Entrepreneurship Grants – Previous Winners
Every three months from March 2017 to March 2018 I give away three no-strings-attached grants of $1,000 each to help budding entrepreneurs. That’s $12,000 in total.
All grants have now been awarded. Here are the previous winners:
Non-Stop Lollipops – Caffeine Infused Lollipops
Joshua Byers is a law student who has been working on this idea for a while. Coffee and energy drinks are expensive and get boring quickly. So he has come up with an interesting alternative,
What the grant will do: Joshua will probably need some more funding before his product hits the shelves, but he is at the stage where getting an investor or interest from a crowdfunding campaign would be difficult. The $1,000 will pay for the prototype to be refined and improved, including putting it in front of focus groups. With that done and provided the feedback is good getting funding or a large pre-paid order should be much easier.
We followed up with Josh six months later, and a lot has happened: How To Start a Confectionery Brand From Scratch
Afrikstart- Crowdfunding Site for African Entrepreneurs
Edwige Boum is a financial consultant turned entrepreneur who has spent the last two years working on her brain-child Afrikstart. In her own words:
I have created Afrikstart out of a real desire to give an alternative source of funding to entrepreneurs across Africa who struggle to get access to capital from banks and investors. Years ago, after seeing my brother give up on his dream to create a retail business in Cameroon (West Africa) for lack of funding, I thought then there must be an easier way to provide easily accessible and affordable financing to entrepreneurs in Africa. Like my brother, I came to realize that many fellow ambitious entrepreneurs in Africa bootstrap for their business, or rely on family and friends. Those who apply for business loans face over 20% interest rates on average. Crowdfunding came to me as a solution to reach many underfunded entrepreneurs in Africa.
Afrikstart is the solution, a crowdfunding platform dedicated to
- Pay a three-month subscription for a white-label crowdfunding platform to launch the first 15 pilot crowdfunding campaigns.
- It will fund a 12-weeks crowdfunding training program for entrepreneurs looking to use the platform.
Hollie Burgess – Blog
Hollie has been working on her blog for the past three years all while working a full-time job. And she has made it a success. The blog is now very well read, has won numerous awards and been featured on countless sites.
Colin Hayes – M50 Mobile Toll Payment Platform
York Circus School – a Social Enterprise
I am applying for this grant to help me purchase the initial equipment required for setting up the York’s first ever Circus School.
About Me: I am currently a High Performance Computing Manager for the University of York; however, through a cost-cutting centralisation process I am about to be made redundant thus enabling me to start something new and exciting! Since my hobbies include circus related skills, and the fact that I very much enjoy working with children I have had the very exciting idea to start a circus school in York (the nearest circus school is 25 miles away in Leeds)!
Initial Aim: To provide an amazing learning experience for primary school aged children through being taught various circus skills in fun and exciting workshops. These workshops will be designed to be more than just “different” PE lessons: since I am also a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Ambassador, students will find themselves learning about gravity, patterns, logical thinking and choreography, both individually and in group work.
In the first year, I will aim to deliver these workshops to as many primary schools in the York area as possible and I will prioritise visiting schools that can be visited on a regular basis. However, in the first couple of months I will start with targeting 2 schools that already know me well, and offer them free sessions in order to test and refine the lessons. This will help build credibility for the business and allow word of mouth to spread the news of what my business can offer other schools.
Medium Term Aim: After the first few terms I hope to build up enough enthusiasm in the children to consider opening after-school clubs in order to be able to start teaching some more advanced skills such as unicycling and slacklining. At this point I will seek out potential volunteers to help teach juggling and slacklining.
Longer Term Aim: Once the business has grown I will then aim to find a suitable venue to hire/buy as a permanent base. This will give the York Circus School opportunities to introduce aerial circus skills and acrobatics. At this point I will be seeking to employ instructors to join the teaching team. It is also hoped that the venue can be shared with the York juggling community and the York slacklining community.
