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When you empower a woman, you empower a nation — Toyin Saraki

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Toyin Saraki Speaks at UNGA

WBF Founder-President Mrs. Toyin Saraki

Mrs. Toyin Saraki, President, Wellbeing Foundation Africa; Chair, White Ribbon Alliance Nigeria Board for Safe Motherhood; and wife of former Governor of Kwara State, Dr. Bukola Saraki, has curiously continued to demonstrate unrestrained commitment to nation building. Currently the President She is not discouraged by the incidence of no longer enjoying political patronage as governor’s wife. While her contemporaries have seemingly gone into oblivion, Toyin Saraki has intensified her passion for salvaging the vulnerable poor, developing and empowering a critical population segment of human capital imperative to socio-economic growth and development – Mother and Child. In this interview with SUNDAY ODIBASHI, she laments that approximately 241,000 newborns die in the first month of life, 33,000 mothers die from pregnancy and childbirth complications and one million children die before their fifth birthdays every year in Nigeria.

WHAT was your inspiration for involving in humanitarian and philanthropic services?

My inspiration for committing my efforts to humanitarian and philanthropic services stems from my upbringing, my personal experience, my knowledge that education both enlightens and saves lives and my desire to help those in disadvantaged positions live empowered and fruitful lives.

I am repeatedly inspired into action too by the dedication of others, and thus forge strategic partnerships for concerted action. One example is the huge contribution made by midwives and traditional birth attendants to the survival and well being of women and children throughout Africa at the very frontline. With the “International Day of The Midwife” coming up on May 8th, 2012, I will be highlighting these efforts and seeking to ensure that through our midwives, we continue to save and enhance lives by enlightening our women better about the benefits of a properly planned reproductive life.

You seem to have deep emotion about the plight of the poor, why do you choose to concentrate on mother and child healthcare?

I am very passionate about alleviating the poverty burden affecting approximately 102 million people in this country; with the majority of these people being women and mothers. Due to the responsibilities that come with managing a home, also known as social reproduction, coupled with limited access to economic opportunities, women and children constitute the vast majority of the poor in many developing countries. However, it is a fact that the most vulnerable periods for women and children are during pregnancy, childbirth, the newborn period and the first five years of life. That is why I have focused particular effort on this particular area of human vulnerability, maternal newborn and child survival. Unfortunately, many are unaware that every year in Nigeria alone, approximately 241,000 newborns die in the first month of life, 33,000 mothers die from pregnancy and childbirth complications and one million children die before their fifth birthdays.

I have always said that when you empower a woman, you empower a nation. An empowered woman is a health-seeking woman for herself, her children, her family and her community. Improving the health opportunities afforded to this subset will inevitably improve human capital in the country.

Years after vacating office as First Lady and Wife of the Governor of Kwara State, you still maintain your NGO; what is still motivating you at a time your contemporaries have abandoned their pet projects?

The Wellbeing Foundation Africa, an Africa-focused Maternal Newborn and Child Health empowerment organization, has always been more than a ‘pet project’ for me. I have always been inclined towards contributing to sustainable development in Nigeria, and Africa. Improving the public healthcare system and providing adequate training for health professionals will not only empower women and children but will advance the country and the continent, as a whole. However,  I am motivated to address systematic failures in public health by my own personal loss during childbirth while at the mercy of the Nigerian healthcare system, and by the innumerable lives that the Wellbeing Foundation Africa has touched in its advocacy efforts. I am absolutely committed to helping every woman and every child in Africa attain the Millennium Development Goals, particularly MDGs 3, 4, and 5 by 2015 through the Wellbeing Foundation Africa 24-7-365 MDG Countdown to 2015 Advocacy Campaign.

How are you coping with the challenges of generating funds to implement your programmes?

With a combination of faith in our vision, dedication and fund raising,  all programs under the Wellbeing Foundation Africa will be successfully funded. The Wellbeing Foundation Africa has a solid  track-record of advocacy and action through the development of sustainable and replicable models, tools and resources such as the WBF IMNCH Personal Health Record PHR©; that is, individuals and organizations that support our vision can see the work we have done, which makes it easier to receive financing.

