Fawziyyah Emiabata talks to UFK’s chief volunteer, Ghaneeyah Tope Fajinbesi to find out about the programme’s successes with preparing kids for school and the organisation’s plans for the future.
Fawziyyah Emiabata: Assalamu 'alaikum Sister Ghaneeyah, thanks for accepting this interview. Please tell us about your background.
Ghaneeyah T Fajingbesi-Dada: My name is Ghaneeyah, I live in Maryland USA. I am a Certified Public Accountant during the day and the chief volunteer of UKF at night (laughs). I studied Accounting at the University of Lagos and got my Master’s in Business Administration from Emory University in Atlanta in 2003. I enjoy writing and travelling.
FE: Where in the world is UKF and when and why was it established?
GTF: UKF is really everywhere; we receive contributions from people in Nigeria, the United Kingdom, the USA, Canada and even Malaysia. However, our charity is legally registered in Nigeria, the UK and the USA, and our programs all take place in Nigeria. UKF really started in April 2002, and we had no name at that time; we were just a few friends who wanted to do something extra to help people who were suffering around us. Alhamdulillah, it has been over ten years and what was just five people now has more than 300 donors each year and about 1500 fans on facebook. We are really humbled and appreciative of Allah’s blessings. A lot of things have changed in ten years, one of which is the number of children we reach; in 2012, insha Allah we will cover more than 6,000 children in our programmes. But some things remain the same, one of which is that we still run a very lean organisation and none of us trustees and managers receive any compensation for doing this work. I hope readers will include us in their du’a, that Allah I should help us continue to purify our intentions and grant us paradise when we meet Him, amin.
FE: What projects of the charity are on-going?
GTF: Our biggest and perhaps most inspiring programme is our annual Back to School programme; we send children from low income families back to school with school bags and other essential supplies, and we seriously go broke (laughs) after this programme every October. We also have our new free library programme to encourage children from low income families to develop a passion for reading and self-discovery. We have a monthly outreach programme at the paediatrics ward of one of the big government owned hospitals in Nigeria. We conduct teacher training programmes, field trips and summer camps for children graduating from elementary school and we host two parties for children at orphanages each year.
We also take on special projects from time to time, mostly in the form of raising funds and coordinating logistics for children who are very sick and whose families are unable to raise the necessary funds for their treatment. This is one of the challenging areas of this work because seeing a child that needs urgent care with a lean purse and tough cases of donor fatigue can be really difficult, but with the right niyah and du’a, we always find a way.
FE: Are there other projects in the pipeline?
GTF: We have big dreams and insha Allah hope to source major donations to finance them. We want to expand our coverage beyond Lagos, Nigeria so that we can cover more children from poor families in other parts of Nigeria. We want to increase our Back to School programme to cover 100,000 children by 2015. The Back to School programme started because of a UNESCO report that identified cost of school supplies as the major reason why children from low income families are not enrolled in school even though there are government-owned tuition-free schools in their communities. We also want to expand our library programme because of the tremendous improvement we have noted in the children within a year of starting it. We currently reach over 2,000 children each week in our three libraries, but we now want to reach up to 8,000 children in 10 libraries by December 2013. Our ultimate goal is to help one million committed donors reach one million children by 2020.
FE: Has there been any unexpected benefit to your starting UKF?
GTF: There have been many unexpected benefits. There are so many calamities that Allah has saved me from that I know are due to my involvement with UKF. The organisation has also given me succour during rough and tough times. It helps me stay grounded because seeing families struggling to give their children the things I take for granted makes me realise how extremely blessed I am. I always tell people that UKF is my non-paying job but the benefits I get from it far outweigh anything money can buy. The foundation has also brought me the best friends anyone can ask for; the other trustees of UKF are like my family. Sharing the successes, challenges and anxieties with them every day has really made us very close.
FE: Have there been obstacles experienced since the inception?
GTF: There have been a lot, but Alhamdulillah we are surviving and continuously growing. One of the biggest challenges is the difficulties involved with getting dedicated volunteers in Nigeria, but we have managed to get a few committed individuals who work so hard without getting any money in return. There are also financial constraints as a result of the tough economy and donor fatigue because every prospective donor you ask for funds has twenty other causes asking her as well, but Alhamdulillah there is hardly a project we want to execute that Allah does not send us helpers to fund.
FE: Recently, I saw an update about a certain Fatimah Haruna on your Facebook profile page. Can you shed more light on her case please?
GTF: This has been one of the most challenging cases we have ever handled. It all started on April 2nd, 2012 when I got a call from Rukayah, one of our key volunteers in Lagos, about a 9 year old cancer patient she had just seen on TV. The story broke my heart, not just because of what Rukayah described, but because she mentioned that the child’s cancer was actually curable but treatment had been stopped because her poor parents could not raise the funds needed to continue. I immediately asked her how much the treatment cost was and my heart broke further when she said it was a little more than $30,000. UKF did not have that money and even if we did, we would need it to shop for Back to School! I told Rukayah to forget it. But Allah had a better plan because for the next ten days, I thought about that little girl each time I woke up in the morning. On April 12th, we decided to do something, we composed a brief email and dispatched it to our network of donors, we asked Allah I to help us touch the hearts of new and existing donors, and he did. We raised well over $20,000 within three months, but just as we were about to call the hospital in Nigeria to ask that treatment be resumed, the doctors went on strike. We contacted doctors in India to see if we could fly her there for treatment but the two hospitals that responded to us told us that she wouldn’t survive the flight as her case seemed really bad. We were upset, but our faith in Allah I was unshaken. We spoke with the lead doctor, who decided to arrange care for Fatima despite the strike. She resumed treatment and had a couple of successful surgeries. She has now been discharged from the hospital, and is walking and talking. Alhamdulillah.
FE: How can anyone be part of the projects?
GTF: We always need donors of time and money. I encourage anyone who wishes to get involved to contact us at info@ unitedforkidsfoundation.org and follow us on www.facebook. com/unitedforkids. We also ask people to take time to get to know us through our facebook page or website (www. unitedforkidsfoundation.org) and only donate their hard earned money and time after they are convinced, which we hope they will be, that our cause is the right one.
FE: JazakAllah Kayran for your time.
GTF: Wa iyyakum, thank you for reaching out.
Fawziyyah Emiabata loves meeting different people from around the world and knowing what they are up to too. And she doesn't mind a 24hr flight as long as she has a good book to flip through.
First published in SISTERS magazine December 2012 Issue.