Monday, November 28, 2016

Love and Care

Ini Obong, the founder of Love and Care for people speaks about her story and journey so far, from healing and surviving abuse to standing up against abuse.

Could you start by telling us a little about yourself, your education, work and career choices?
I was born in Nigeria and had my primary and post primary school there. I wanted to be a medical doctor as a child so I studied sciences. However, I ended up with an Honorary Bachelor Degree in Public Health and Health Promotion (Preventive medicine you may call it) from Ireland’s most prestigious and multi award winning University, University College Cork. My postgraduate studies include Food Marketing, Cooperative Organizations and Rural Development and I am undertaking a Masters programme in Female Entrepreneurship.
With years of business, travel and volunteering experience behind me, I discovered my passion from the age of 13. That passion was to help and support children who were hungry and in need.
However, as the years drew by, combined with my challenges and experiences, and a desire to give back to a people that loved and cared for me without judgment, my bubble increased to include young people and women who were survivors or at risk of family abuse and who were clearly underserved and disadvantaged due to their gender, social class, financial or racial background.
You see I was sexually molested by two very close friends of the family, whom I called uncles. I never told anybody because these so called uncles were meant to be perfect role models and could put me in the right path so I did not bothered telling anyone. I also never wanted to see them again.
I guess I had the feeling I was thought of as a rebellious and promiscuous child. This is so due to some childhood experiences. You see, I was born into a Religious family, went to church and even sang in the choir.
I performed in church and even was allowed preach sometimes as a teen. But all this came about because when I was 12 years of age; I meet a senior in my school who explained to me what God expected from me as his child and how he loved me as an individual. I soon discovered I could receive anything I needed from the creator if I followed the rules (faith, believe and giving back).
I took that very seriously and wanted to grow in faith, knowledge and also mingle with other youngsters who were my age and was having similar experiences to mine. This put me in a lot of trouble because I would go for other youth programmes in other schools. When I came back home and asked where I was coming from, if I said a youth programme I will be told we also have that in church. Sometimes I could get accused of going to visit members of the opposite sex. I was even suspected of being pregnant once I was having my monthly flow and had pain in the stomach. 
My journey with God worked really well for me until I gave it up to please a few very close people who did not understand me and or my journey but interpreted it differently.
At 19, I was almost raped by a man I later fell in love with and made my companion. That cost me a lot because I was psychological traumatized and bullied in that relationship. I had no one to support or help me and believe me it was a very dark, very long and very lonely journey. I experienced reproductive abuse, stalking and was practically controlled even from a long distance. It is true you do not need to be bruised for it to be an abuse.
Everything came crashing down at some point. I worked out of an abusive, manipulative and controlling relationship and walked right in to a failed relationship with someone that didn’t really care much. I guess I was not patient and did not give myself time to grieve and heal from the former. I did not want to remain single even though I was married. But I only lived with my partner for 4months and some days as a wife.
I was very depressed and gradually suicidal. I was full with so much shame, anger and I blamed myself. I felt used, bruised and abandoned. It was not until 2014, after I spoke openly to a group of strangers about my experience did I begin to truly release the shame I had for myself. It was then I developed the courage to forgive me and grieve because I did blame myself a lot. I developed the courage to forgive those who one way or another made me learn a very tough lesson in life. Now I am so thankful because without those masters or teachers, and disappoints from very close people, I would probably not be here now at this moment.
I am well-known for my vigorous dedication to ‘my children and girls particularly. This is so because most girl child in some developing countries are disadvantaged and underserved. Their rights are violated and they are victims of some hideous crimes. However, I believe to achieve this will take a combination of experiences and resources from organizations and individuals and the Government. 

I established my first business at 13 years of age. I sold Mackerel and peanut. Later on I worked in Health Promotion, People Development, Youth Work, Childcare and Enterprise.
I am a Human Rights Defender, a Transformational Speaker, Philanthropist, Gender Based Violence Expert, Family Violence Expert, Girl Child Activist, Trainer, Entrepreneur, Mentor, Critical Thinker, an Idea Generator and and I am very privileged to be all these and more.
I am motivated by the understanding that people can help themselves transform their lives but sometimes we need someone else’s shoulder to start their journey.
I have been a part of the journey to self recovery and discovery for many. Thousands of lives have been transformed through my non-judgmental support, dedication and unconditional love.
I am very passionate about issues of social justice. I am very determined to see policy developed for victims of forced marriage and Honour Based Violence in Ireland.
In my home country Nigeria, I will love to be able to influence public perception and policy around early childhood marriage and child abuse.
I recently developed a very courageous advocacy campaign against early child hood marriage in Nigeria. I will like to keep this up until the Nigerian Child is protected from all forms of child abuse.
I suppose my life experiences has sort of directed me to where I am so I have dedicated both my personal and professional life ensuring that children, young people and women at risk are protected.