Seed financing: My imminent redundancy pay-out will help cover the initial start-up salary costs for the first 6 months. My application for your entrepreneur grant, if successful, will enable me to buy the equipment needed for the schools’ work and after-school clubs. I will aim to get funding from PE and Sport Premium government funding so that I can provide the workshops at little or no cost to the schools.
Looking further ahead, when I am at the stage of buying/renting a building for the circus school, I plan to apply to charities for funding. Because of this long-term goal I plan to start the business as a Community Interest Company, CIC (a CIC is a special type of limited company which exists to benefit the community rather than private shareholders), which will then enable the York Circus School to apply for charitable grants.
Research: I am currently a regular visitor to 8 York schools through running either lessons as a STEM Ambassador or as a York Schools and Youth Trust volunteer helping to run assemblies and lessons. From all the staff I have talked with over the past few months, including 6 friends who are teachers (2 of which are acting heads), there has been overwhelming enthusiasm concerning the idea of the business, including several who have already asked “when can we book you in?”. I have done broader searches in the York area and there appears to be no individuals or organization providing circus training for schools.
I have looked around at the UK national scene, and broadly speaking there are scattered pockets of either individuals or small companies providing circus training around the country, and most of these are charging in the order of £200-300 a day with the schools paying for this from their PE and Sport Premium government fund (an average 200 pupil Primary School receives £18,000/year from this fund). Therefore, there is much potential for starting a financially viable York Circus School business.
Personnel: Initially it will be just myself.
Personnel Skills: juggling of scarves, balls and clubs; club, flag and poi swinging; hand walking; unicycling; slacklining
1.0 Create business plan
1.1 Seek investment and grants
1.2 Open the York Circus School as a Community Interest Company
2.0 Contact primary schools and gain interest
2.1 Check school insurance cover
3.0 Buy initial equipment and insurance cover
3.1 Plan trial lessons for up to 2 schools
3.2 Run PE lessons
4.0 After initial trial lessons seek possibilities of running after-school club
4.1 Look to involve local slacklining and juggling communities
1.0 Seek further funding
1.1 Look to hire/buy building for after-school/evening with possibility of slacklining and aerial work
1.2 Investigate insurance for building and associated circus work
1.3 Buy year 2 equipment
1.4 Advertise for teaching staff to join the team
Thank you very much for reading this plan for my start-up business. If you should award the grant to me, it would be an extremely gratefully received boost to getting the initial equipment bought for this exciting new adventure.
Jenny Lachs – Digital Nomad Girls
My name is Jenny Lachs and I am applying to the Arbing Grant today for my business Digital Nomad Girls (DNG).
I thought I’d tell you my story quickly before I jump into my business vision and why I’d love to win this grant.
I’m originally from Munich in Bavaria, and in my ‘old life’ I was a chemist. I studied for nearly ten years and got my bachelors, masters and then even my PhD in organic chemistry. I was always very passionate about my research and lab work, but during my PhD I realised that focusing on 1 molecule for 4 years is quite limiting and I missed working with people.
I knew Science would not be my future, I only knew that my big passion was travelling. So after my PhD I took off on an around-the-world-trip which has since turned into a full-time lifestyle nearly 4 years later.
I started working online just over 2 years ago. After travelling to South and Central America, Australia and South East Asia asa backpacker, I moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand to become a digital nomad.
As a chemist I had no idea what online skills I had, so I set myself a challenge to try any online job I could find. The idea was that I’d see what I enjoyed doing, gained some experience and ultimately would carve out an online career for myself. This is exactly what happened. I started writing articles, ghost writing, translating, doing social media management and even a bit of WordPress design.
Very early on I realised that I was usually the only girl at the coworking space where I worked, and only one of a few girls at meetups. I really wanted to connect with other aspiring digital nomads just like myself and started a Facebook Group called Digital Nomad Girls just over 2 years ago. When I invited the first few girls I’d met into the group, I had no idea that this little project would turn into my passion project and ultimately my business, just a year later.
It was quite clear from the start that there was a huge demand for a space where girls could connect with each other, ask their questions and share their experiences, knowing that this was a safe space for them.
