-Celebrates with Change-A-Life Foundation on Children’s Day
Famous talk show host/social entrepreneur, Funmi Iyanda was in Nigeria last week to celebrate Nigerian children during this year’s Children’s Day held at the Mende Town Hall, Maryland, Lagos. It was a well attended programme, and the convener, Iyanda, spoke on different issues, including the abducted Chibok schoolgirls, strategies of overcoming difficulties and much more…
You have series of programmes at Change-A-Life. Why is this special?
We do a lot of things. This is special to us because it gives children the opportunity to have fun, alongside our staffers. At our foundation, we believe children are best in their own home, so, we don’t put them in orphanages and all that. We find people within the family who are ready to foster or take care of children whose parents have either died or left. This time (May 27), apart from our January 1 event, we try to bring them together. They are like a family and this event is like a family re-union. That’s what Change-A-Life is all about.
What did it take you to bring these children together?
We have been networking, working in relationship with churches, mosques, schools and social network units, to find us families that meet up our criteria; families where something traumatic had happened. With these units, it’s very easy to convey them here to be part of this celebration.
Showing Tunde Kelani’s Maami was one of the highpoints of the day. Can you tell us what informed the choice of the film? What lessons do you think the children would learn?
One of the most healing tools in the world today is music, art, sports and culture. And I think, people are not given enough of these today. When I was growing, even if you were poor, we all went to public schools, well equipped with sport fields, community centres, where you could watch films, whether you have money or not; films that would inspire you to become ‘somebody’. But today, it’s only for the rich. It’s only people that have money who go to the cinemas. That’s why we came up with the idea of showing free movies, and the choice of Maami was perfect. The film teaches our children the richness of our culture as Africans, and for them to be proud of themselves as a people.
You invited children from other schools to be part of this celebration. Why did you mix them?
I don’t believe in segregation. People should be allowed to mix, whether they are children of the rich or poor; whether they have parents or not; that’s the best way to know each other better. When you don’t mix, you have wrong impression about people, by saying, ‘Oh, they are my enemies’. I think, that’s one of our problems in this country.
I grew in the midst of Christians and Muslims. We would go to Church on Sunday, go to mosque on Friday. In fact, I learnt arabic alphabets and I still remember some…That’s how I grew and it really helped because I didn’t see Muslims as my enemies. Some of my best friends had mothers in purda (veil), nobody saw their faces, but we saw them inside, and we knew they were beautiful. That’s what we are trying to do, bringing children of different background together, without segregation. We want them to relate and learn under the same roof.
You’re one of the Nigerians in the diaspora that called for the release of the abducted schoolgirls. How did you react to the news?
When I read that Boko Haram slaughtered some school boys, my heart broke, but we couldn’t react, may be because of the shock! They went ahead to kidnap over 200 girls and at first, the government seemed not to believe it happened, they didn’t do any meaningful thing. But I had seen the pictures of the parents, and because I am a Nigerian, I know how we grieve. The grief I saw on the faces of the parents were not manufactured, something inside me just would not keep quiet, it is unacceptable that we failed to protect our children. It is unacceptable that they kidnapped these children and we have not rescued them. First, government must do what is necessary to bring these children home and tackle the insurgents called Boko Haram.
There are results. When we started, they didn’t even believe that the kids were kidnapped. The outcry and campaign within and outside the country made the government to admit to the fact that these children were truly kidnapped. Every child knew about it, because Nigerians, for once, came together under one voice, to condemn the act and call for the return of our girls. The government has been responsive, they are now trying, and they have clues on how to rescue the missing girls. It’s not fruitless, and very soon, our children will come back home.
What other things are you working on?
I run two media companies. One in Lagos, the second in London. I don’t do television in Nigeria again because we don’t have television industry in Nigeria. And I don’t want to do patronage media, otherwise known as brown envelope media. That’s why I have shifted that to London and me and my partners are working on films that can be seen by anybody anywhere in the world.
Back in Nigeria, I do corporate projects, I have people on ground and we choose what we work on. So, I run my business as a professional, I run Change-A-Life as a founder, because it has a board and staff that keep things going. I am glad that it has taken a life beyond me.
You talked about going into film but I don’t see your background in film. What do you know about film-making?
I don’t need to know anything about film-making, but I am a great manager of people and a very intelligent person. One of the challenges here is that we put people in boxes. So, often times, they put me in boxes. What you saw me doing on NTA was what I could do, because I was censored into the format that I did on NTA. That’s not the kind of journalist I could be. I was operating at 20 percent capacity. I don’t want to die without operating at 100 percent capacity. So, this is me moving towards my full capacity. I said I run the company, I didn’t say I make the films. I have with me directors, script-writers. What I love about film-making is that you coordinate and organise talents, so that you bring forth what’s good. One of the things I do in London is to produce stories that showcase Nigerian cultures.
Are we expecting any film soonest?
I am not the kind of person that speak, until things are done. I am not interested in branding promotion and all of that. We are now at a point where we should be building institutions all across, a proper music industry, a proper film industry, to put the system and process in place, so that our talented people will actually be able to benefit directly from their talents, not indirectly.
Now that you moved from Lagos to London, how have you been able to overcome difficulties?
To start with, I didn’t move from Lagos to London. I live between Lagos and London because the capacity I want, we don’t have enough of it, that’s why I stay partly in London, but I live between the two cities. What I said about adversity, we consider it and difficulties as aberration, outside of nature. They are part of nature and it’s our job to overcome. I always approach things asking questions on how to solve them. To understand how to solve them, I try to understand what the roots are. Which is why, sometimes, I don’t get involved in some things. That’s my general philosophy. I don’t believe ‘bad’ is something that mustn’t happen to me. Bad happens to us all, what is important is how to solve the challenges we encounter. I also decide who I want to be, there are certain things I don’t do, and I will not do them. If I find myself in difficulties, I try to find myself out. There is always a way out.