Notwithstanding, now that we have extended our scope throughout the African region, we are actively working on generating new sources of multi-sector funding for our future maternal newborn and child health initiatives and advocacy campaigns because in order to properly address the particular challenges faced by African women and children, solutions should and will be generated and driven by African sources of funding, African-driven and Africa-focused organizations.

What impact would you say your organization has made on the target population?

The Wellbeing Foundation Africa has currently improved the lives of over 200,000 women and children through the distribution of the WBFA Integrated Maternal Newborn and Child Health Personal Health Record (PHR)© which has put a tangible Millennium Development Goal attainment tool in the hands of women, children and health service providers. The PHR©, which we aim to disseminate to 5.3 million women by 2015, empowers women with a documented record of their medical conditions, every stage in their pregnancy, and the life of their child for the first five years; giving them prompt access to the right care from properly informed health professionals.

Our other programs such as the Alaafia Kwara Indigent Medical Fund WBF-AK IMF, the Alaafia Kwara Twins and Multiple Births Assistance WBF-AK TAMBA, and the WBF-AK Positive Lifeline for PLWHA, have assisted and empowered thousands of frontline beneficiaries and communities in Kwara State annually and continue to do so. We are particularly proud of our successful WBF-AK educational model of Integrated Faith-Based and Universal Basic Education For Community Development established in 2004, the first of its kind in Nigeria, at the Al-Muwahideen Nursery-Primary School, Kwara State, and our participation in the unique Kwara State Community Health Insurance Model, through our Public-Private-Partnership For Health at Alaafia Kwara Health point  Resource Access Unit at Iyana Bacita, Kwara State.

How would you consider your new call for higher humanitarian duties when you were elected the Chair of White Ribbon Alliance Nigeria Board?

I have long been an ordinary and active member of the White Ribbon Alliance, both globally and nationally, and served as a White Ribbon Alliance National MNCH Champion for years. I am thus honoured and privileged to have been elected the Chair of the White Ribbon Alliance Nigeria (WRAN) Board and I am certain that this platform will amplify the efforts and voices of those making a difference while consolidating the structure and programs of WRAN and its constituent member organisations. Through WRAN, maternal newborn and child health advocates will be able to build upon pre-existing frameworks in order to strengthen the collective efforts of the alliance. As the Chair of WRAN’s Board, I am committed to seeing that WRAN members work together in holding government and stakeholders accountable for the lives of women and children in Nigeria.

Do you think achieving the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Nigeria is realisable?

Yes, I do think that the 2015 Millennium Development Goals in Nigeria is realisable and realistic with accelerated action. The Wellbeing Foundation Africa is working hard to achieve the MDGs with special focus on Goals 3, 4 and 5 which are centred on reducing maternal and child mortality and the eradication of gender violence, while we have embraced targeted action towards the MDGs and beyond through our WBF Africa 24-7-365 MDG Countdown to 2015 Advocacy Campaign for The United Nations Secretary General’s Every Woman Every Child effort.

What is your assessment of women empowerment for political participation in Nigeria?

At all levels of government, we are seeing more women playing active roles. This is a testament to the success of women empowerment for political participation in Nigeria. Yet, I believe that more women need to get involved in the political and judicial fields in order to bring issues pertaining to the rights of women and children to the forefront.

Increased female participation in democratic engagement will bring benefit in addressing these issues, and additionally improve the literal, tangible and figurative health of the nation as many international development statistics analyse and demonstrate the advancement and functionality of a country via the socio-economic status of its women and children. We fully support capacity building initiatives for women at all levels from the grassroots to the highest levels of leadership.

See link to full interview http://www.nationaldailyngr.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4150:when-you-empower-a-woman-you-empower-a-nation-toyin-saraki&catid=351:politics&Itemid=554


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