I now have over 12k members, I am about to run my 3rd coworking retreat next month and I have a popular website where I share tips, guides and inspiring interviews with successful digital nomad girls.
What I have learned over the last 2 years running DNG and meeting hundreds of lovely location independent girls, is that what we all have in common is a craving for community. No matter if we have home bases, if we travel frequently or sporadically, it can be isolating and even lonely at times to be a digital nomad.
Most of us are running or setting up online businesses which is a huge undertaking even if you have a consistent support network. Many of us don’t have this network as the digital nomad lifestyle is still pretty new and often family and friends don’t really understand our dreams. Many girls give up before they’ve even started because they either lack the support system or are sold a dream that is supposedly easy to achieve. This is another common problem in the online space that the digital nomad lifestyle is sold as an easy to achieve dream, which I think can be very misleading and discouraging, especially when you’re starting out.
It has become my mission to inspire, connect and empower (aspiring) location independent girls around the world. I want Digital Nomad Girls to become the one-stop destination for all girls who are interested in this lifestyle. I want to give them honest and valuable advice, connect them with like-minded people and teach them the tools and skills they need to start an online career, whether as freelancer or as entrepreneurs.
While the retreats will always play a big role in DNG, what I am currently focussing on is creating a more focusses and valuable space for the girls to turn to. I call it the DNG Inner Circle.
This is my vision for the Inner Circle.
A virtual coworking space that you share with all your business besties and that travels with you wherever you go.
In technical terms it will be a WordPress based membership site using Mighty Networks as the community platform (a very interesting company by the way). And these are the features:
- Mentorship – a group of successful digital nomad girls will mentor and support the new members throughout their journey
- Expert created mini courses – each month I will invite an expert to join us in the Inner Circle who will create a mini course on a relevant topic like finding remote jobs, business accounting, visas, productivity, travelling with family, balance and health while travelling, marketing, branding etc.
- Live Q&A sessions with experts – the experts will hold live Q&A sessions to help the girls with hands on advice
- Goal Setting- we will hold monthly goal setting sessions. It’s impossible to reach your goals if you don’t know what they are
- Accountability – we will pair the girls with accountability buddies to keep in touch with and hold each other accountable
- Masterminding – we will create smaller sub groups based on their projects. We will also hold monthly mastermind host seat sessions where we help the girls in a live session
One of the biggest benefits of the Inner Circle will be consistency. It can be very distracting to move to a new city every few months or even weeks. At each new coworking space you have to reintroduce not only yourself, but also your business or project and it’s hard to get great advice from people who just found out what you do. The girls and mentors inside the Inner Circle move with you wherever you go, and as your business evolves and grows.
Now, what would I use the $1000 for?
I am already in the process of setting up the membership site backbones. I am currently doing everything on a shoestring budget but I am confident I can pull together a functional membership site with good user experience. However, what I am lacking at the moment are the tools and equipment to create high quality online courses. My old iPhone is sadly not up to scratch anymore and I would love to invest in a nice camera and microphone to create mini courses for my members. I know how important video is to tell a story and I think that a great video setup would improve the quality of my courses and the whole experience. The rest of the money I would invest in hiring a VA to help me with the launch of the site which I plan for end of September.
I really hope you consider my application and I am happy to answer any questions you might have.
Jemma Elizabeth – Let’s Go Eventing
I have a small yard of 8 stables, 12 acres, 2 menages, SJ field and great hacking. I employ a full time groom and 2 riders. I have another 2 horses at Somerford Park Farm ( an amazing place!) and 1 in Hampshire. In total I own 11 horses – crazy I know! I am very into Eventing (see here for more info on what eventing is https://www.
