Emmanuella Adekunle, a postgraduate student of the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, is a multi-dimensional young woman making a meaningful impact through her various projects and efforts to empower the female gender and support those in need.
In this interview with Esther Adeniyi, she discusses the inspiration behind her community service projects and projections for the coming years.
How long have you been running ‘operation-free shopping’?
Operation free shopping for people on the streets is not on its own, it is incorporated in my ministry, ‘Rising of Deborahs. It is a ministry where we go out to talk to ladies and teach them about self-worth, and self-esteem. We raise ladies as end-time female warriors, ladies who travail in the place of prayers and we also empower them. We have numerous programmes under Rising of Deborahs, Operation free shopping is one of them and we have been on it for two years.
What motivated you to embark on this kind of project?
Personally, I have been someone who loves to give to humanity right from time even before I had my ministry, but this motivation came two years ago and we started it last year, January 2.
Last two years during the Christmas period, my Dad gave me and my siblings money to go buy clothes for Christmas, and while I was at the market to get clothes for myself, it just occurred to me that there are some people out there who do not even have money to feed, not to mention buying clothes for the festive period, some who are on the street even repeat one clothe for a week. I just sat down and thought, why reach out to people that have clothes that are still in good condition but they do not wear them again, so we can give them out? I got home and brought out lots of clothes from my wardrobe, some were still new and in good condition. I also went to my parent’s room and my brother’s and took some clothes from there and then I put them online. I told my executives in my ministry, prayed about it, and got a leading from God to get on with it and people really supported me.
I have been doing humanitarian services for a while now, every year, on my birthday. I celebrate my birthday by giving to people on the street. People have been watching me online and have been seeing what I do, so when I dropped the idea of operation-free shopping, they were so excited, especially some that could not support my birthday, they were excited to donate clothes for operation-free shopping.
What other projects have you done in the past? Is there any project you’re working on apart from this?
We have some projects we are working on, and some we have executed too. Since 2021, every June 12, Rising of Deborahs goes to rural areas to pad girls, we give pads to 100 girls in rural communities, because we know that there are some girls there who do not have the means to get pads for themselves. You see some people using tissues, rags, and some unhygienic options in place of pads. I got this exact project with a vision, that I should go out there and give out pads to girls and I started working on it.
The first one we did was ‘Operation pad a girl’ at Oworonshoki in 2021, the second one was at Makoko in 2022. When we go, we don’t just give those pads, we also equip them with skills that they can easily learn, like popcorn making, soap making, simple hairstyles, and Ankara crafts; how to use Ankara to design books, and souvenirs. During the last outreach, we also taught them how to advertise. We teach them these skills because if we only give those pads, obviously they will exhaust them and go back to using clothes, but with the skills we teach them, they can empower themselves and start something with low capital.
This year’s Operation pad a girl is going to be a 3-in-1 project. We will be giving out pads to the girls, teaching skills, and at the same time we will be having medical outreach for the old aged and the young ones there. We will also be giving out clothes because we have lots of clothes and people are still donating clothes.
Another one of our projects is Operation free shopping for children on the streets on children’s day. We started that in June 2022. There is another project we are working on, it is Operation free lunch for people on the streets. We plan on having a food bus and driving to the streets to give out food to people. We are also working on developing ‘Operation free shopping’ because how we are doing it presently is not the initial goal. The goal was to set up a mobile store or shop in a boutique manner where people can walk in and have that real shopping experience.
As a student, how do you manage your study life by running these projects?
I am a Postgraduate student, currently doing my master’s degree at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. It has not been easy managing my study life with the projects. I started my master’s last year and it got to a point I was overwhelmed and exhausted. Having to think of school, and also getting sponsorship for the projects, and some other secondary schools outreach we also do by the side; we go to secondary schools to teach students about purpose, sexual purity, and chastity. I do everything all together with academics and it is not easy. There were times I ran into depression but I will always run back to God for wisdom and strength, and he helped me. I started scheduling myself and God gave me the gift of men, people who are also very selfless and willing to support. The facilitators that teach skills at Operation pad a girl, volunteer to teach them for free, and again, God blessed me with amazing parents. My family also made it easier for me.
