Mrs. Clare Henshaw is a woman of many parts; very versatile, diligent, committed and adept at whatever she does. In fact, she is so many things rolled into one. Trained as a computer scientist, the Edo State-born, her unquenchable passion to lend a helping hand to the vulnerable, particularly women and children, saw her abandoning her training for a career in development work.
In this interview with Daily Sun, she narrates her journey into the development work. She takes a swipe at the authorities saying that our health care and educational system can actually solve most of the problems but our leadership lacks sincerity of purpose
You have been into development work for some years now. How has the journey been so far?
From my days in the university, I have always supported the less privileged ones. I would say I have been into development work unofficially for 15 years, but officially, I would say 12 years. I stumbled on it because when I graduated, I looked forward to getting a job in an oil company, but it was so difficult. So, one day, I saw a job advert in a newspaper, where a Non Governmental Oorganisation (NGO) needed a programme officer. I applied and I was taken and that was it. I started with DOME Foundation and that was where I practically fell in love with development work and social sector because I realized that the more you do, the more you find that there is so much unfolding. We covered a lot of health care and educational programmes, where we supported the less privileged in rural communities, particularly those inaccessible rural communities in Nigeria. In those periods, I learnt that our health care and educational system can actually solve most of the problems but our leadership lacks sincerity of purpose. During those days, I was much more passionate about education because I realized that if you can empower young people through education in the society, they will be able to bring the kind of transformation that the society need. So, we focused on education, providing scholarship for over 100 extremely intelligent young people.
So, the journey has been tough because I have found out that there are so many people doing good works but access to fund is a major challenge. I particularly found it extremely tough raising fund for projects that would impact the lives of the people that we serve but what it did for me was to hone my skill in fund raising. I became a person that could solve problems beyond what I was asked to do, because I would look for creative ways to solve problems around me.
All in all, it has been such a nice experience that I will continue to cherish. I can’t even imagine myself doing something else. This is my calling.
What inspires your passion to help women and girl-child, particularly the less privileged ones?
I would say women have been marginalized for so long, especially in this part of the world. In the course of my work in some rural communities, I have discovered that it is the women that are doing the real work. They are the ones labouring for their children; they are the ones that suffer most when there is an outbreak of disease or if there is lack of access to opportunity, but my interest for young girls stemmed from my personal observation of their plight. I have come across many young girls that were misinformed about life generally. You find a teenage girl that got pregnant and the only reason for that was that she lacked access to a meal. So, she found a man that took advantage of her vulnerability, gave her a plate of food and took advantage of her innocence. And I knew it is a process that I had to stop because people are not fully informed about the challenges of young people out there.
So, apart from the fact that I am a woman, I knew that I could connect easily with women to solve their problems, and truly women’s problems are enormous and many of them succumb to the adversities of life because they don’t know how to empower themselves. So, I feel that if you can bridge the gap and show women how empowered they are and what they can do with the little around them, it will solve the issue of child abuse and all the challenges that young girls face generally.
Again, it is a known fact that when you train one woman, you have actually empowered a community. So, it is easier to work with women because when you solve the problem of one woman, you have actually solved the problem of a whole family and that continues to have ripple effects. Unlike when you train one man, it becomes probably for himself and his immediate family. So, I connect easily with women because I know where they are coming from, and I understand many of their challenges.
My passion equally increased after I started having children. I have two daughters and I am trying to find how I can create a more fair and just world for them, so that even when I am not here, I would rest in peace, knowing that I was able to make a difference in the lives of young girls around us.
You are into project management, farming, development work and so many other things, how do you combine all those with the home front as a wife and a mother?
It is a gift but then, the home front doesn’t suffer because I have a husband that supports me fully. In fact, when we were getting married, I told him that he was going to be married to someone that loves to work and he said that he actually didn’t want a wife that would sit at home, but one that can solve problem. So, I get that support from the home front; I get support from the family. I have a mother that has been extremely hard working from time immemorial; so I know how to balance all that. Again, I think that passion is what drives me. So, one of the key things that I do is if I know I can solve a problem, I don’t do it alone. I find people who think like me, people that work like me and people that have the same drive like me, and together we solve the problem. You really can’t do everything by yourself, but once you have the right people to support you, you know how to manage your time and you are really passionate about what you do, you will always find a way to thrive, irrespective of the challenges, and there are many challenges.
What is the greatest challenge you have faced in the course of doing your work?
That will be managing the expectations of the people that you work with. Nigeria is a community of people that sometimes feel entitled to the things you do for them. And they want to sit back and just wait for things to come to them. They don’t want to challenge themselves. I think it is a frustration of things that have happened in the past. Things have not been working, promises have been made to them without fulfillment by government, it has become like a norm. So, trying to inspire an average Nigerian, especially women in the rural communities, is a bit difficult, because they have given up on themselves. So, you spend so much time trying to reset the mindset of people; trying to make them see that life has not ended. So, I think trying to change the mindset of people to move from where they are to where they ought to be has been the most challenging thing.
You worked with JEOF Foundation at some point, tell us about that?
The key focus was health care, education and empowerment.. It has provided scholarship to over 60 vulnerable young Nigerians, as well as health care for women across south west Nigeria. It gave me an opportunity to visit places that I never knew I would be able to visit. It was a good experience.
Recently, you were with The Migrant Project (TMP). What is it all about?
It is an international organisation trying to solve the challenges of irregular migration in Nigeria. It began its operations in Nigeria in 2018 and the goal was to run a behavioural campaign targeted at changing the mindset of potential migrants and even returnees. My work with TMP has been quite revealing because before I started working with them, I know how bad the issue of irregular migration was. I know that a certain region of this country is seriously affected by irregular migration, but I never took time to research to know how deeply ingrained the culture is even beyond the specific state we all know the scourge to be quite prevalent.
One of the things working with TMP has given me is exposing to key challenges of irregular migration in Nigeria, and the number of people that have died on the journey. TMP ran a successful campaign in 2018 and one of the things that can be taken away from it is that mindset can be changed; young people want to stay back home if there are opportunities for them to work back home and we were able to reach many people across the three states of Lagos, Edo and the FCT. Mindsets have been changed but we realised that behaviour change is not something that happen within a short time frame; it takes a very long time for people to change their minds, so we intend to continue pushing the campaign. It will continue to run for a couple of years in Nigeria to see how we can sustain the message of staying safe, working here at home and understanding the availability of opportunities here, rather than going abroad where you have no knowledge to die in the desert or in the sea.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on a number of projects now. First, as a project manager of ARC SKILLS, our target is to train up to 10,000 youths aged between 18 and 35 years in Lagos, in skills across six area such as manufacturing, engineering, construction and entertainment among others. It has been successful because young people are already benefitting from it. I am also coordinating TMP as earlier mentioned.
On a personal level, I run three organisations. They are GIRLS INSPIRED, I-SAFE, which is also to bridge the gap between human trafficking and irregular migration and then the VITALITY FOODS, which provides healthy drinks for people that care to watch their health.