It was while I was abroad I came into contact with the mentally-challenged people when I volunteered with others from my school to host people from a mental institution in the community. It was then I began to appreciate that mentally-challenged people were treated with love and respect as opposed to what I saw in Nigeria before I left. I appreciated the reciprocal love and respect. My interest in specifically autism grew as I got more exposure after attending several courses over the years in the United Kingdom. I then knew there was a gap to be filled because the more I talked about autism, the more I realized many people did not know about it unless they were affected by it and could afford to go abroad for help. In Nigeria, autistic children are not given adequate love and care even by their parents not to talk of the government.
How have you been faring in this kind of terrain which is believed to be very tedious and stressful?
It has been very challenging and still is but I am not discouraged because this is what I want to spend the rest of my life doing. It that makes me very happy when I can make a difference in people’s lives and I am glad that in the short time we have been working, we have been able to do this. I want to be able to reach out to more, to touch more lives, to make a difference. Our main challenge is finance because we are many dipping into the same pots of corporate organisations. I am now used to hearing “Sorry, we cannot do anything. We have exhausted our CSR budget” We have been lucky recently with sponsorship from First Bank and British Airway who supported our recent introductory training course for Medical Practitioners to recognize the signs and Educators, Carers and parents to manage children who have Autism. We hope to have this training annually if we can continually get support but in the absence of that, we are working on a sustainability plan. We need Nigerians to be more charitable to the mentally challenged and not on extravagant vanities of the world. There is so Nigerians can offer, if we so desire to.
How far has awareness been raised in the society?
We have been able to raise awareness in the society that autism is not infectious and one cannot get autism by mere touching and playing with an autistic child and it is also not a spiritual problem as most people see it to be but it is something that has to do with the genes. The society needs to know that with adequate love and care, an autistic child can live a normal life.
What is your perception of what people feel of NGOs as most people think that they are just a fraud?
I do not know why people see NGOs as a fraud. I don’t and I am puzzled that people have no regards for NGOs! At least all the ones I know. Just like in everything, there is good and bad.
How have you been able to joggle being a wife, mother and your NGO programmes?
My husband has been extremely supportive and so have my children. It’s a family affair. My little children are very involved believe it or not. I couldn’t have made it without my husband’s full support which Alhamdulillah I have and will Insha Allah continue to have. My work does not get in the way of my family life. I see myself as a good wife and mother.
What advice do you have for women out there?
My advice to not only women is go for what you believe in however long it takes you because only there will you find happiness. I see myself as a go-getter in all sense of the word and nothing is impossible if you believe in it and there is good in it. At this point, I wish to share the words of Tony DeBlois who is a 34-year-old visually-impaired man living with autism in the United States. He has been given the opportunity to reach his maximum potential and is contributing his own quota to his society, making a living for himself. This is our vision for people with developmental disability “to reach their maximum potential and be the best that they can be.”
Tony says, It is O.K. to be different. Believe in yourself. Don’t give up on your dreams. Always have high hopes. The two most important words are “Thank You”. And the three P’s are practice, practice, practice.