With life span pegged at between 45 and 50 years for the third world countries by World Health Organisation (WHO), clocking a century and still being mentally articulate is certainly out of this world. One of such lucky ones is Princess Rachael Adefunke Wellington, the owner of Trans Africa World Airline, who says there are still many more active years ahead of her. According to her, what kills a lot of old people is inactivity. For her, business and other activities begin immediately after her breakfast, adding that she remains occupied till the end of the day.
In this interview, she spoke about her Children Palm City Foundation for vulnerable children in Africa, the secret of her longevity, what government and the masses can do to make Nigeria a better country and on other issues.
Can you tell us about yourself?
Well, my name is Rev. Dr. Rachael Adefunke Wellington, I was born in 1919 in a place that is known today as Ekiti State. I had my primary and teachers training school education there in Ekiti and later went to Western Michigan University where I graduated with bachelors in Political Science. After my graduation, I went to Houston, Texas to start oil business. I ran a very successful oil company that employed thousands of staff. Many years later, I came down to Nigeria to float my first airline company known as Fassy Royal Airline. That was in 1994. Later, in year 2000, I changed the name to Trans Africa World Airline. By then we have become a major operator in the aviation industry. I am the first woman airline operator in Africa. I also did a bit of banking. I was the owner of the defunct Ilupeju Industrial bank. I have three children, 15 grandchildren and so many great grand children.
Does old age run in your family?
I cannot really say that old age is in our bloodline because my father who was the king of my town died at 75 while my mother died at 74. For me, I lived in America for 40 years, so I know what to eat and what not to eat. In short, I am very conscious of what goes into my mouth. So, I can say that the secret of my longevity is first and foremost grace of God and secondly, what I eat. Again, even at 100, I still do exercise.
What inspired your NGO, Children Palm City foundation?
Palm City Foundation was borne out of passion for vulnerable children in Africa. When I was in the United States, we used to attend United Nations sessions in New York and any time they want to talk about Africa, they talk about poverty. So, the Africans among us that were attending the session decided to come together and register a company with the purpose of uplifting vulnerable African children. We decided to use Nigeria as the pilot scheme. One of the biggest challenges that the United Nations has about Nigeria is lack of data. They always tell you that they don’t have the data of vulnerable children so how can they help. So when we come down to Nigeria, we went round the country to see if we could get the number of vulnerable children in the country but it was not possible. But we did not allow that to deter us. Mother Teresa said that if you cannot feed hundred people, feed just one. So, what we did was to apply to Lagos State government for permission to start a foundation for vulnerable children. As soon as we got the approval, we swung into action. We went to Baruwa and picked 40 children. Some of them have never been to school before. Some were hungry. Some wore rags in the name of clothes. We went to their homes and discovered truly that they are vulnerable. We started a school and enrolled them .In the school, we take care of their feeding, books, uniforms and other things. But what we did not do is to give them accommodation because we don’t want to separate them from their families. As I am talking to you now, we have over a hundred children in the school. I love Nigeria a lot so I want the children to have comprehensive and qualitative education. We have also found a lot of vulnerable children in Badagry, Epe, Ikorodu and many other places in Lagos State. They are in their thousands and we also want to establish schools for them .So that they would be coming there to eat and study.
How do you intend to race money to be feeding them?
We want to go into large-scale agriculture. That is where we hope to be getting money for their feeding. Right now, we have large hectares of land in Osun State ,Ikorodu and Badagry. The immediate past governor of Osun State Rauf Aregbesola gave the foundation a very big land for farming in Osun State. We also have land in Epe and Lekki that we want to use for fish farming. Partners are coming from Malaysia and Israel to work with us. We want to use vulnerable children to prove that Nigerians can feed themselves. Our foreign partners have assured us that what we have now can feed the vulnerable children for the next hundred years. So, we are going into massive industrial farming and fishing. From there, we would be feeding the children under the care of the foundation and would also be selling and even exporting to other countries.
Does your foundation get support from donor agencies?
For now, I am the one funding the activities of the foundation. The Board of Trustee members at times help in their little ways. However, we want to write to international donor agencies for financial and technical support. I am also aware that people like Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola and other wealthy Nigerians have been supporting foundations such as ours. So I am appealing to them to also extend their good gestures to us. We are also pleading with governments both state and federal to come to our aid.
What is your day like?
My day starts with prayers. After that I would have my breakfast and then business starts. The secret of longevity is to be active. Once you are active, you will live long. I can only retire when I am gone. For me, to be alive is to work.
What would you want to be remembered for?
I would want to be remembered for doing good. I would want to be remembered for helping the vulnerable in the society. I would want to be remembered for preaching the gospel and turning people to Christ.