Mark Cole – Vintage Refurbished Electronics
It was a cold morning, I drove myself to the office like a typical Wednesday. It was the middle of January 2016. I found myself in an interesting situation, I was sick of the office. Sick of trading time for money. Unlike most people I put in my two weeks’ notice a few weeks after this. This is where you would expect me to start my new business to change the world, instead I headed off to Georgia. The southern terminus of the Appalachian trail to be specific. Every day for the next four months, I would wake up and hike; having plenty of time to think about life and what my next goal would be. After hiking 2200 miles, I decided that I couldn’t go back to work for someone else. I had plenty of ideas like most people but I had never fully committed to any of them. After integrating back into civilization after a few weeks I got to working on the project that provided me feelings unlike anything I have ever had working for someone else. Most people have sold some items online before if that be things you no longer needed or things you imported from a different country. I began working MCO Electronics and Collectibles where I sell any electronics and different collectibles I can get my hands on. Most online market places are specializing in taking products from China and selling them without ever touching the product. This could be a good model but I was more interested in getting my hands dirty and putting in real work to create value. Coming from an electrical engineering background finding out what I wanted to deal in was pretty easy. I could fix vintage electronics and was familiar with a lot of different electronics so I decided to start out by doing what I know. If you scan craigslist or any other online source you’ll see plenty of people offering to buy your old iPhone but you aren’t going to see many offering to buy your old digital cameras, DVD players, and radios. That is where I differentiate myself. I use my expertise to both fix, restore, and flip older electronics. Not only does it have a monetary value, it is keeping these items out of landfills and getting them to customers who enjoy the products. As I continue my business, I find am constantly increasing my knowledge and product offerings. One issue I have that drop shippers do not is that I am constantly in need of new sources for items. My business takes a decent amount of man power at its current state to generate a large profit. I have to research upcoming sales, buy at the sales, restore the products, list the products, ship out the product, and finally deal with customer service. I find most people in this business end up slowing their scaling because there is only so much one person can do. Since I am applying for the grant, I have a detailed plan to what I would do with the influx of cash. I have bootstrapped the business to this point and wish to continue to organically grow but there are some aspects that I could greatly improve on. Currently I have minimal test equipment and am forced to buy chargers for all electronics I test. I am in the market for new testing equipment which will allow me to streamline this process at a cost of about $200. I have been focused on working within the business and need to focus energy on the business itself. In doing so I need basic logos and branding which will increase my return customer rate which will likely cost another $300. I plan to move from a sole proprietorship to an LLC in 2018 as I am beginning to reach sales volumes of over $5,000 a month. I would use the rest of the grand money to help cover some of the legal expenses. Ultimately, I am currently still in the infancy of my business. It’s not a glamourous business like creating the next Facebook or Uber. Instead it is a tangible business that can scale to provide a comfortable lifestyle for myself and hopefully future employees. I appreciate your time for reading it and offering a grant entrepreneurs as it makes a big difference.
Hanna & Edwina – Au Pair, Oh Paris
We are Au Pair, Oh Paris (or APOP for short). The company is now almost a year old and we’ve made a lot of progress on who we are, what we want to become and how we plan to do it. We recently created this video to explain our mission more concisely.
Interestingly, the BBC posted about au pairs today. Their piece was insightful and a major reason for why we set up APOP in the first place. Au pairs are young vulnerable people, regularly being exploited, and too afraid to return home or turn to authorities. The reason for fearing help is either due to their illegal status or fear of their host family and the complications of a language barrier. Our long game is to ease the problems of ALL au pairs by answering questions, providing a support network and developing a community. No matter the status of an au pair. However, we chose to start in Paris and niche down in a city we know well, but we have big goals and would love to expand and aid au pairs in other larger cities, if all goes well. For now, we have created a fun, informal YouTube channel which currently has 522 subscribers and a Twitter account which also has around 500 followers. In the last few months, we have thought long and hard about how to best support au pairs and achieve our goals.
- Firstly, we have finished writing our book. However, we intend on spending money to edit and publish this book as there is only so much we can do ourselves. This book includes a step-by-step guide for the au pair process as well as hundreds of stories.
- We also hope to continue growing our social media following, which requires us both to spend time in Paris, producing content to inspire future au pairs and meet current au pairs.
