Champions for Change (C4C) is pleased to launch our 'Meet the Champions' Series. This bi-monthly blog series highlights the work of 24 Nigerian leaders currently participating as C4C champions. C4C's Champions in Nigeria are working together to save the lives of mothers, children and young women through innovative advocacy and leadership development. Nigeria is Africa's largest economy, and yet tens of thousands of women and children die there each year due to lack of maternity care, preventable disease and poor health infrastructure, among other causes. This series brings a diversity of perspectives from around Nigeria to the table to discuss this critical moment in Nigeria's history and how Nigerians can work together to build a healthy future for all.
Our series begins this week with an interactive discussion with Francesca Adeola Abiola and Ogechukwu Emeji of Action Health Inc., an NGO dedicated to promoting young people's health and development to ensure their successful transition to healthy and productive adulthood.
Meet the Champions Series Interview #1
Action Health Inc., Lagos, Nigeria
Action Health Incorporated envisions a world in which young people are guaranteed access to the basic information, education, skills and services they need to promote and protect their sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as achieve their full potential. Over the last 25 years, AHI has worked to assure that both private and public sector programs include comprehensive, gender-sensitive, life skills and rights-based approaches to sexuality education and clinical services for youths.
C4C: Why are you a Champion for women's and children's health issues in Nigeria?
Francesca: I was driven to become an advocate when I heard the case of a very young girl who had been raped, but the perpetrators were allowed to go free. A desire to help ensure that girls' rights were upheld and the perpetrators brought to book inspired my work in advocating for women and children.
Ogechuckwu: My first visit to one of the slum communities in Lagos stirred up my passion and commitment to become an advocate when I saw the terrible conditions that women and children live in.
C4C: What's the most innovative aspect of your work?
Ogechuckwu: Our boundary-breaking collaborations with the public and private sectors provide young people with youth-friendly information and services to advance the health and development of young people, including girls in hard-to-reach areas.
Francesca: AHI takes a multifaceted approach to ensuring that these public and private sector programs include comprehensive, gender sensitive, life skills and rights-based approaches to sexuality education for young people. Our advocacy for RMNCH is really important for communities and states in Nigeria because we are committed to ensuring that the lives of women and children are treated as "front burner issues" and receive the attention they deserve.
C4C: What is the biggest challenge you face as an advocate for women and children's health?
Ogechuckwu: As a Program Officer in charge of a project that aims to empower out-of-school adolescent girls and advocate for resources for their wellbeing, one of our biggest challenges is raising community support for girl-child education due to cultural and social norms in conservative and rural communities.
Francesca: Low political will in addressing developmental issues is also a challenge we encounter in our work here in Nigeria, as we struggle to ensure government bureaucracy responds to the needs of women and children.
C4C: What's your vision for the future of health care in Nigeria?
Francesca: I want to see quality, efficient, low-cost health care that is accessible and affordable to everyone, particularly women and children, irrespective of their economic status. If women, children and newborns have access to good and quality health services and information we will see maternal and infant mortality reduced dramatically.
Ogechuckwu: The ultimate goal of all health system activities is to save lives. My vision for the future of Nigeria's health system is to save lives and prevent avoidable deaths, especially among women and children.
C4C: Advocating for women's rights can be a difficult job; what's one of your most positive memories from your work?
Francesca: One of my favorite and uplifting moments from work was during an international conference where a female student I worked with was presented with an award. Participants from the audience came congratulating me as well for my work, and that felt really great and motivated me to do more for girls.
Ogechuckwu: I am most proud knowing that I have had a positive impact on the lives of young people, especially girls. One empowerment program I coordinated in one of Lagos' slums graduated nearly 50 out-of-school girls from vocational school and apprenticeships and also facilitated the transition for the younger girls enrolled from primary school to secondary school. These kinds of success give me inspiration to continue my work despite the challenges.
C4C: The most fun thing I've done in the last year is...
Francesca: I would say the most fun thing I did in the past year was attend a live concert with a friend. It was both an interesting and exciting experience. Generally when I want to relax I listen to gospel music -- my favorite song is "I Need You to Survive," by Hezekiah Walker.
C4C: What's one thing that might surprise us to learn about you?
Ogechuckwu: I'm a filmmaker! Last year, I worked on a documentary production with the theme 'Keeping the Promise,' which included a series of three short films called Girls Are Us, Slipping through the Cracks, and Make Every Girl Count. The films portray the true life stories of out-of-school adolescent girls in Nigeria's poor communities. You can check them out here.
We invite you to follow us on Twitter at @C4C_Champions and use the hashtag #MeetTheChampions to engage more closely with the blog series, the work of the 24 leaders whose work is being highlighted, and the larger conversation surrounding reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health in Nigeria.
Champions for Change saves the lives of women and children in Nigeria by empowering local leaders and organizations to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health through advocacy, education, storytelling and strategic partnerships. Champions for Change leverages a program model developed by its sister initiative, Let Girls Lead, which has contributed to improved health, education and livelihoods for more than 3 million girls globally since 2009. This powerful model drives change through the passage of national laws, implementation of programs and distribution of funds to ensure access to quality healthcare, education and economic opportunity.
Champions for Change and Let Girls Lead are headquartered at the Public Health Institute in Oakland, CA, a leader in global health and development for 50 years.