By Sam Otti
Ganiyah Tope Fajingbesi, the host of Impact Africa and Coordinating Trustee of United for Kids Foundation (UKF), shocked her friends when she decisively quit her six-figure job in the United States and embarked on a spiritual journey to Cancun, Mexico. She went on a solo vacation but six days later, returned with a manuscript of a book, titled, Love in Cancun. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the United States, Tope disclosed to Daily Sun the target of the UKF to touch the lives of one million Nigerian schoolchildren in various states by 2020.
At what point did you embrace the task of providing support for Nigerian school children? What were the motivations at that time?
I didn’t think about intervening in the education sector till I got to the University of Lagos (UNILAG). Sometime in 1996/97, there was this guy from Imo State, who was featured in the defunct Fame Magazine at that time. The guy was playing football with his friends and the ball hit him in the mouth. He suffered internal bleeding. I remember going round the university and the hostels then with the picture of the young guy, asking for support. I took the money to Fame Magazine to deliver to the victim. That introduced me to the art of crowd funding. I was able to raise a lot of money by going from door to door. Luckily for me, I graduated and started working. I had some like-minded persons, both Christians and Muslims. They were really passionate about their faith. We came together and decided to start this art of crowd funding through the United for Kids Foundation (UKF) and help children to get a better shot at life. That was in 2002. It has been 14 years, really frustrating but rewarding at the same time, especially seeing children respond with smiles for very little we could do for them.
What has been the outreach of the United for Kids Foundation so far?
Right now, we have been to 15 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. We have done equally in the South as well as in the North. It has opened our eyes to the fact that we cannot pat ourselves on the back just because we send 20,000 children to school every September/October. We give them school bags and books. Now, we know there are thousands more who are eager and ready to study because they have school bags and notebooks.
You are a trained accountant, but later embraced motivational speaking, book writing, charity work and many more. Where did you get the strength for all these?
The thing about me is that I like to sleep. I can sleep for up to eight and 10 hours in a day. I do that most of the days but for the two or three hours that I am awake, I try to be very productive. When I wake up in the morning after I had slept for so long, I write out what I want to achieve for the day. So, by being very organised, conscientious about my day and being purposeful, I make sure that I am able to achieve as much as I can. This life is short. My dad died at 69 years and he was quite young. He was never a sickly person but he got a stroke and died within six weeks. For me, I don’t think any minute of the day should be wasted. Doing what? Watching the rest of the seven billion people in the world doing what?
How many kids have benefitted from the UKF back to school programme?
I wouldn’t say exactly because the United for Kids Foundation is bigger than I am. I am the one who makes all the noise. There is a huge team with me, not even behind me, especially those in Nigeria. They actually do more work. We have touched no fewer than 70,000 children since the inception of the United for Kids Foundation (UKF). Our goal for 2020 is to touch the lives of one million children. We have only four more years to go.
Meeting the target of one million children is a tall dream? What are the ground plans you have to make this dream a reality?
This time last year, we didn’t think we would go to 15 states and the FCT. We said we wanted to do it. In our letters to sponsors, we said we wanted to set up 10 libraries in Lagos, and possibly touch 50,000 children. We didn’t believe it would happen. You said I am a motivational speaker and I take that title. I always say, you have to speak it. Be very bold about what you want. Be very clear about what you want, whether you are talking to God or man. There is no ‘if’ and ‘but’. For us, we speak it and it happens. Last year, we said we wanted to reach out 50,000 children throughout the country and it actually happened this year.
African women love producing babies but you love writing books instead. Why did you choose to act differently?
Let’s say I have over 50,000 children. I am an African woman by that perception. Those kids are my kids. I love writing. You can hardly find me without my writing materials. Even if I carry no bag, if you check me, you will find a pen and a sheet of paper. That’s the way I think. I think by writing. If I write something down, it is very unlikely that I will forget. I enjoy writing. But in the course of writing my books, I actually go somewhere. I wrote Love In Cancun in six days by hand in Mexico, without any phone, computer or camera. I just shut down my world for six days. I do that every year. I actually go for a vacation every year, sit down – just me, God and the beach. You are a better human being if you have time to hear from God. I firmly believe that no matter your faith, God speaks to everybody. You don’t have to be a Pastor or an Imam. But most of the time, we are distracted to listen. You have to give yourself sometime, to really shut down the world, whether you have kids or not, whether you have a husband or not. It doesn’t matter what you have. You have to shut down and hear the message and get your direction before you can engage in the world.
In an age of Internet chaos and noise, how do you abide by the rule of shuting down the world?
I am very conscious of the fact that I have a limited amount of time to live. I think about that more than an average person does. I am very careful about what I am putting in the ground. I am very conscious of the fact that I have to account for something. In Islam, there is a belief that everyone will answer two questions on the last day – how you made your money and how you spent it. I am very careful not to make my money in a horrible way, in ways I cannot explain. I am also careful not to spend my money in ways I cannot defend, either. That is why I won’t buy $1000 bag. I don’t want to be asked if that was what I was doing when someone else was hungry around me. In life, we should be like a basket, not buckets. As baskets, you get the water and pass it on to somebody else. I empty myself but I fill my tank very well.
Millions of young Nigerians are unemployed. What is the way out of this national problem?
My first job in Nigeria was a small audit firm in 1993. They were paying me N600. It was a small amount of money. I went to my dad and reported to him how they told me to take a bowl and buy rice for them in the office. And my dad said, go and buy the rice. Now, we see a generation of young graduates who do not want to struggle, who do not want to pay their dues. They want to leave the university and jump on job on the highway. That is honestly part of the unemployment problem. We have a lot of unemployable people today. So, in a place where there is competition, you really need to stand out. You have to be willing to do the work. Parents should be willing to push their children, to make them hustle and not sit down and send their CV to friends and associates, lobbying for better jobs.
I also think the government needs to do more in terms of creating jobs. Which sector is doing well in this country for people to work? Even the oil sector is finished. Telecoms sector is picking. Which sector do you think people can go and look for job? None. So this government has to stop thinking about what Jonathan did or didn’t do well. They have to focus on two or three sectors and give incentive to people to invest in those areas so that people can be employed.