Startup projects like this likely face certain difficulties, particularly in sustaining the project after a few years. What are your projections for the coming years?
Operation pad a girl started two years ago, and last year, I almost did not want to do it because I thought I could not cope due to the fact that it was my exam period, but God came through. Apart from that I have written down my goals in my journals and whenever I open my journal, I keep seeing it, and again it was divinely instructed. So whenever I want to run away from it, I see visions of girls beckoning at me.
How do you fund your projects?
Presently, I am not working. Immediately after I finished school, I went for service, and immediately after service, I enrolled for my master’s study. However, I have a business, I run an online fashion store where I sell clothes, shoes, and anything fashionable, but it is not every time people buy. So whenever I make a sale, I saved from the little profit I get from them. I cultivated the habit of saving because of these projects. Last year, I opened a cowry account for saving because I know I have many projects to do all through this year and I can’t keep waiting for people for donations, I should have something on the ground too. My team gives to the project as well, we contribute #500 monthly. It may be small but it is something and it goes a long way.
We also post on our social media platforms, and people see our fliers and offer to sponsor us. When we ask for funds publicly, people are always ready to support us in cash and in kind. I just look back and I am amazed because I have been funding projects from people on my WhatsApp contacts, sometimes people repost and someone who does not even know us sends their quota. We write letters to people we know that are passionate about service to humanity, and we get support from some. We already have a standby matron for Operation pad a girl who is willing to support the project as well. I also plan on registering the ministry so that we will be able to get more sponsorships and grants to sustain the project.
Nigeria is losing a lot of its young population as they massively migrate overseas in search of better lives. As a young Nigerian, are you also looking in that direction?
I know a lot of young people are running out of Nigeria to seek greener pastures because the economic situation in the country is not befitting. People do ask me, do I plan to Japa, and do I plan to leave Nigeria? And I say, obviously I plan to travel out of Nigeria, but not for leaving sake or relocating finally, I will still remain in Nigeria because I still have a lot of work to do in Nigeria.
If everyone like me leaves Nigeria, who will remain in Nigeria to help the needy, the less privileged? So I keep telling people, I will be blessed to the point that I will be visiting countries like I am visiting a nearby city here in Nigeria. My aim is to take this ministry and humanity work to other countries as well.
It will be amazing if we have our headquarters in Nigeria that someone from Nigeria is not just doing something in other countries in favour of citizenship or staying there, but to extend humanity.
Those countries people are running to also have rural cities with less privileged. Young people should see the need to stay in Nigeria and support the growth of the country. If we are waiting for the politicians or the president, we will just keep wasting our time, and the less privileged will keep suffering. So, we need people for humanity. If you know you are capable, please do it.
What is your advice to fellow Nigerian youths?
My advice is that whatsoever your hand finds doing, do it well in all diligence. That is not my words, it is from the holy book, the Bible. In all, you do, be diligent and consistent, and shun procrastination. Not to glorify me, but I know a lot of people who have reached out to me to say they were motivated by my consistency. I make sure I am consistent with the project even if the funds we have is not enough, we still do it. Once you start something and you are consistent with it, people will see you and recognize what you do. When those at the top see what you do and enquire about you, people will be able to give good testimonies about you. And also, don’t be lazy. I was a lazy person before but when I started my projects, I had to stop being lazy. Again, young people should volunteer. When you see other people doing something and you also have dreams for it but you can’t start yet, join theirs and volunteer, from there you will learn how things are done. Make friends with people who do those things, and get mentors that align with your vision.
I have mentors who mentor me. Before I take certain steps, I consult them and they always guide me. I also volunteer for ministries and NGOs that are into what I do, so I’ve learned from them. You cannot just wake up one morning and just say you want to start, you need to volunteer first. I have been a volunteer for many years before I started. That was where I learned the culture of what it takes to keep running.
Standing Courageously Against Rape (SCAR) is another initiative of Emmanuella Adekunle. She is a YouTuber and an advocate against gender-based violence.