FAB Treasure Foundation: Educating and empowering girls, women

Helena Olori

Earlier this year on March 8, the United Nations, celebrated the International Women’s Day 2024 with the theme “Invest in women: Accelerate progress,” emphasizing the crucial role investment in women and girls play in driving equality and sustainable development.

Despite the increase in awareness campaigns annually, many young girls across parts of Africa still face numerous gender-based challenges that hinder their education and personal development and put them at a disadvantage, thus perpetuating a cycle of poverty and inequality that forms negative narratives.

Addressing Gender-Based Challenges in Africa

Driven by her personal experiences and a desire to rewrite the narrative of African girls, Abigail Festus, a social entrepreneur, Girl Child Advocate, founder and Executive Director of FAB Treasure Foundation, has been at the forefront of empowering young African girls in various communities across Nigeria, with the requisite skills and opportunities they need to succeed.

“I want to see that young girls are being empowered with the right information to be the best they can be, and the tools they need to make necessary life decisions. And what that means for me is, if a girl wakes up today and says, ‘I want to be a doctor’, I want her to believe in herself, understand that she has the potential and also go out there and get it,” Festus said.

Emboldened by this belief, Festus’s journey into advocacy started with the establishment of FAB Treasure Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) dedicated to educating and empowering young girls and women for a better tomorrow. Since its inception in August 2020, over 7,000 women and girls in secondary schools in rural communities have been impacted through its core areas of focus; Digital Inclusion for Nigerian Girls, Back-to-School Project, and PAD with FAB.

Digital Inclusion for Nigerian Girls

In today’s age where digital fluency is increasingly becoming a prerequisite for competitive business engagements in the global economy, the need for digital inclusion takes on heightened significance, particularly for underrepresented groups such as young girls living in rural areas across the continent. It is on this premise that Festus pursues digital inclusion initiatives for young girls.

 “I often tell people that technology is the language of today and it is going to be the language of tomorrow. Many trends are going to fizzle out but technology has come to stay. And we cannot be talking about women empowerment or girl child empowerment without incorporating young girls into the digital age,” she said, emphasizing the importance of the project.

Ironically, her advocacy for digital literacy began with resistance to the same. After graduating from secondary school, her dad had a different plan for her—to attend computer school. At that time, few girls pursued computer skills; most focused on traditional skills like hair making, baking, and fashion design. Initially reluctant and even leaving home for a couple of months to avoid the pressure, she eventually enrolled and as with all her endeavors, she gave it her best shot. The impact of the training, which helped her secured jobs while waiting for her university admission, sparked her commitment to digital literacy.

Under the Digital Inclusion for Nigerian Girls project, Festus focuses on young girls in secondary schools in underserved communities by partnering with tech companies to train them. The first training program under this tech project took place in 2021 in partnership with IntelBox Learning Center, and was focused on basic technology and digital skills, emphasizing the effective use of mobile phones beyond social media usage for administrative purposes such as MS Word, Excel, and email management. Following this basic training, selected girls were taken to the Intel Box’s facility for an introductory training in coding and robotics for another three weeks. Subsequent trainings would see them learn how to build a robot from scratch.

“I want young girls to be tech-inclined, not so that everyone will move into tech related fields, but so that they understand that technology is an enabler that allows them to work seamlessly across all sectors,” Fesus said.

Another significant training programme under the digital inclusion the project was the Blockchain Technology training, held last year, in collaboration with the UniAthena global education, to train FAB Treasure’s community of girls in line with global trends.

“I am very delighted to be among those who took part in this training” says Okeke Chidimma Benedicta, one of the beneficiaries. “The Blockchain technology training was very impactful and well packaged. The instructors were very dedicated and patient with us and they gave in their best. For me, the training was an eye opener as it has advanced my knowledge on block chain and the cyberspace and has also awakened my interest in Tech,”she adds.

The partnership with these training facilitators also ensures interested participants are welcomed if they want more advanced training at the organizations.

