Women can help one another to overcome challenges – Stella

Miss Stella Ogeri Dike is a model, humanitarian, entrepreneur, Law student and founder of the Stella Dike Foundation. She is also the immediate past Miss Diaspora Nigeria Universe. In this interview with PAUL OKAH, she speaks on the achievements and challenges of the Foundation, her reign as Miss Diaspora Nigeria Universe, menstrual hygiene, among others. 

What should people know about the Stella Dike Foundation?

My love for humanity inspired my establishing the Stella Dike Foundation. I love positive changes. The best way to impact lives and to achieve positive changes is to become the change ourselves. Therefore, the desire to become a change-agent prompted me to found my NGO on January 1, 2020, in order to bridge the gap between the less privileged and the haves in society. 

We launched the Foundation by kick-starting our first project known as Kids Back To School on January 28, 2020. The project was to enable children, who were yet to enroll in schools, to get basic school materials they needed, including school bags, writing materials, sandals, and lunch boxes.

We noticed that some of the school children actually wanted to return to school, but because of these basic materials, most of them couldn’t afford the aforementioned materials and were forced to stay back home. So, we had to intervene by giving them these materials and we also paid tuition for some of them, who were on the verge of dropping out of school last year.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 pandemic affected most of our plans last year. However, on March 28, this year, we carried out the Pad Up Girls Project, during which we interfaced with teenage school girls who were still alien to the use of sanitary pads, ignorant of what menstruation is all about, sex education, among others. Therefore, we saw the need to educate them and arm them with information on menstrual hygiene. I believe that, if we empower girls with the right information, they won’t learn the wrong things, including teenage pregnancy. Sex education will enable them learn the right things without hampering their future.

Hence, we carried out the Pad Up Girls Project in public schools in Abakaliki and shared free sanitary pads to over 200 students. We also encouraged them on menstrual hygiene, how to prevent unplanned pregnancy, dangers of unplanned pregnancy, among others. 

My plan is to make Stella Dike Foundation number one in Nigeria. We will make waves in Nigeria and in the international community; it is just a matter of time. 

What are the challenges so far?

The major challenge facing every NGO is that of finance. NGOs have interesting programmes to embark on, but funding is the major constraint. Therefore, monetary challenge is the major issue faced by the Stella Dike Foundation, because even when we carry out our projects, we expect sponsorship. However, when we don’t get sponsors, we use what we have in our purse to carry out the project, because when there is a will, there is a way. If we get sponsors, we will achieve more than we have been achieving in recent times. We need sponsors who will key into our vision and contribute their own quota, especially with materials or cash.

Also, the government can provide platforms for our projects in schools, organisations, etc. For instance, we are in dire need of a vehicle that will be conveying our members to wherever we have events. Whenever we have a project, we always have the challenge of transporting our team to locations. Most times, we spend so much money on transportation that we often times can’t afford many materials for our outreaches as we planned.

If we have a vehicle of our own, it would only require us to maintain and fuel it when necessary. We also require publicity for our outreaches to be known nationwide, especially on radio, TV, newspapers and social media.

So far, we have had support from some political office holders who like what we are doing. We are still expecting positive responses, especially for our upcoming project that will be held in Afikpo North LGA of Ebonyi state in July, which will be on health. We intend to create awareness on Hepatitis B and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) which many people are not even aware of. 

In case you don’t know, Hepatitis B is a monster thriving in secret. Many people are suffering from Hepatitis B even without knowing it. So, we will carry out free testing on Hepatitis B, HIV and other STDs, then share health tips and pieces of advice. Therefore, we need sponsors for the project in Afikpo, because many people from the LGA are ignorant of what Hepatitis B is all about.

The world celebrated the Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28; what is your message to women?

Girls should always be clean when menstruating because their actions and inactions will affect people around them. When a lady can’t take care of her menstrual hygiene, she will pollute the air with her offensive smell. Therefore, a lady should menstruate without the next person knowing. She should maintain personal menstrual hygiene in order not to infect herself, apart from those around her. If she fails to do that, she will contract different infections which may affect her fertility.

However, menstruation is not a crime. In fact, it is a blessing because when a lady does not menstruate, she may find it difficult to conceive. Menstruation shows that a lady is healthy and that her body is passing through reproductive processes. As a humanitarian, it is a major concern to me seeing schools without water facilities and safe places for girls to change their sanitary pads when menstruating. Some girls also avoid going to school when menstruating, but this is not supposed to be so.

It should also be a major concern to the government because many public schools lack these facilities. It is only when the government schools have the facilities that they can enforce them in private schools or carry out inspection to ensure that this basic education is provided in private schools.

Also, it is discouraging to hear or see ladies using pieces of cloth or tissue papers in their private parts when menstruating. This is as a result of ignorance and poverty, because some ladies lack money to purchase sanitary pads. Some ladies in the rural areas, who lived with their grand-parents, were taught wrongly that buying sanitary pads is a waste of money.

