Thursday, August 18, 2022
HomeVisit to prisoners who lacked sanitary pads inspired my foundation — Oyeyemi

Visit to prisoners who lacked sanitary pads inspired my foundation — Oyeyemi

The Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Reaching Minds Foundation, Abass Oyeyemi, tells ABIODUN SANUSI about his career

What are your educational qualifications?

I attended Kingdom Heritage Model School, Ota, Ogun State, for my elementary education. For my secondary education, I attended Royal Comprehensive College, Comprehensive High School, Ayetoro, and Wamy International School. In 2021, I graduated with a degree in Law from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State.

How would you describe your experience studying at OAU?

In the university, I was the kind of student that engaged in almost all activities. I was a student activist, and I held various leadership positions in my faculty, religious and indigenous associations and the students’ union. That exposed me to the challenges faced by students and even people outside the university. The university was a very good training ground for me. I was able to build great relationships and lasting memories with people. I would describe my experience at the university as a very good one.

You studied law but have been more involved in other things. What changed?

Growing up, my role models were lawyers, so I wanted to study Law. I am grateful that I was able to study Law because it is fulfilling its purpose of opening doors for me.

What inspired you to set up your not-for-profit association, Reaching Minds Foundation?

It was inspired by my background. I lived in a lot of places, and I have seen different cultures and struggles. While at the university, I used to see people struggling for basic things, including seeing students unable to pay school fees of as little as N20,000. That gave me a lot of headaches. At first, I would call my parents and tell them, and they would help me to raise funds which I would give the students. It was difficult because I am from a humble background too, but my parents used to strive hard to get us anything we needed.

During examinations, I also used to see people going hungry when they should be reading. Being a person that didn’t like to cook, I used to give out my foodstuffs to such people. At a point, I knew I had to stop burdening my parents for such things because I knew their condition. I am all about sustainability, so I gathered a couple of my friends and we started the foundation.

What are the major areas the foundation is tackling?

As part of its purposes, we are concerned about tackling issues that are seen as minor in society.

For example, there is a general assumption that most people in prison are males. Many people don’t think about females in prisons or internally displaced persons’ camps, talk more of knowing that they have needs for menstrual hygiene. So, we are focused on eradicating ‘menstrual poverty’ in prisons and IDP camps and also, promoting menstrual hygiene.

We are also focused on curbing cybercrime and other social vices through the impartation of digital skills in secondary schools, rural areas and slums.

What are the peculiarities of your ‘End Period Poverty’ campaign?

The campaign was conceived when the team went to Ibara Prison, now known as the Correctional Centre in Abeokuta, Ogun State. One of their requests was for sanitary pads. We provided them with disposable sanitary materials, but after a deep reflection with my team, I knew we had to take action. These women face a lot in prison, and they still have to deal with using unhealthy materials during their menstrual cycles. We figured that disposable pads would always finish and they would have to revert back to their previous means, so we started reaching out to companies and the National Assembly for action to be taken. The matter was raised in the House of Representatives once and nothing was done ever since. Some foreign companies wanted to make menstrual cups but we figured that the hygiene in prison cannot sustain it, but would rather cause more harm than good. There were also some foreign companies making reusable pads, but we could not secure a partnership with them in 2019, because we did not have enough brand presence. However, in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, we made a bold decision to start producing reusable pads.

In light of this, I urge the government and all stakeholders to end ‘period poverty’ by ensuring that there is access to free menstrual pads. Scotland has that already. Nigeria needs it more, considering that we have more people who cannot afford menstrual pads.

As a matter of urgency and necessity, I advocate that there should be access to free pads.

Do you get some awkward reactions for doing such as a man?

Yes, I do. While trying to start the production of the reusable pads, I was always getting resources from the Internet on how to make them. My phone and laptop were filled with videos of how to make reusable pads, and I had to start hiding them from people because of their reactions. It is a funny society. Some people ask me why I am concerned about female hygiene. I reply them that, “No one should have to choose between having something to eat and having a hygienic menstrual cycle.

You also have a project called Tekisite. What is it about?

Tekisite is the future and the future is now. It was conceived as a platform to equip young ones with digital skills. We started by going to local communities to organise boot camps for weeks. We then measure their growth and establish a relationship with them that would enable them have access to resources online. Then, we started the Tekisite Academy which is growing across secondary schools in Ife and Modakeke, Osun State; as well as Saki, Oyo State; with plans to expand to other states this year. Upon completion of the academy, internships would be secured for outstanding students in top tech institutions across the country.

What inspired the initiative?

It was inspired by the need to curb cybercrime and other social vices. It is very unfortunate that these days, secondary school students are engaging in cybercrime and drug abuse. We ensure that we disabuse their minds before we embark on training them.

What are the major challenges you’ve faced on these projects?

In the process of liaising with schools, some of them told us that they could not give us time to teach their students because they are busy with extracurricular activities. When we made some research to find out what the students were doing that was supposedly keeping them busy, we found that some teachers were mobilising them to their houses to cut grass and clean. Also, some schools are so conservative that they don’t want their students to learn digital skills.

We have also faced funding challenge. Funds are generated internally from members and founding partners like me to run the projects. It becomes very difficult when we get to schools without computer facilities.

What are your major achievements?

I am not at the peak of my achievements yet. However, I think we deserve everything we have achieved. We put in so much work and creativity into solving societal problems.

I would continue to seek development, and work towards our goals. But, I believe the government should invest more in education.

The government can also do better as it concerns the conditions of the country’s correctional centres.

Do you have any role model or mentor in this field?

Not particularly in this field. But in terms of making sustainable impact and contributing to societal growth, I consider Tosin Ashafa, Kayode Adegbola and Adefemi Akinsanya to be mentors and role models. The energy and passion they show in societal development is one I admire. Aside from being role models to me, they have been of tremendous support in the growth of the foundation.

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