- We intend on organizing events in Paris such as yoga classes, coffee meet-ups, picnics, and brunches which allow au pairs to meet each other and create community.
- Our next phase is also to launch a blog which will feature funny, heart-warming and relatable stories from au pairs across the world. We’ve already collected and written up multiple stories which will be released next month.
- Finally, and more ambitiously, we want to create a sort of “travel agency”. During au pairs holiday breaks (every 6 weeks) and long weekends, we will lead trips around western Europe exclusively for au pairs and young people who want to travel stress-free.
Currently, we are the only company in Europe that offers help and support to au pairs. No one else caters to the au pair community like we do. Au Pair, Oh Paris has the potential to disrupt the au pair industry that is dominated by overpriced and exploitative au pair agencies. Agencies provide general information for every country, we are exclusive to Paris. Au pairs can spend up to £600 on agency fees, we are a cost effective and personable alternative. We have researched our market and, according to Au Pair World, the leader in the au pair industry, the figures show 590 host families registered for premium membership in 2016. However, this is only families who are taking the legal and traditional route, which is a smaller number than those who bring au pairs over to work illegally. In fact, Facebook groups offer an insight into our audience with the current 2017/2018 academic year au pair in Paris group having 2,477 members. We’re already helping au pairs in Paris on a daily basis through Twitter messages and emails. However, receiving your grant application money would certainly help us reach more au pairs and help keep many young vulnerable people safe. Thank you very much for considering us and also for creating the grant application process which is encouraging us to have conversations we may not have had before! ————————————————————————————————————————— If you’d like to read more, here is a link to our previous application: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1DA58g6dgX1p7Abfd21EwCJOaQT394DKxyx6tfnJHKHw/edit Our Official Mission Statement: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1AWZJ5dkA3vV6aIdmwWIQ0Sg6L0q37BNfYXr_XeY9wBY/edit And our Twitter and YouTube accounts: https://twitter.com/aupairohparishttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYfg95m_ndj1NjUuTNPWO4g?view_as=subscriber
Biju Simon – Ether India
Website: www.etherindia.org (under construction)
Name: Biju Simon
Name of the Organization: Ether India Charitable Society
- My personal profile
Can you just summarize what Competitive Markets for Goods and Services?
My professor asked me after finishing the lecturing on Economics. I stood up and looked blank without understanding the question. It sounded Greek and Latin to me. After a few seconds of awkward silence, he said why don’t you go back to school and learn? You don’t fit to be here. This was not the first incident in college where I didn’t understand what the professors or the fellow students said in English. It was a double obstacle for me. Neither did I understand the language nor the subject that was taught. Professors continued their lectures and the gap grew as well. I searched for the books in my language to fix this gap, but it ended up in vain.
Next year, I joined in a seminary, where students were
I was more concerned about social work. Hence I left the seminary and joined Loyola College Trivandrum to pursue Sociology and know more about society, its culture and practices. Later I worked with Don Bosco Trivandrum, a shelter home for the homeless and abandoned children. I joined here to provide my quality time for the children who need my support. There I could see many of the lives which are very similar to me.
- My proposed Organization
Over 5400 vulnerable children live today across 97 registered Child Care Institutions (CCI) in Trivandrum according to the Social Justice Department of Kerala. The categories of children in Trivandrum are those who are orphaned, abandoned, destitute, living in extreme poverty and abused. Before coming to shelter homes, they worked as child
A child care institution means Children’s Home, Open Shelter, Observation Home, Special Home, Place of Safety, Specialized Adoption Agency and a Fit Facility recognized under the Act for providing care and protection to children, who are in need of such services (Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015). From the Child Care Institutions, children are sent to public schools for education. But these children have poor academic performance and low motivation levels. Since these children don’t have
At Ether India, we want to transform the lives of these children.
For these children, the need of the hour is to evoke interest and generate curiosity to learn. Through this, they need to be integrated
We envision a world where the vulnerable children learn with joy and happiness; and become
Ether India believes that education should facilitate children to identify their capabilities, skills and set up their goals. Hence we focus on 3 Es: Education, Empowerment and Engagement.