Back-To-School Project

The back-to-school initiative, though not exclusively for the girl child only, is closely linked to FAB Treasure Foundation’s digital inclusion project, recognizing that education is the foundation on which digital inclusion is built, and young girls cannot be digitally included if they are not first in school as education is the key to unlocking their potential and preparing them for digital advancement.

The back-to-school initiative focuses on creating awareness about the importance of education, particularly among young people in rural areas, and to provide them with the necessary support to stay in school. “For last year, we gave out writing materials, text books, uniform and sandals, etc., to pupils of LGEA Primary School Nyanya Gbagyi.

PAD with FAB: The Fight Against Period Poverty

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), over 500 million women and girls globally do not have access to menstrual products. The number is even more staggering for African women where, already, there is dearth of menstrual health education, and Abigail Festus is no stranger to this challenge.

Growing up as the only daughter, she too had experienced firsthand what period poverty entails. Reflecting on her own journey, Festus recalled that she was not taught about menstruation.

“In fact, my menstruation came to me as a shock because I was scared and embarrassed. After a pep talk from my mom, she handed me a tissue and a piece of cloth and showed me how to wrap it. That was the first and only lecture I ever got from my mom about menstruation”.  This personal experience fueled her passion for advocating for menstrual equity, which she defines as “equal access to menstrual health and hygiene, both education and management products.”

Through its PAD with FAB project, the foundation has meaningful impacted the lives of thousands of girls in rural communities using the two-pronged approach; providing them with menstrual products and management facilities, and education and awareness campaigns — focused on menstrual health and hygiene, and dispelling myths surrounding menstruation. As she aptly puts it, “Menstruation is natural, it is not something to be ashamed of. And your sanitary pad is not contraband, it is something that helps you stay clean and healthy during your periods.”

Commenting on the impact of these initiatives, Mr. Anaweta Peter Utewnojo, Principal of one of the benefitting schools, Apex Star Academy, Aso-Pada Mararaba, said “The program is really a remarkable one,” adding that “Our students now display high sense of consciousness as regards to their personal hygiene and safety.”

“The senior students now give back to the society by educating the younger students on hygiene and improved standards of handling. The students are also not only conscious of their bodies, but also their environment. As a school, ready to make her students outstanding especially in the area of puberty education, is proud to have benefitted from the foundation in this area”.

Beyond these, FAB Treasure Foundation also leading the advocacy on making menstruation a normal fact of life to change societal perceptions about it and help reduce the stigmatization by 2030. Festus believes that government initiatives can play a crucial role in achieving this goal, and is hopeful that in the coming days, initiatives such as providing free sanitary pads for young school girls through installations of pad vending machines or dispensing machines in public schools, could significantly reduce shame and stigma associated with menstruation.

Impact and Future Aspirations

Festus’s journey as a Girl Child Advocate and Social Entrepreneur, has also impacted her personal growth and development profoundly. And while it has been quite challenging, for her, it’s more than a lifetime passion—it’s about the transformative impact it has on both her life and the lives of her community.

Mary Adole, the content creator for the organization, echoes this sentiment, stating that, “Working with FAB Treasure Foundation as a volunteer has been an amazing journey for me.” “The things I have learned, the people I have met, the relationships I have built, and the push that creating content through research has afforded me, not to talk of the opportunity to be relevant in the lives of the people FAB reaches out to… is an opportunity I have come to cherish!”

Despite the demanding nature of a full time corporate life as an administrator at the Audit Department of the Pharmacy Council of Nigeria, Festus looks forward to intensifying works in these areas to solidify the gains of the previous years.

Africa Change Stories platform is established to tell African stories which are empowering and are at variant to stereotypical views of wars, famine, diseases. At African Change Stories, we believe narrative and angle matters. So we responsibly tell stories ethically. The platform therefore pushes forward great and energizing stories which will propel its people to consciously strive to do more. You have a story? Info@africanchangestories.org

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