Evelyn Akhator is a Nigerian professional women basketball forward. She has played basketball across four countries including Europe and America
Apart from dunking on the pitch, Evelyn also has another remarkable side. She is kind hearted and passionate about the plight of the have-nots.
She demonstrated her sense of philanthropy during the COVID-19 lockdown when she distributed relief materials to Nigerians in need when it mattered most throug h her Benny A Foundation.
In this interview with Daily Sun, Akhator x- rayed why she thinks that Nigerian women are marginalized as compared to women in other societies where she has lived and gave valuable advice to young girls seeking greener pastures overseas. She spoke on why she took up philanthropy
Let’s start from the issue of the moment, the coronavirus pandemic and relief effort. What inspired you in to extend Covid-19 relief packages to the needy?
It has always been my goal to help the needy. When I go to bed at night, I wonder how people are feeding or how they’re holding up. So, when the pandemic came, I saw a window of opportunity and I took it upon myself to assist with the little I have.
How would you justify your rationale for starting a foundation?
I’d say growing up without a silver spoon in my mouth gave me a good idea of what some people are going through. One of the visions I had growing up was to assist the needy. When my mom passed on, I decided to honour her by starting a foundation in her name because she was a big part of who I am today. Honouring her through the foundation has since been a blessing.
So far, what has been your experience running a foundation?
I’m still much behind. I have a big vision for my foundation which was supposed to kick off this year, but because of the pandemic, I have to defer it to next year, but I did the charity part this year. I believe with time, the foundation’s goals will all be achieved.
As a young woman who has lived in at least four countries, what are the lessons you have learnt across those societies about the role of women that you think Nigeria should borrow a leaf from?
Nigerians don’t respect women. We have this stereotypical view of how a woman should act, dress, talk and so one. Some even see women as a tool. Yes, women are to be submissive, respectful and do the things they’re supposed to do, but we can’t give respect to those who don’t deserve it. Nigerian women need to wake up to the understanding of the power in us. We have the power to make or break a man, but we’re still living in the cultural bondage of our ancestors. The world is evolving and we need to evolve with it. I’m no feminist, but with how the world is going now, I’d say the future is female.
Looking at the problem of girl-child trafficking, why is this area a focus of your foundation, what real-life incident drew your attention and empathy for the girl child cause?
I’m from Edo State. The first word that comes to people’s head when they hear Edo is “prostitution”. I was sexually abused on three different occasions and different years. I was young and naïve, but I was smart enough to act fast; not everyone is bold enough or got the voice to speak up about their encounter, but I believe almost everyone has one or two stories to tell.
You see, when women do things and we body-shame them, they end up losing confidence in themselves without even knowing what they’re going through. If we teach them how powerful, strong, tough and prestigious they are while they’re young, they’ll grow up not caring what people say about them.
You also organize basketball camp for young girls. How easy is it for young girls to experience an extraordinary trajectory like yours?
Nothing comes easy, but with hard work and determination, it becomes easy. I have met a lot of people who said they want to be like me and I told them to do better than me because I know I’m not giving my best and I need to work harder and I know I can do better. So I tell every young girl, If you believe it, you can achieve it. It’s just a matter of hard work, determination, patience and, above all, prayer.
There has been a campaign in the last few years to enshrine equality of treatment in the sporting world for both male and female, especially in the United States. How do you think the world can pragmatically institute equity and fairness in sports?
I’m not necessarily saying men and women should be paid equally, but the gap between men and women needs to close up. It’s not fair for women to be working as hard or even more than the men and be getting paid a couple of thousands while the men work less and are getting paid millions. It just doesn’t make sense. Women break their back and bones; they are discreet and meticulous on their job, yet they get paid less. We need to do better and make the world a better place for women to live a better life.
Through your charity efforts, you must have seen many areas of neglect that deserve society’s attention and action. With regard to the girl child and young women, what issues do you think government should be addressing in order to help them grow and reach their full potential?
Security is a major issue the country needs to work on. There needs to be a programme to educate women and the young generation about sex education, protecting themselves from danger and doing a better job or making it mandatory to have security cameras everywhere. I wasn’t taught sex education when I was younger and I just started studying more on it because it’s important to know about it and I’m still learning. It’s important that the government provides these things, so girls and women can feel comfortable walking around without being scared of getting raped or how they can protect themselves.
In America and Turkey, where you have played professional basketball, you must have come across immigrants who are struggling to make their lives meaningful. What is your advice to young women angling to travel abroad for greener pasture or the Golden Fleece?
First, they must know that all that glitters isn’t gold. It’s good to travel because of exposure––but not everyone is destined to travel out. There’s a pidgin English proverb that says “who no go no go know”. If you decide to travel out of your country, you have to have a plan and make sure whatever you’re doing is legal; every illegal action has its consequences no matter how long it takes.
What was your experience like being a Nigerian studying on scholarship in America? Share your best moment with us.
It was amazing. I was accepted by everyone: the church, players, fans, schoolmates. Even, I got a host family that treated me like their own. It wasn’t too difficult for me to blend in, even though they made fun of my accent which was expected, of course. I was showered with love. The coaches still check up on me till date. My only issue was the food. I have a special stomach and it rejects food whenever it feels like it, but I’m thankful for the opportunity I was given. I met a few people that turned family for life.
What were the early challenges you encountered in America and how did you scale the hurdles?
The food was the biggest challenge I had and it wasn’t fun for me, knowing how picky I am and not seeing eba, poundo and rice that I was used to, but seeing much of greasy and cheesy food, I wasn’t having it. I was finally diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerant, but I am glad I won.
Playing for the Nigeria Basketball team, what were your hopes and motivation?
My hope was to get to the top which motivates me to keep pushing and fighting; some days I just want to forget the national team and focus on my professional career, but I see a lot of people looking up to me, I just have to do it.