- First level: Education
The aim of this stage is to create curiosity and interest to learn. We facilitate the learning process by providing learning environments which
- Science Lab
- Maths Lab
- Language Lab
- Smart Class
- Skill Training
- Motivational Classes
- Second level: Empowerment.
The goal of the stage is to assess the talents and skills of the kids and provide opportunities to improve the same. In this stage, we will offer courses in technical and vocational skills such as:
- Arts and Crafts
- Film Making
- Video Editing
- Graphic designing
- Web Designing
- Sports and games
- Trash to Treasure
- Competitive Exam preparation and many more.
- Third level: Engagement.
Here we aim at integrating the kids with their families as well as the society. We offer the following supports.
- Pilot project
The first step I would take would be to offer training on Education through setting up Science Lab,
The objective of this training is to invoke interest and generate curiosity among the children from the orphanages through interactive learning and teaching methods
This project will provide training on every Monday to Friday in the morning and evening on every academic year. The training would be offered by Ether India trainer that is me, the founder of the organization and two hired trainers that is one trainer each
Finally, towards the end of the project in March
After this one year training the projected outcome of this pilot project is to see 25 marginalized children be improved in their subjects like science and mathematics.
This money will be used in implementing the pilot project in one orphanage. I intend to spend the money on buying Science Lab Kit,
Science Lab Kit – 338.46 USD
Maths Lab Kit – 85.34 USD
Language Lab Kit – 152.69 USD
Courier Expenses – 69.23 USD
Trainers’ fee – 307.69 USD
Total = 953.41 USD
Note: I am also currently working on a fundraising plan and sending out proposals to other organizations, foundations, friends and family. Through this, I hope I can fund other needs and aspects of my organizations. This 953.41 grant will go a long way in helping me start and it will go a long way in impacting the lives of children in one orphanage in Trivandrum.
I am grateful for this opportunity. I hope that my application will be considered. I also look forward to hearing from you soon.
Founder – Ether India Charitable Society
www.etherindia.org (under construction)
Felix Milome – Milome Comics
SALVAGE KENYA THROUGH VISUAL ARTS.
Through the use of African superhero comic books, Milome comics
In the past 2years, my country (Kenya) has witnessed unbelievable vices and challenges that have almost crumbled her foundations. Hundreds of youths have been recruited to the Alshabaab Terrorist Group, over a hundred teenagers have been brutally gunned down by the police due to indulgence in crime and numerous jobless youths have been used by politicians to cause political rivalry and violence.
Sample Photos of youths who were gunned down in Eastland Nairobi-Kenya by police due to
Sample photos of youth being involved in political violence in Kenya
Screenshot of Baby Pendo in hospital: A victim of police brutality in Nyanza-Kenya.
Unfortunately, the effects are so grave that innocent infants aren’t spared. Many youths avoid ‘head-on’ youth education programs; therefore I strive to educate the urban African youth through the avenue of visual entertainment.
We subtly address these societal issues via superhero comic books. A sample project that I recently did is Fikira.
The story is about an underpaid nurse who becomes a
I do all my illustrations/drawings using outdated software, an old laptop and a mouse. Unlike most artists, I don’t use a sketch pad. Moreover, my artistic skill was not academically acquired but was self-taught through watching tutorials accompanied by trial and error.
Marketing and distribution are done online, where I gather a consistent audience of over 1000 readers. I believe that an ample supply of resources can help me achieve more, hence the application for a grant.
