Dr Kadiri Kehinde, a senior lecturer in the mass communication department of the University of Ilorin, is also the founder of Grassroots Aid initiative, a non-governmental organisation that focuses on improving lives of rural dwellers. In this interview with KEHINDE OSASONA, she narrates how she conceived the project, the challenges and her goal.
How did this initiative come about?
Well, it happened that after my doctorate degree in 2015, I discovered that I had so many things in my head that I wanted to do. So, at a point, I felt the only way I could put the knowledge gained in the over three years programme was just to make an input or better still, try to impact the society.
So, I started by taking pictures of the challenges confronting the people in the rural areas. Some of the villages I visited in the course of doing that were; Ago-Oja, Afon both in Asa local government area in Kwara state. I took those pictures and started uploading on my Instagram handle to create awareness and to let people see what is happening in other parts of the world other than theirs. I also write stories on those pictures.
So, along the line, I realised that people were getting interested in what I was doing and wanted to know why I took a particular picture. And to a larger extent, I was getting more engagements.
Presently, we are focusing mainly on SDGs4 and SDGs6 which is quality education and water and sanitation. We are also doing some other projects on SDGs1, SDGs2 and SDGs3. Again, we are striving to rally other NGOs to focus more on water issue because of its significance.
Basically, as an NGO we realised that water is at the centre point of everybody’s life. And as such, water affects so many areas of peoples’ life such as; health, sustainability developments, the economy, education and water can even lead to crisis in communities.
Therefore, without water, peoples’ life could be hellish, without water, life could be very difficult as well. That is the reason we want to focus more on water than SDGs than other SDGs that we have been working on.
We have many NGOs in the country, what are you doing differently, I mean what is your modus operandi?
For us at Grassroots Aid Initiative, using compelling pictures to tell an emotion-laden story have been our style. And that has been our unique selling point and, in doing that we evoked people’s emotions to take action.
We also use picture to talk about human angle stories. We don’t only seek for funds; we also educate people and create awareness about the challenges of our rural people. To a large extent, we have become the voice of the voiceless.
In most cases, we always set out looking for problems that require solutions. We were always going to communities to identify their peculiar needs especially the dilapidated bore-holes or those that packs up for not reaching the expected water beds when it was dug.
How do you mean?
Some of the villagers often failed to apply the geo-physic or the scientific ways in drilling their bore-holes, they just use their intuition.
Another mode of operation is documentation of peculiar water problems that people were having. For instance in 2017, in Ago-oja community in the same Asa local government area of Kwara state, while taken the pictures of some of the challenges that the rural people are facing, suddenly somebody sent me another PM, saying that she wanted to provide water for the community.
In less than a week, she sent the sum of N500, 000 and within two weeks, we are able to provide the water for the Ago-Oja community.
That was a turning point. And I thought of it that the picture I was taken is no longer an hobby, but a calling because I felt if I can use picture to tell stories and people were getting engaged and giving back to society, then it is no longer a hobby and God must have been whispering something to me the need to improve the lots of the people in our various communities.
After providing the water to the people of Ago-Oja community, I realised that I had a tool in my hand that I can use to set an agenda and change the society. I got to know that it is not only about taking pictures just for taking sake, but even then I could still not muster enough confident to seek for support from people in order to actualise the project goal.
Which other engagements pronounced your activity?
When I embarked on the trip as always, on this particular day, I met a girl walking on a lonely path with her school bag on her head. I waited, took her picture and then asked why she was not in school.
I was expecting her to tell me something very huge and surprisingly, she said she was sent out of school for her parent’s inability to pay the sum of N2, 500 school fees. Immediately after that encounter, I posted it on my Instagram as a way of attacking the society’s conscience and in less than 30 minutes after, somebody sent me a PM that she wanted to pay for the girl’s fee for two terms which is N5, 000.
After she sent the money the following day, I had to travel to the village to pay the school fee. Initially, when we got there, not knowing our mission, the villagers were scared that we came all the way for a small girl at that.
So, we took her picture again, we uploaded to show that somebody paid her school fee. It was that point I realised how powerful photograph can be. In fact, I was not actually asking for anybody to pay for the school fees, but the person read in-between the lines and decided to solve a societal problem within her own capability.
