A Youth Corps member and ex-beauty queen, Onyinyechi Ironkwe has charged Nigerian youth to desist from being idle and lazy, so as to avoid being used to rig elections and forment trouble in the country.
The 23 year old Ironkwe who is currently serving her country in the mandatory one year National Youth Service Corps in Abuja, also runs a foundation called 1st August, which she uses to help bridge the gap in basic education.
Ironkwe who believes that having children grounded through basic education, will help them become knowledgeable and better citizens, called on the federal government to focus its attention on basic education as well as security, to help build the right leaders of tomorrow.
See Excerpts from the interview below>>>>
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Onyinyechi Ironkwe from Abia State. A Corps member serving in Abuja, I am a graduate of Biochemistry from the University of Port Harcourt and the founder of 1st August Foundation, I am 23 years old and my foundation 1st August happens to be my birthday.
How long have you been running this Foundation and what Is it about?
We turned two (2) years August 1st 2018, we started in 2016 when I was a beauty queen and our main focus is on child education. We are focussed on supporting child education in Nigeria in the little way we can. We are encouraging children to go to school and encouraging the ones that are already in school to be serious with their education, because education is like the basis of everything for a better future.
For a Brighter future, you have to be educated, so those that don’t have the opportunities to go to school, we are trying to see how we can help, no matter how little, and the ones that do, we try to still encourage them.
What have been your challenges in this past two years?
Our number one challenge is funding. Like I said, I am a Corper so once in a while we find it difficult to get funds from people because not many people want to support. Although there are some people that would always support but getting funds is the main challenge.
Do you have people working with you?
I have people working with me. For example, I started in Port Harcourt, because I was based there, though my first project was in Abia State which is my home town, and now I am in Abuja. My team kind of changes. Then, I had a team supporting me in Port Harcourt but this last one we did this year, I had a team of Doctors. My sister is a medical Doctor so she was like the lead Doctor in this project. So we have team members for different projects, depending on where we are and what we are working on.
What is the motivating factor behind what you do?
I have a passion for children, I love them a lot and when I was a beauty queen I had the opportunity of having a pet project and I decided to do something that has to do with children. On education, I find it appalling when I see graduates like myself and most of them to an extent, didn’t get the basic education. Even those in the university and those that have graduated, you will see that they are not really grounded.
There is a difference between knowing something and actually being educated. This is what my Dad will call “an educated illiterate”. So, that was what drove me and I know there are so many children that do not have the opportunity to go to school and even the ones that their parents try to send to school, are not really so serious. So, I decided to take this up as a project to see how many people I can help and support and it has kept me going.
How many people has your project supported?
I can’t exactly quantify it in a number because, sometimes we go out to motherless babies homes; this last one, we went to an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp. We did not exactly put people in school. I have not gotten to the extent where I start paying school fees, I pray to get there sometime but for now, we help with educational materials; books, pens, text books, just donate to the students but we will definitely grow to the extent of putting people in school, paying school fees. Then, I can quantify the number of children that have benefited from the foundation.
What was it like being a beauty queen?
For the one year, that was in 2015/ 2016, it was a nice one and a very good experience. You know, having to go for a competition and then win and all of a sudden, people start to look up to you in a certain way, so it was a nice one. I got to meet quite a lot of people, I got to start finding out what I should be doing rather than just being at home. If I wasn’t there, if I didn’t win that, I don’t know if I would have been able to come up with this project, so it really helped me to improve myself.
Where do you see 1st August in the next five years?
The plan and by the grace of God is for us to be able to help and touch as many lives as we can, put as many children as we can in school, give hope to as many women and displaced people as we can and also be able to employ others that will work with us. People that have like passion for what I do.
What would you suggest that government do in regards to basic education?
I would say that the federal government should support the education system, they should put more effort into educating our young ones . We keep saying that children are the leaders of tomorrow and if they don’t get this basic education, how do they intend to lead when tomorrow comes? Yes, God will give us wisdom and knowledge but we have to ground our children and young ones to have that basic knowledge, to be able to go through school, so that they can be what they actually what to be in the future.
And then, it is not just about education, it is also about helping people. For example, this last project this August, we went to IDP camp and we met a lot. It is somewhere that when you go and if you’re not strong enough, you might be moved to tears; because there are so many people suffering. We don’t know what we have… I went with a team of about 10 or 11 people and I had like two friends who were crying and one of them said to me, “That we don’t know the kind of luxury we are living in, until you see these people”.
These people don’t even have hope for the next meals. So, I also want to say that the federal government should try as much as possible to help these people, we individuals should also try to help them, to give education to the children and help the pregnant women in any way we can, to give them infrastructure, food, water, basic supplies of life.
In regards to insecurity, what would you want the government to do?
It all boils down to security. The government should keep trying to focus on security. This insurgents are human beings and they want something so, the government should try to beef up security. The people that are killed are Nigerians and innocent citizens that have nothing to do with this.
What would be your advice to Nigerian youth who are just idling away and waiting for government to give them jobs?
I would say the worst thing you can do, is sit down and wait for someone to help you. You have to help yourself, no matter what it is and no matter how small, you have to find something to do, even if you are on your own, there is always something you can be doing.
I mean, we are in a digital age where every thing happens online and some of us spend 22 out of 24 hours in a day on our phones, and let’s say the remaining two or three hours are for sleeping. You cannot keep waiting for your uncle or your elder brother or government to help you, just find something to do. It is said that an idle mind is the Devils workshop.
If you are idle, that is the only time when people can come and use you to rig elections, when they can come and use you to become a militant to fight, riot and protest out there, but you should engage your mind, find something no matter how small, that is my advise to Nigerian youths.
Let us not be idle, let us not be lazy, let us come out and do something!!!
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