Project Description and Analysis
In the year 2018, I will officially launch 4 new superhero comic book series, each series containing 4-6 episodes. 3 of the four will be solo main characters while the fourth shall be a combination of all the three main characters. Every month, I shall be releasing a new digital issue, which shall be accompanied by a motion comic trailer/ promo. The digital versions shall be distributed for free via social media and our website. In every quartile, I shall release both printed and digital versions of a comic book which shall be distributed for free in youth hangout joints like arcades, malls and movie libraries. At the end of the year, we shall have a youth empowerment program whereby we shall discuss the issues addressed in the comic books. Our target audience
Monthly Goal: 1 digital comic book and 1 motion comic book promo
Quarterly Goal: 4 digital episodes (randomly selected from the 3 solo main characters), 1 combined issue (Combination of the characters), 5 motion comic promos.
Yearly goal: complete 3 digital comic book series (12 digital episodes/ 4 episodes each), a complete combined series; which shall be a combined story of the 3 characters (3 issues), 15 motion comic promos,
To efficiently apply the one-year strategy/ project, I request for a grant of 20,000 US Dollars. The money shall mostly be used
cannot be issued, any contributed amount will be highly appreciated and recognized. Estimated Budget
-Youth Empowerment Program: 2000 USD
-Annual Printing Charges: 4000 USD
-Laptop: 1000 USD
-Sketch Pad: 1000 USD
-Annual Online Marketing: 3000 USD
-Annual Outsourcing Manpower: 4000 USD
-Annual Support Allowance: 5000 USD
Grand Total: 20,000 USD
With all these in place, I believe the project shall be a guaranteed success. Any contribution shall be appreciated. I hope to receive positive feedback from you. To view my portfolio, simply visit www.milomecomics.com or visit my Instagram account @milomecomics
Peter Adeeko – Soulace Peace Academy
My Personal Story.
I remember my wife and I visited an orphanage with lots of children in 2009. There was this child who was specially laughing and playing with me. The beautiful afternoon ended abruptly when we were set to leave. This little girl held unto my leg as she cried relentlessly that she wants to go with me. We would come back was the only word we could muster to appease her as we departed with tears in our eyes. This striking experience had me flash back on my childhood dream. When I was telling my mother how I would have a very big house and adopt many children. Little did I know that I will end up becoming an orphan myself.
Being a war child, I was raised by my teenage brother. My father was a soldier. He was injured during a peace keeping mission in Mogadishu. His right shoulder was disjointed and this prompted his early discharge from the army. Subsequently, he suffered partial paralysis which eventually resulted to total paralysis. He was bedridden for two years. During this period, his pension didn’t reach us. The family representative who was nominated to collect this pension, never remit it to us. The change in family structure subsequent to my father’s incapacity and death plunged my family and most especially my mother into serious economic turmoil. Raising seven children without help and any sustainable means of livelihood was a struggle. She became ill and passed on afterwards.
My brother and eldest sister could not continue with their education. Subsistence farming became our only means of survival. My brother became the ‘father’ of our family by default. And that was not without an adverse effect on him. The responsibility was too much for an adolescent. And so, he became very violent and an alcoholic. My third year in secondary school was the most critical period. I remember, my school principal once stripped me of my school shirt, sandal, and socks and I had to go barefooted for days which is a punishment for being late with the school fee. This was humiliating. I cannot forget all the times that I was either flogged or punished and chased out of the class room for defaulting in school fee. I would cry but encourage myself and returned to school the following day. I was never tired of going back to school.
A turning point came in my 4th year, during the commemoration of Nigerian Armed Forces Remembrance Day, a scholarship from the Nigeria Legion. The honour at that event remains with me forever. By and large I completed my elementary education. The struggle was not any different for my tertiary education but I made it through all the huddles. This dreadful and precarious path to survival could be avoided if we had peace in and around our country. But through my dream venture, a peace academy, I hope to prevent war and violence and thus the existence of more war orphans and widows in Nigeria and beyond.
To this effect, my organization Soulace Africa envision a peaceful Nigeria where human dignity and access to social justice become the norms. My mission is to mitigate the incidence and impact of extreme violence and armed conflict in Nigeria through participatory methods of advocacy and engagement of people that are vulnerable and mostly affected by violence in Nigeria.