Therefore, due to poverty and ignorance, some ladies improvise by using substitutes including pieces of cloth and tissue papers. The danger of using pieces of cloth in place of sanitary pads is that, if you keep them outside to dry, flies will perch on them and deposit infectious substances. Then the bacteria from the flies or insects will get into your body to cause all manner of infections when you use the infected pieces of cloth.

Secondly, those who use tissue papers are also at risk. When the tissue papers get soaked, debris is stuck in your private part and then goes to block your fallopian tube leading to infertility. Therefore, it is not safe to use anything other than sanitary pads.

These sanitary pads were made by medical experts through scientific discoveries and experiments, so they are safe. You only use and dispose them properly. In a nutshell, pieces of cloth, tissue papers and other strange objects used by some ladies during menstruation have adverse effect on fertility. They can block your fallopian tube and cause other infections that will take a lifetime to cure, apart from infertility.

Also, the use of sanitary pads is something every young girl should be aware of. Our Pad Up Girls project is just a little of what should be done. More publicity should be made of the subject matter. In fact, I advocate that sanitary pads should be distributed free to women, just like condoms. As condoms protect people from STDs, sanitary pads protect girls from infertility, infections, etc, which they get when using substitutes.

Could you share your experience as Miss Diaspora Nigeria Universe?

My emergence as Miss Diaspora Nigeria Universe in July 2019 was a tough one because it was a national event. We had different people representing different states, while I represented Ebonyi state and emerged winner at the end of the day. The struggle was not an easy one as we had people from different backgrounds and personalities coming to contest for the crown. It was tough, but I believed it was something I could do. I put in my best and it worked for me at the end of the day.

Since my reign, I didn’t see it as an opportunity for self glory. I started the Stella Dike Foundation a few months into my reign and used it as a platform to touch lives and impact on society so that at the end of my reign, my time would be impactful. My reign lasted for two years, instead of a year. I was supposed to hand over last year, but Covid-19 didn’t allow any contest to be organised for a hand over.

I have used the platform to enlighten people and inspire young girls. There are many young girls who are confused and unable to carry out their life ambitions. I remember sponsoring some young girls in competitions, where they equally emerged winners, started their own humanitarian projects and are still impacting on society. I have also used my reign as an educative platform for young people willing to become something in life.

Any regrets as Miss Diaspora Nigeria Universe?

Wearing the crown is very challenging. So, many persons may want to prey on you. They may think you’re not doing enough and would want to mount pressure on you. Sometimes, society would want to look at you as a bad or promiscuous person. However, if you are doing something positive with the crown, they will change their negative mindset and start to support you. 

In fact, when you declare interest in a beauty pageant, friends and family members will not support you and will even give you the wide berth. However, when they see that you are serious and will go far in the competition, they will then start to support you. At the end of the day, it has been interesting for me. It was an eye opener and I have learnt a lot. I have turned my challenges to opportunities. 

My advice to the new Miss Diaspora Nigeria Universe, Edward Hope, a native of Kwale, Delta state, who emerged on May 29, after representing Abia state as Miss Abia, and Miss Kaduna, who is the Miss Diaspora Nigeria World, is for them to be focused. Having a crown should first be in your heart before your head. That is, a beauty queen should think more of others than herself. They should reach out to schools, the needy, everyone and try to correct the ills of society and making a change.

What would you say about women seeing one another as a threat?

It was in the olden days that women competed against one another or saw one another as competition. They did that when their fellow women did better than them. However, women are presently coming to the realisation that they need one another, though in a man’s world. Women need to be one another’s back bone to be successful.

Being a women is challenging anywhere in the world, especially Nigeria. The world has made women to appear as the inferior gender, but I am happy that women are presently proving a point and making waves in different sectors. It is also encouraging to the younger generation that they can actually be something in the world.

My mentor was my late mum. She lived a peaceful and loving life. I got my humanitarian spirit from her because I watched her while growing up as she extended her helping hand to the less privileged. I said to myself that since my mum could do that I can also do that. 

Also, Nigerian women have been able to achieve a lot in different sectors and should serve as motivation to the younger generation. The likes of the late NAFDAC DG, Dr. Dora Akunyili, present NAFDAC DG; Prof. Mojisola Christiana Adeyeye; former Minister of Finance and now DG of World Trade Organisation, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, have been role models to many women. In fact, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been an inspiration to both men and women as she has been empowering people.

Lastly, what advice do you have for women?

Women should let go of unnecessary distractions. Many women spend more time on social media than investing in themselves. A woman should have content and not just an empty object of decoration. A woman will have content with self development, including skill acquisition. Even as a student, you should have a back up skill. You should consume your books and develop yourself properly, so that whenever you appear in a public space, people will be proud of you because of your intelligence. So, social media distractions should be avoided.

Also, women should stop thinking that it’s only their relationship or connections with men that will make them something in life. Many women think that they will just have to get married and allow men to take care of all their needs, but that’s not supposed to be so as a woman should be able to contribute to the development of her family and society. In conclusion, believe in yourself as a woman; be focused, smart, intelligent and hardworking and you will go far in life.