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Through Her Eyes…with Titilope Sonuga: The Viral Effect

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Photo Credit: Lakin Ogunbanwo

On a street in Yaba, a little girl sits beneath the glow of a streetlight with a book in her lap. On either side of her are the bottles of groundnuts she has taken a break from selling to do her homework. A cellphone image of her is captured and tweeted. It goes viral. People celebrate her bravery and applaud her focus in the midst of her difficult circumstance. She is christened Groundnut Girl and a campaign begins to find her.

In the days that follow we find out her name and more about her story. Chinyere is 14 years old and her widowed mother struggles to keep a roof over their heads, with the earnings from the groundnuts she makes. People across the country reach into their hearts and their wallets and raise almost a million naira to transform her life. Several donors come forward to ensure that Chinyere and her siblings can attend secondary school and university for free.

Another girl steps into her own miracle in a moment of serendipity caught through a camera’s lens, the bread seller photo bomb that resounded across the world. A new viral moment happens as strangers reach out with arms of kindness to pull her out of a life of struggle. Olajumoke leaves the streets for the runway and trades her loaves of bread for a modeling contract. The comment sections of every blog post are filled with prayers about ordered steps, about the staggering grace that perfects all things. Everyone wants to tap into the anointing.

Every video or photograph I saw of Olajumoke brought instant tears to my eyes. I imagined her leaving her house that day with a fresh burden on her shoulders, steadying herself for the daily battle of keeping her family whole, and then literally walking into a new life. Whether you call it grace or luck, a moment of undeniable magic happened for Olajumoke and Chinyere, and now their lives have changed.

In the middle of the celebrations, it is difficult not to ask why a secondary school student should have to sell groundnuts in the first place or do her homework under a streetlight. Or why a mother of two is left with no other option but to sell bread to support her family. In the uncertain times that we live in, stories like theirs become a beacon of hope for the millions who are still waiting on their dreams to come true. For the droves of young people who are underemployed and unemployed, who are living out the harsh realities of a system that has left them behind, it also cements the idea that the only way to really make it is to situate yourself for your own magical moment. Everyone is waiting for their own opportunity to hammer and blow.

In every She Will Connect training session I attend, I ask the girls what their dreams are, what kind of lives they imagine for themselves if there was nothing in the way. They are shy at first, but with time they become increasingly confident about expressing themselves. Something about the atmosphere the NGOs have worked hard to create, reaches beyond the training into something deeper. It gives them permission to say out loud what they truly want and to begin to see that those aspirations are valid and possible. Many of their dreams are so simple it is heartbreaking. The lives they desire are not so luxurious that it should feel like dreaming at all. A good education, a career they can be proud of, and an opportunity to give back to the communities that raised them, should not feel like a chance at the lottery.

It is transformative work that happens one girl at a time, there is no viral formula and it cannot be hurried. With each girl it is a deliberate exercise in changing a mindset and bridging the gap between where she has been and where she wants to be. It is about unlocking potential and putting the tools in her hands to write her own story. Perhaps one day she might still have a viral moment of her own, but at least she will be in front of a computer and online to actually see it happen for herself.

It is delicate work, to celebrate the magic of time and chance and how it thrusts unsuspecting and deserving people into a flood of goodwill, and yet still remember that it should not take a miracle, a viral story, or a stroke of luck for the average Nigerian girl to gain access to even her most basic human right.

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She Will Connect is an amazing initiative by Intel aimed at empowering and inspiring girls and women. BellaNaija is excited to share ‘Through Her Eyes… with Titilope Sonuga“. Titilope is Intel She Will Connect ambassador for Nigeria and she’s an award-winning poet, writer, actor and civil engineer whose work has graced stages and pages across Nigeria and internationally.

Sponsored by Intel – learn more at www.intel.com/women

4 Comments

  1. christy

    July 8, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Lovely write up. beautifully captures how each one of us can be involved in empowering girls in our society. It’s indeed a delicate task. Thumbs up Titi!

    • Tosin

      July 8, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      since we’re ’empowering’, what’s my own, i’ll link to my book: amazon.com/clouddrive/share/3hVYeAPygZwJZPin-l7edwbzWEnIqjQJHVT7vzQmvlM

  2. Gideon

    July 8, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Very beautiful, beautiful write-up. Well composed, captivating, endearing, and inspiring. I have no doubt the writer is an award-winning one. Great work!

  3. Oma

    July 8, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Thank you for this interesting and challenging piece Titilope, the girl-child is oh so full of promise

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