To achieve this vision, Soulace Africa intends to setup a community-oriented training and development project called Soulace Peace Academy. This academy will have within its umbrella, the leadership training program otherwise “Peregun” which will focus on non-violence communication, conflict resolution, diversity and reconciliation. Peregun is regarded as a peaceful plant among the traditional Yoruba people of south western Nigeria. This evergreen shrub grows in the rural backyards in Nigeria and was believed to have a spirit that could calm a raging God. Peregun is noted for its bayonet like leaves which is regarded as a sword sheath in traditional Yoruba culture.
The aim is to create mindset shift on armed conflict and violence and to deepen knowledge and research about peace. Alongside this is the establishment of audio-visual library containing resources related to non-violence that will help create exposure in community peace-building efforts and conflict resolution.
The participants are to be known as peaceniks and will be chosen on the basis of their passion for community development and peace advocacy. Individuals who are survivors of violence will be given preference over others. For the success of this programme, we shall engage with breed mediators who share the ideology of peaceful human coexistence.
Moreover, Soulace Peace Academy will establish collaboration with existing schools and colleges to start exposing the students to the culture of peace and non-violence. Extracurricular activities such as Peace Festivals and Awards that recognizes nonviolence and peer mediation among youths will be introduced to promote the importance of peace and also to motivate the children to adopt conflict resolution as a conscious practice in their daily lives. The schools where these programs are to be established would be called Olive Schools.
Our peaceniks will also be exposed to One-Month Internship/Community Service in any of the olive schools. This internship will help to sharpen the participants’ skills and prepare them as better citizens for the society. One of the immediate outcome of this training is to increase participation in peace building efforts among different communities across Nigeria. It is expected that at the end of this training which will last for three months, participants will become the peace building ambassadors in different parts of Nigeria.
This project will also provide a platform for the victims of armed conflicts and those who were internally displaced to narrate their experiences. To this effect, we intend to create multimedia platforms called Podium and Coexist. Podium will run as a weekly media talk show where war affected persons will be invited to tell their stories. A monthly conference called coexist will be held to revive community leaders’ participation in peace building. Each edition will be marked with the signing of the peace register as an evidence of the leaders’ long-term commitment to maintain peace in their community. These platforms will also provide a learning opportunity for our peaceniks in public speaking and storytelling.
Besides, this platform will also serve as a medium for soulace Antiwar Campaign which would explore Storytelling, Photo voice, Performing Art as tools for peace advocacy and conflict prevention in Nigeria. More importantly, these platforms will be used as medium to strengthen women inclusion and participation in post conflict restorative programs.
Similarly, like Peregun, Soulace Peace Academy will explore community development initiative called “Odundun”. “Odundun is a succulent plant that has high medicinal, ecstatic, cultural value across Africa. it grows with very little water. In traditional Yoruba Culture, Odundun is believed to be a spirit plant that helps prosperity and peace.” This program is designed to advocate for the inclusion of war widows and orphans in social welfare schemes. They will be provided opportunities to learn and acquire skills for sustainable livelihoods. For a start, I will organize one-year apprenticeship along with a six months vocational skill training program that would run concurrently. At the end of this training, it is expected that 24 widows would have gained valuable life and vocational skills in catering, interior fabric design and decoration, housekeeping services, making, livestock farming. This will enable them to live an independent and self-sustained life. We also would organize Soulace Survival Network – a community that will provide mentoring, networking and self-support initiatives for war orphans and widows across Nigeria.
To crown it all, Soulace Africa will strive for the establishment of a peace commission and advocate for the introduction of peace education into the school curriculum in Nigeria. The peace commission will be in charge of fostering true reconciliation efforts and resolving all communal conflicts and act as a neutral mediator in interstate disputes. Everyone is a victim. I am of the opinion that my country could cut down on military spending and redirect the vital resources for better social and economic development of the country.
Being a startup, this $1000 grant investment will make my dream of conducting the inaugural capacity building workshop for 20 young veterans war widows in Nigeria this April come to reality. The transformation I want to see is a wretched widow become a survivor and advocate of a peaceful and inclusive society.