21st October 2021
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Pamela Stephen

Blessing Pamela Stephen is highly trained qualitative researcher and data analyst with over 9 years of extensive experience doing field work exercises, collecting quantitative and qualitative data to inform and design programmes. She has a proven track record of successfully implementing initiatives that cut across various issues in the development sector such as health, human rights, justice and women empowerment. Pamela is very passionate about mentoring young girls and women on personal development to build their knowledge, skills and resources enabling them forge their own path to achieve long term self-reliance. She is the founder of Fortress Foundation. Recently, she had a successful outreach where we got to know about her foundation and what they do in the lives of young women. In this interview, she talks about her motivation for starting up the foundation, the challenges she faces and what she expects the society to assist.

Please tell us about your foundation

Fortress foundation is a place where young women can come and find answers to their challenges, where they can find hope.  It was borne out of the passion I have for teenagers and their rights. We have a lot of young women in the society who have been abused by relatives and people they trust. Research has shown that people get raped and sexually abused by the people they know and are around them. When this happens, most times, they have nobody to talk to. Due to the kind of society we live in, adult care givers shut them up for various reasons. In addition, parents and guardians do not want to put their children out there because of the stigma.

This foundation is also borne out from my personal experience. Growing up, I had a lot of experience that affected me negatively in terms of trusting people. I did not have anyone to speak to until I was an adult and had to go through counselling. I had to pick myself up and become a successful person in the society. That’s why I want to help young women. To give them a voice, encourage them to speak out so that we can put a stop to this evil in our society.

Pamela Stephen during her recent outreach to 145 girls

Part of the foundation’s objective is to promote personal hygiene. For example, a lot of young girls do not know how to take care of themselves during their menstrual cycle. This is also in line with the issue of sexual abuse. Due to the fact that they live in deprived areas, they are financially incapable of sustaining themselves. These girls then resort to sleeping with men to get pennies to buy sanitary towel and other hygiene products. Furthermore, some of them use unhealthy products which can cause infections. Our aim is to educate them on the right hygiene practices.

Who would you say are your target audience?

We are passionate about teenagers and young women who live in less privileged rural areas. In these places, the rate of sexual abuse and unhygienic practices is very high. Although we cannot reach out to everyone, we believe we can start from somewhere. We will like to reach out to as many of these young women as possible. These people feel the government do not care about them and are therefore isolated. As a foundation, we want them to be part of what is going on in the society.

Teenagers during the outreach
Members of Fortress Foundation

How do you reach your target audience?

I live in Lagos Nigeria and so I am able to identify areas that are highly populated. I look out for areas that these issues are prevalent. In a place called dustbin village for example, a lot of people live where they pile up garbage. This area is basically inhabitable but people live there. We usually do not stick to a particular community but we also do not abandon them. There is room for monitoring and evaluation where we follow up with what we started. After each outreach, we create WhatsApp groups where they are free to ask questions and share the challenges they are going through. In the near future, we will like to take our outreach to other parts of the country not just Lagos.

Tell us about your most recent outreach

Recently in July, we were at dustbin village in Bariga Lagos. It was tied to my birthday. We reached out to 135 girls between the ages of 13-19. We spoke with them on healthy hygiene practices and also distributed sanitary kits containing toiletries, soaps, disinfectants, sanitary pads etc. Last week, we had another outreach where there were 25 young girls present. I had a chat with them on sexual based violence. As a way of monitoring and evaluation, I formed a WhatsApp group where I get to interact with these girls on a daily basis. I give them the opportunity to share any issues they need answers to.

What are the major challenges encountered during your outreaches?

The last one, we planned for a 100 girls but 135 girls showed up. We did not want the girls to leave empty handed so we had to spend more to ensure that every girl that showed up had a sanitary kit. Aside that, we ensure there is security so we inform the police to prevent miscreants and touts from distracting and disrupting us. So mobilizing the police is sometimes a challenge.

Funding is a major challenge for most NGOs. How have you kept up with these activities?

Due to the fact that the foundation is still very young, I fund most of the outreaches myself with support from family and friends.

How can society step in to support you and also eradicate the challenges your Foundation is tackling?

There are a lot of multinational corporations who produce these hygiene kits that we distribute to girls during our outreaches. They can step in by partnering with NGOs like ours so that we can reach out to a wide range of people and not just the few we do. They can also provide funds to financially empower these teenagers through trading and learning of new skills for example in order to make these girls financially independent. When these girls are empowered, they will not give in to unscrupulous men who lure or entice them. Finally, they will be able to send their kids to school and take care of themselves without relying on anyone.

Where do you see your foundation in the near future?

I want to see my foundation as a safe haven for teenagers and young women where they can give testimonials that as a result of what they learned, they were able to pick themselves up and get a better life. I also want to reach out to other parts of Nigeria not just Lagos. I want my foundation to be a place where people can come for solace. Just as our slogan says “be the sunshine in someone’s cloud”.

We want to say a big thank you to Pamela Stephen for speaking with us. To support Fortress Foundation, you can reach them via pamelastephen86@gmail.com.

This is wishing Fortress Foundation all the best in their endeavors.

Ides Ofune

Ides Ofune is currently a PhD Student at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on civil society and accountability in improving the quality of education. She is the founder of Desert Bloom Initiative and editor of Desert Bloom Advisory. Ides is very passionate about education and creating an inclusive society. She speaks French and English fluently. She can be reached at info@desertbloomadvisory.com