Again, on the day that we were launching the water project in Ago-Oja community, we noticed an old woman living close to the launch site whose house was almost tearing apart. The roof of Mama Ikirun’s house was almost blown off and there were big stones on the roof top to hold the roof tight in order to prevent wind from carrying it, while thick sticks was used to hold the wall from falling down. Worst still, the whole house does not have a single window for proper ventilation.
I was so curious that I started asking so many questions within me like; who is this old woman? Why is she staying alone? At that point, I was told that her children are dead and the house is the only property that she had. They also told me that the villagers have been supporting her in order for her to feed too.
After that, we took picture of the old woman and we documented both inside and outside of her home. Not done, I asked if we could pull down her house and seek support on her behalf to build a new building, and she said it was okay by her.
This was also a tough challenge because during that period, I did not have anything on me, but I was hopeful. When I decided to post her picture eventually, I used an emotional expression in reeling out stories on her children demise and how her home is no longer habitable for human being. I tried to prick people’s conscience and question started cropping up from the respondents.
It was after I realised that they were ready that I had the audacity to seek funds. Eventually, we moved the old woman to her neighbor’s house and pulled down the house and we started building it, and in less than two months from the day we started the documentation, we built her a new furnished and painted house. We also got donations like bed, mattress, kitchen utensils, carpet, curtains, and clothes.
How were you able to achieve that within the time frame?
The thing is; as the project was progressing, we were using pictures to tell stories to let people see the stage from the foundation stage to windows level and to the roof level. It was not like we just went off radar after we got money, No.
As a matter of fact, we and our donors were building the house together via engagement in the process of building it. Everybody was seeing what was happening. And even when we told them we have hit our target, people were still donating.
Did you know that it was our mode of operation that saved us eventually when we ran out of fund? When we started asking for another support, within 24 hours, we got about N300, 000.
What this portend is that, it is not that people don’t want to lend support some of the time, but they are scared of falling into the hands swindlers using humanitarian course to enrich themselves.
After the project, I started to have huge confidence that once you set out to achieve a certain objective, you can do it only if you want to do it.
Do you think governments can improve the lives of rural dwellers?
The rural people appear to be the most voiceless people in the society that are not generally reckoned with. Yet, it is like a gold mine despite the erroneous impression that they might not be adding any values to the economy, after all.
But on the contrary, with a conducive environment, many of the rural people are capable of driving the economy of the country. For instance, rural women are the most hit when it comes to all these rural challenges; they would be the ones to fend for the family, they would be the ones to trek long distance searching for water which is not even safe for consumption to either drink or use for local production of locust bean and what have you at a time they should be driving the nation’s economy. It is not as if they don’t want to use safe water here, but getting it can be stressful, expensive and tasking, yet they need to survive instead of waiting for their husband.
Ordinarily, they could have used such time to help in contributing to the development of the country, but here they are using such time to alleviate their domestic challenges. For me, if government wades into some of these challenges, vis a viz infrastructure provisions, social amenities and so on, it would amount to helping the rural-urban setting altogether, as it were.
They deserve more than what they are getting, especially when you look at their deficiencies from the angle of potable water, schools, health centres, electricity, and accessible roads. I think government should focus their attention to the rural areas too and help them out of their peculiar problems.
So, when we consumed locust bean produced with dirty water, we that live in the urban settlement are indirectly being affected. You now see why their plights should be a great concern to us.
So, to a large extent, the NGO that I am managing has given me more knowledge on why the grassroots people are hostile and have developed apathy for government who they see as merely using and dump them at will. I think these problems should be looked into.
Have you made an attempt to partner with donor agencies outside the country?
Well, for now I have not really been applying for it. Reasons being that before you apply for some of those things, there must have been some verifiable work or projects carried out by your NGO. Another thing is that all these donor agencies don’t just give funds to novices and would expect judicious use of their funds any day.
Interestingly too, now that I have discovered that my little knowledge of the working of NGO at solving practical societal problems is a workable knowledge, then I won’t hesitate to seek it if the opportunity comes.
Presently, we get our funding from what we call social media crowd-fund and even funds from friends and families through which we are getting financial support from different parts of the world to actualise our objectives.
What other challenge can you think of?
It has been logistic, finance, and human resources challenge. Many times, I used my personal vehicle to access some of these inaccessible communities. You can imagine the level of damage being done to such a small car. It could have been a rugged project vehicle or something near it.
I do not also have enough funds to pay my team cum staff as I merely pay them stipends. In order to make the work smoother, I should be giving them regular salaries and regular trainings to go with to make them more effective.