What is Love and Care People all about?
Love and Care for People (LCP) is a non-profit, people centered organization. It is a home away from home. It is a place for people who need the warmth and embrace of a family and we respect confidentiality.
LCP is a safe haven where loving and caring supporters, volunteers and team members or as we say our family all work together to bring hope, shine light and provide Non-Judgmental Support to children, young people and women from different cultures and nationalities who are survivors, affected or at risk of Family Violence (including but not limited to Forced Marriage, Reproductive Abuse, Honour Based Violence, Disownment, Abusive Relationships, Spousal Abuse, Child Abuse), Poverty and other Social Exclusion. LCP serves as a voice for those who feel voiceless and we advocate for the rights of the oppressed.
I recently started a campaign to end child marriage in Nigeria. Feel free to sign and share it.  That is a bold step for me. LCP has supported over 500 girls, 300 young women, provided formal and non-formal learning to 2000 children, young people and women, served over 50 communities and organizations with our preventive outreach programme and supported the education of 100 youths, and recently developed a training for professionals who will support survivors and at risk victims of family abuse.
How did it begin?
A combination of reasons is responsible for the formation of Love and care for people.  A desire to give back and reciprocate the support I received during my most trying period, awareness about the challenges and experiences of International women in Cork, advocacy for victims of family abuse, compassion for very underserved children living in very disadvantaged circumstances in Ireland and a lack of services for International women in Cork experiencing family, domestic and spousal abuse and a safe and serene space for them to meet.
What are some of your biggest challenges in your work so far? How have you dealt with them?
My biggest challenge was being a single mum. I had to joggle work, college and motherhood. It was not easy because sometimes I felt very overwhelmed. I had a very sick daughter whose pregnancy was quite tough as I was an emotional wreck at the time. At some point, I had the help of a sister and a friend. That helped a lot.
Another challenge was concentrating in college because it was at the same time I had my most difficult challenges. I almost gave up but somehow found a little bit of strength to keep pushing.  I wanted a degree so I had to encourage myself. One of the reasons I kept on moving was when I was told by a lecturer I will not be able to pass my exams. That challenged me as I told myself; I would rather fail and repeat then not sit for my exams. Thankfully I passed all papers.
I was disowned by my mother. I would never have thought this would happen but it did.  I suppose sometimes, we have to be able to accept some of our greatest challenges and look for ways of finding inner peace. Acceptance and forgiving helped me through that experience.
What keeps you inspired and motivated to do the work that you do?
I want to make a significant difference in the lives of people and live that as a legacy when I cross over. I am overwhelmed when I see a smile on a person’s face when they are happy and I want to be a part of that for many.
Being able to support people achieve the transformation they want to have in their lives is great and I see that as a divine privilege. It is truly amazing to be a part of someone else’s story of transformation. It is truly humbling.
I am motivated by the transformation and smile I see in the faces of victims of abuse or poverty who that a deep breath and say to themselves ‘I have earned my transformation’. That one person can be the reason why another decides to take the bold step to work towards having a transformed live.  
My inspiration comes from those who have been here before me and have help others achieved greatness in their lives.
Can you share any success stories and anecdotes from your journey so far?
Success is measured differently by people. Mine would be “being able to stand up for myself”. That is by far my greatest success and it took many years to build and I keep practicing. Self believe and faith are quite powerful and you need both to achieve success. You need to train your mind to work with you.
I am very exceedingly privileged to use my unique and firm voice to advocate for survivors and victims of family abuse at the European Parliament, European Commissioner and staff of the Department of Justice in Ireland. My continues effort in advocating for survivors and victims’ of family abuse (forced Marriage) led to my consultation on a major research by the European Parliament in Brussels on the issue of forced marriage in Ireland, Europe and neighboring countries.


I am very humbled to be honored for my supportive and advocacy work by several organizations and agencies. Recently, I was named among The 100 Women4Africa Extraordinary Gold List, won a Special award recognizing my unfailing contribution to Ending “Honour” Based Violence by the Prestigious True Honour Awards in the UK. I received an Award from Courage GF and LIFTEFFECTS Star Award which celebrates global leaders and their fight for a better world.