"Giving to the less privileged in any capacity is always a noble thing. It is giving of yourself, something you don’t have to do, but are doing nonetheless"Titilolami Bello, who runs a charity Path to Possibilities has a focus on giving underprivileged children a chance at having an education. An alumni of Brunel University and the University, Tititlolami juggles a career in financial services, motherhood and running an organization that is bringing smiles to the faces of Nigerian children.
What inspired you to start Path 2 Possibilities?
I grew up in Nigeria and in the UK. I’ve experience poverty first hand in Nigeria when my father died suddenly. My mum’s father decided not to give her higher education because she was not a boy – even though she was very bright.
My mum had to raise 5 children alone. She did it with help from friends and family, even when things were tough, when we didn’t have food she made sure there was transport money for my sisters to get to school. From a very early age I knew education was important. I’ve seen how transformational education can be; it has certainly transformed my life and the opportunities available to me. I feel very strongly that each Nigerian child deserves the opportunities I had. I believe strongly that I have a responsibility and an obligation to use the skills I’ve acquired to help others fulfil their own potential.
I feel very strongly that every child deserves to be given a chance and that money should not be a barrier to gaining an education. There are currently over 10 million Nigerian children out of school, this saddens me because this is a waste of the best resources we have –our own people. I want us as Nigerians to redress this balance, and understand that our lives are interconnected – things wouldn’t be right for Nigeria until its right for the masses.
What is Path to Possibilities and what do you do at the organization?
Path to Possibilities is a registered charity H in the UK and in Nigeria. We offer scholarship funds to bright children whose families can’t afford to spend them to school. Our scholarship is based on merit only and the children we take on have to pass our rigorous assessments as well as the assessments of the schools we send them to.
At the moment we are currently working with Caleb International School and Hallifield. We also bring teachers from the UK to Nigeria on an exchange programme, where we share best teaching practice with state funded schools. The aim of this programme is to move teachers away from the chalk and board method of teaching, and to encourage teachers to use other tools to engage children.
Can you share some of the challenges you’ve had to deal with?
Path to possibilities is 5 years old and our biggest challenge is still distrust. Nigerians don’t trust charities; unfortunately some bad eggs have really abused the public’s trust. I struggle with assuring people that we aren’t doing this for any financial reward or gain. All our team members work for free, we are required by law to publish our accounts and we urge supporters to look at this on our website and question and challenge how we spend money.
Another big challenge is a cultural one. A lot of people think and say this is an issue for the government and they are right. But, even in the UK there are over 150,000 charities, for such a small and wealthy country this is a lot; and part of the reason is because there is a culturally acceptance that the Government can’t meet the needs of everyone, and so these charities fill a gap and meet needs. Of course the Nigerian Government needs to prioritise education, now more than ever. It also needs to prioritise safety in our schools all around the country, especially in the North. We cannot let terrorists high jack our children’s dreams – so yes let’s nag the government to do more, but let’s do our part too – apathy and disengagement from the plight of the poor will not move Nigeria forward.
How do you ensure the issue of accountability with regards your projects?
We publish annual accounts to two UK authorities – Company house and the Charity Commission. These reports highlight what we raised and how money was spent. Anyone can request to see these accounts from us or the authorities.
What has been the highlight of your running the Path to Possibilities?
The highlight for me is seeing the children develop into young ladies and gentlemen. The transformation is real! They become articulate, self-assured and the confidence that oozes feels me with so much pride. A good education in a healthy environment is priceless! I get excited when I think about the possibility of doing this for every Nigerian child! We really will become the Giant of Africa if we can develop and churn out an educated workforce, not for a privileged few but for the masses, ready to take Nigeria to the next level. Our first scholarship recipient Godspower Nwanchukwu will be graduating from Caleb International School this summer. This makes me extremely proud! I am working hard to find another sponsor to cover his university fees but we are so proud of his achievements already.
What’s your vision for Path 2 Possibilities in the next 5 years?
I want to build two things; a resource centre and a school. A school that will compete with the best schools in Nigeria, but a free school for the brightest but poorest children across Nigeria.
How do you balance running P2P with your day job and your family expectations and requirements?
It is very difficult, I wouldn’t lie. My husband gets frustrated at times. My daughter keeps asking why their parents can’t do what I do for them. She especially hates my visits to Nigeria. She is young and a little worrier. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to explode because I have two young children, a husband and a full time job.But then I go to the gym and work it out! The bottom line is I didn’t realise how difficult it would be, but I can’t quit. I can’t stop. I strongly believe the charity is bigger than the pressures. I believe the children’s dreams are worth my exhaustion, but most importantly I’m not doing this alone.
I have a strong team of founding directors who work just as hard as me. I also have a job that gives me time off to visit Nigeria. Starting in June I will have an employee in Nigeria. He knows the charity inside out and has volunteered for years before securing this post. We also have 7 volunteers in London. I do it all with this support network and with amazing friends.
How do you choose the projects you decide to work on and what would you say is the turnaround time for project completion?
We choose projects based on need. The last project we completed was the building of a library and borehole for Idale Local Government Primary school in Ogun state. We are actually sponsoring 4 children from this school, but we couldn’t just help the brightest and leave the other children with nothing… especially when we saw the school had no running water. These young children didn’t have access to clean drinking water on a daily basis. I asked a question about water only because I saw bowls with rain water lined up in front of the class. The head teacher told me the school didn’t have running water since it was built in 1954, and there was no library. We had to do something. It took about 7 months to raise the money to build a borehole and a library.
What invaluable lesson have you learned in the course of running Path to Possibilities?
I have learnt that there is nothing more powerful than the truth. You have to convince people with the truth. This starts with the truth about the existence of the need. Unfortunately a lot of middle class Nigerians don’t believe that schools without running water or even a roof exist, all around Lagos! We go to the schools and show them. The truth is powerful. I have also learnt you need to show people the difference you are making; in film and pictures. Our supporters want evidence, and that’s right!
If you are supporting or donating to a charity they are obliged to show you the difference they are making – not tell you but show you.
So we show the difference and I’ve learnt that’s a powerful tool of engaging.
On a more relaxed note:
Three things you can’t live without?
1. Bright colour lipsticks!
2. The gym
3. Peanut butter
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I love a nice glass of red wine
Nigerian Fashionista whose wardrobe you’d like to raid?
Tope Abiola of FandR – when my friend introduced us she said “you and her share the same sense of fashion especially in shoes” She is right! Tope is now more of a mate than my dress hook ups! She doesn’t know, but when next I’m in Lagos I’m going to raid her shoes!!!!! Her shoes! I love shoes! Have you seen her shoes?!
I also think if you are a certain size like me, size 8 you need good quality shoes! I’m forced to spend more on shoes because of genetics that’s what I tell my husband anyway but Tope her shoes! She just choses shoes I always want but which my besto wouldn’t let me buy because according to her ‘they aren’t sensible, too fashion’ so sometimes I have to live vicariously through Tope’s shoe choices! And of course her fashion sense is on point- she even managed to convert me to Iro and buba! She is the real deal when it comes to a natural flare for fashion.