Tolulope Sangosanya: Providing relief for refuse dwellers in “dustbin estate”, Lagos

Tolulope Sangosanya: Providing relief for refuse dwellers in “dustbin estate”, Lagos

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ToluBy Esther Ijewere-Kalajaiye

Tolulope Sangosanya suffered dyslexia as a child, which impinged on her self-esteem, making her believe she would not amount to anything great in life. Her bitter life experiences and needs as a child inspired her to start the LOTS Charity Foundation. She studied Mass Communication at the Olabisi Onabanjo University in Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State. She is very driven, visionary and has a heart of gold. Today she is building a refuge within the refuse with her Lots Charity Foundation.

Early preparations

I had dyslexia as a child. I couldn’t read until I was 10. I had failed so badly in primary school so much  that I wasn’t sure I was going to do well in secondary school let alone university. I couldn’t pronounce the word “The” at age 9. I didn’t know God was preparing me for what I do now. My grandfather taught me how to read English and Yoruba for two hours daily for two years. The strategy my grandfather used is what we still use at LOTS Resource Center today. We have used that strategy to teach children how to read and write according to their capacity, not age.

The fear of death and beginning of a new life

My dad’s Ifa priest said I was possessed and demonic. Several pastors said that too. The Ifa priest said I was a queen in the spirit realm and my members wanted me back which meant I would have to physically die. I lived in constant fear of dying for more than five years until an era came when I woke up and I said to myself: “I will not die twice. I will not be dead while living”. I decided to feed street kids every year for my birthday. The fear of death woke me up to the fact that life is actually short and it is running out every minute. I wanted to make each day I lived matter. To crown it all, up my roommate in the university died at 22. I thought to myself that if Awujola (whom I felt was better than me) could die, then who was I? After I started Project LOTS, the Ifa priest came back to say I was not dying again; that there was a sign on my body that said the price had already been paid for. I realized I wasn’t a waste of God’s breath of life. I felt the fear of death was God’s ‘wake-up’ call to me and ever since then, I haven’t gone back to sleep.

Tolu and LOTS kids

Coming home to philanthropy

I didn’t go to school to be a social worker or a philanthropist. I thought I was going to have several businesses from fashion to photography. I tried most of the businesses while in the university, but nothing filled me up more than the fulfillment I felt when I fed 300 children in 2006. I knew I was ‘home’ when I got to DUSTBIN ESTATE in 2008. I remember ‘stealing’ my younger sister’s toy to give to another cousin whom I thought didn’t have. I was trying to ‘redistribute wealth’ even as a child. Discovering my life’s purpose was more like an accident; I can’t even claim glory for it.

Finding balance

“Lots of Things” was registered as a business name before I got the idea for LOTS Charity Foundation. I’m an entrepreneur by nature; I bought and sold lots of things as an undergraduate. I needed an umbrella name to give to all I did. When LOTS Charity Foundation came to be, I knew I had to raise funds for the initiative and I was too proud to ask anyone for help. So all I had made from the other things I did went into registration and into the first few event LOTS Charity Foundation organized. Since LOTS Charity Foundation commenced operation, Lots of Things declined a bit in operation. I could only focus on one thing per time. I am first a social entrepreneur before my core entrepreneurial side comes to life. I ask myself: if I have 24 more hours to live what would I rather do; make money or give money? Giving tops my chart – every time!

My greatest influence

I have had many people who have impacted my life; from my grandfather who taught me how to read to my biological father who rewarded me for everything I excelled in. Fela Durotoye taught me to make my personal gifting useful for national benefit. Professor Wale Omole gave me a life road map. There is nothing that I do today that professor didn’t know about ten years ago. He always said, “Tolu, nothing must go to waste”. He taught me how to love me. Professor made sure I read two books weekly and we met to review the books. “Tolu, you have to decide to decide. This was one of his sayings that left me without sleep. We had 2 years of qualitative mentoring sessions and I cannot trade the lessons of that era for a billion naira.

Discovering Dustbin Estate

In 2007, after feeding a thousand kids at Oko Baba on my 25th birthday, I heard in my spirit that we would be going to Ajegunle next. I didn’t know my way there. I called Praise Fowowe who linked me up with Christopher who then took me to the place we now call Dustbin Estate. When I met with Christopher I told him to take me to the dirtiest place he’s ever seen. Till date, I still question why I thought of dirt. There is a spirit in every man that speaks and I am just blessed to be in tune with mine.

Tolu SangosanyaA continuous battle with giving up

There have been several times I felt like giving up. Even now, I feel like giving up. I am choleric by temperament; I like to have an idea of happenings around me. I hit my head every time it looks like something is out of my control. I am learning patience, a virtue I do not naturally have. I felt like giving up when some kids stole books at the library to sell; books I had bought when I was very ‘poor’ and ‘hungry’. I felt like giving up when I was busy looking for food for 150 families last December and at the same time dealing with the news that my mom had cancer. I felt like giving up when my personal account was dormant for 4 years. I don’t give up easily on anything or anyone so I keep at it.

The reward for philanthropy

When I learned that one of our students, Batis could now read, my joy knew no bounds. When Balogun Rufai’s (also one of our students) name came out 4th on the merit list at the Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), I felt like a proud mother. Knowing that the dreams I conceived on the floor of my room in the university were coming to pass makes me feel like my life isn’t a waste. I wake up with a smile on my face knowing that Tolulope Sangosanya has brought value and not disgrace to her family and to the society at large.

Nigerians are not giving enough

I don’t think we give enough; giving hasn’t been institutionalized. We do not have social security or welfare package in Nigeria. What we have is “extended family security” and even that is beginning to fade. Now what we practice is “all man for himself, God for us all”. To love is to give and since we don’t love, most people cannot give. We are now ruled by greed and selfishness as we have sold value for money.

Final words

All human beings were created to come solve problems. The human race cannot be complete without you discovering your purpose and fulfilling it. Nobody was made to just come ‘occupy space’. We are all part of a body, hence collective responsibility. Nigeria needs us to rise and shine!

source : women of rubies

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