I have an amazing life! How else do you describe a life where you get to be inspired and see the beauty and strength of the human spirit on a regular basis! So as a pre-birthday present, my dad who works at the School of Media & Communications (SMC) of the Pan-African University calls me excitedly and says “I have some thing you will absolutely love, it’s an early birthday gift” And I say “what, what!” (hear high-pitched, little girl voice), “I am hosting Zuriel Oduwole on the 2nd of December and I’m inviting you to be a part of that!” Wow! I was absolutely excited!
Zuriel Oduwole is 11 years old now. When she was 10, she made history as being the youngest person to be interviewed by Forbes. She has interviewed 7 serving Presidents and other dignitaries such as Reverend Jesse Jackson and Aliko Dangote. And it all started as a result of a school assignment that she decided to do very well. It then led her to study more about Africa and she started a project with the aim of re-branding Africa. She also turned her attention to the girl child and the need to give her equal opportunities at education and livelihood as her male counterpart. She has launched a campaign called the “Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up” campaign, which she is taking around the world.
Some excerpts from my morning with Zuriel Oduwole and her equally amazing family.
Patricia Oduwole, Zuriel’s mum explains what drives Zuriel and her family to support her, and it is that “every African girl can be and achieve their dreams if we support them.” One thing I found interesting about the Oduwole’s is how much gratitude they expressed, Patricia thanked Ethiopian Airlines for flying them all over the world, Protea Hotels for hosting them and thanked the SMC for believing in Zuriel and being the place where she first launched her “Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up” campaign, for the first time. I liked that! Gratitude and remembering the people who support you, ensures that you go really far! Remember, “if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go with someone else!”
Ariel, Zuriel’s younger sister introduced Zuriel and spoke excitedly about watching her sister interviewing the President if South Sudan (the newest country on earth), the President of Cape Verde, the President of Malawi, the President of Nigeria, the President of Tanzania, Aliko Dangote amongst others. She also told us of how Zuriel was at the 50th Anniversary of the African Union and interviewed the President of Zambia, the only living founder of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). (I also loved how the Oduwole’s have made this about every member of the family, they were all together and each had a role to play, you could see the effort to “tell” all the kids that they were equally important, they all mattered and they all had a voice).
And then Zuriel spoke and answered questions. In describing her “Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up” campaign, she said ” dream and dream big! Speak up for your dreams and speak up for others that are less able to… Always remember to stand up and stand up again because many successful people fail many times before they succeed!” (Wow! From an 11-year-old child! I hope that convinces you to bury your excuses and to get up again regardless of how many times you fall). She said “Find your foundation, God is your rock and humanity needs you”.
She told us about the school project that started it all, she called her initial documentary “Revolution, Reaction & Reforming History” , where she did a video on Ghana, Jerry Rawlings and the will to bring change and how that led her to think that the story of Africa had to be told differently, that Africa needed to be re-branded (reminds me of Chimamanda’s TED Talk on ‘the Danger of a single story’, Moky Makura’s TED Talk on Re-branding Africa and the masturbating monkey [you should hear that I love how different people can express the same thought in very unique and different ways], Mo Abudu’s EL Reports, which only shares positive news on Africa and yours truly Hajel Pitan’s blog [LOL, modesty is not my strongest point, plus, I was told early in life that “if you are looking for a helping hand, you’ll find it at the end of your arm”…]. Great minds thinking alike!)
As you can imagine, quite a number of schools were represented in the audience and some interesting questions from girls between 11 and 8 year olds were:
Why do you use documentaries as your mode of communication?
Zuriel: I believe that the media is the best way to get your message out to more places, it is quick, effective and engaging.
Why do you focus on the girl child rather than the boys?
Z: I find that when there’s little resources in the family the boy always gets it first, also when things get difficult, the girl is likely to be pulled out of school so that the boy can go to school. And I use me as an example, your girl child can be and do anything and that chance should not be denied her just because she is a girl.
How did you get a chance to be so popular and interview so many presidents? (I loved the innocence in this question, no guile, no bile, just curiosity and a desire to learn)
Z: I wasn’t popular when I started. I wrote a lot of letters to presidents and talked about poverty in Africa and I told them what I was hoping to achieve with these interviews. And after a while, I started to get responses. (Beautiful, oh the joys of childhood! Question answered too without a desire to hide her “trade secret” or formula- just real…. Just to teach and empower…- this exchange brought tears to my eyes- if only we continue to collaborate as adults and not just compete, how much more we can achieve!)
Look at what happened to Malala, your message is similar to hers. Are you afraid that your life might be in danger?
Z: No, because I am a child of God, I believe in Jesus Christ and I know he protects me.
I had the chance to meet Zuriel and her family before the interview and asked her dad “What does it take to raise your child this way?”He said “her mum and God”. As it was a very brief answer, I was very glad when the question was asked in the larger audience and directed at her mum, who then asked her dad to answer it. Here’s his response:
“It starts with who you chose as your partner/spouse. You decide “how” you want to move, before you actually move. You have an understanding of who you want your children to be, what you want your children to achieve, and what it’ll take to get there and then put in the work. I always tell the singles that they are the luckiest ones because they can still chose! You start from the beginning to agree on what you want before you settle down to marry, so that when the kids come, you teach what you have decided… (Mentions briefly how the kids are home schooled by Patricia).”
He says, “as parents we are no better than any other parent, we have 2 hands, 2 eyes, 2 feet… (reminds me of one of my favorite poems “Equipment” read it here). We aspire, we strive, we have no answers but we have a truck load of faith and we’ve taught that to our kids. Foundation matters 105% and so I knew what Zuriel’s answer was going to be when someone asked about her safety because I know what she believes. We teach Zuriel who she is, she is an African girl, a Nigerian. We encourage her to discover who she is on the inside, what do you want to do , how do you choose to do it? And then we say you gotta work by faith!” (I thought he gave great advice and I had to make it bold, because I don’t want you to miss it!)
I got a chance to ask her- “Zuriel, you are only 11 and you have carried out these interviews, articulated your vision and inspired so many others. What would you say you have to believe on the inside to be able to do what you do on the outside?”
Z: I believe in myself! I believe that I am here on earth for a purpose. I believe that change starts with one person doing something and I am willing to do my part!”
Ladies and Gentlemen! Give it up for Zuriel Oduwole, an 11-year-old beacon of light to the world, an ambassador of the future of Africa! She is dreaming up, speaking up and standing up, will you join her please? The world needs your voice! It needs your own unique gift, your own unique calling! Stand up and be counted! Ciao! Thanks for reading and don’t forget to be awesome this week!