs. At the end I am not rich. I am just a normal woman. But I want their voices to be heard—that they are here and need help.
You know, it is not me who works but God who shows the path to work. Every day I got to visit families like anyone goes to visit a friend. I visit these nice families, I spend time with them in their places and I listen to them to identify their needs.
By teaching them respect no matter how small or big, their colour of skin or religion. Little by little, it will touch every part of the society. We are humans and I didn’t choose to be who I am. I was obliged to be who I am. It is not about me but it is about us, all of us together. Life is too short. We are all brothers and sisters in humanity. Egoism has to be deleted from our lives in order to reach the real happiness.
Even rich people hunger for love. There are lots of ways to help. Biscuits are all the time in my cars. I give to all the kids I see on the road. I saw a boy crying and I stopped. I realized the boy’s money and pure water sachets were stolen from him. I gave him the money and talked with him. I felt fulfilled that I was able to help his situation, then I left.
People fear that I may get sick due to undue exposure, otherwise, nothing poses an impediment. I feel the peace, the love and the happiness of all these people. Every day I live, I am more and more attached to them. I also get a lot of encouragement as well. Nonetheless, for me, I listen to myself, to God. I usually will not publish what I do but now I want people to wake up and not be attached to material things. To give real meaning to their lives.
How many people have you helped, by your estimation?
A lot though I have never counted. Again, it is not about the number. It is about who should be in their lives. I do not count what I do. I just do because I have to do it. I help mostly children and families. For about two years, I have worked with a lot of women facing one form of violence or the other.
What is your advice to Nigerians?
Please do not forget that we belong to each other. Muslim, Christian, rich, poor, small and great we are all the same. Let us be humble as life is too short to be more than this.
I love what Mother Theresa said: “We have no peace because we forgot that we belong to each other.” Two other striking quotes from her that I also love are: “We can do no great things only small things with great love.” The other one is: “Don’t allow anyone to come to you without leaving happier.” I believe in all of these sayings.