“Women face a lot of challenges – first of all, many Nigerian women are not even exposed to proper education, even till today.”
Gloria Awobasivwe is the CEO of GO Wellness Resort, Port Harcourt in Rivers State. The resort centre was set up about 10 years ago. The idea is to provide a wide range of health-related services to Nigerians that will meet both local and international standards.
In an interview, recently with Daily Sun, Awobasivwe speaks on the importance of preventive healthcare, what drives her passion and why Nigerians need to eat healthy.
What motivated you into the wellness business?
My motivation came from my own health challenges. I discovered I wasn’t satisfied with the opinions as well as with the concept that some ailments were life conditions. I just couldn’t accept that. Initially, I had quite a few issues I was dealing with including high blood pressure, arthritis and ulcer etc.
I wanted to be able to reverse them and go back to a healthy life. With time, I realized that my eating habits were aggravating my condition so the first thing I did about ten years ago was to start getting certified. I got certified in fitness and nutrition. I did my training in an institution in the United Kingdom.
I also did a wellness certification called ‘Mind, Body and Soul’ as well as studies in alternate therapies. Recently, I did a certification in aromatherapy.
It was like getting help first, and seeking ways to reverse my health conditions. In that process, I found out that a lot of people needed what I was also looking for.
What is the relationship between food and health?
There is a lot. For instance, the nutrition certification I did opened my eyes to the fact that, it is the food we eat that is killing us. I realized that there is a gap in the industry with proper awareness of Nigerian foods. So, I decided to go into that not just to study nutrition but to study Nigerian nutrition to find out Nigerian foods that are healthy and beneficial that can cure ailments.
Sometimes, I receive calls from people who suffering from ulcer and all they need is a simple Nigerian food like Okro and garden eggs to actually relieve their condition. So, that is part of my motivation. There is an urgent need for us to go back to nature. There are enormous healing benefits from our natural foods. We mustn’t take tablets for everything. We can just fruits or some types of food and get a more natural relief.
On treating ailments with aromatherapy
There was a time, I had chronic arthritis and it got to a point I was limping and I felt there was an option I wasn’t exploring. I remember I went into a shop in the U.K one day and the ladies there asked me about aromatherapy, about using essential oils – that was the first time I heard about oils and it fascinated me.
They gave me some oils to try and immediately, the pain I had been taking steroids for all subsided and I realized this was a potential treatment option. I now went to get certified for aromatherapy which is using essential oils to take care of everyday ailments. That has being a real life saver and also balanced the whole package as I’ve now come in with fitness, nutrition, alternate therapies, food awareness and aromatherapy which gives us some kind of therapy that can help certain health conditions without relying on tablets. So, that’s where I started from.
I started nursing this passion about twelve years ago – that was when I finished my first certificate and since then I just continued.
Some of the challenges you faced in turning your passion to reality
The main challenge is even getting people to take you serious – most people tend to take their health for granted, take food for granted, take everything for granted. Most people don’t want to go a step further into preventive health care – they just want to do curative care – they have headache or malaria, they take drugs.
They don’t want to explore the option of what they can do before hand to prevent it. That was a major challenge. The average Nigerian didn’t even know about essential oils. When you tell them about oils, they think about cooking oil – palm oil, groundnut oil and others. So, it’s a case of complete re-orientation and education. And people get fascinated about it – they wonder how an oil they put on their skin can help them overcome an ailment. So for me, it’s basically educating and training all round.
For the food, I had to go do a lot of food awareness talk and help people see how simple things are killing them. For example, a lot of foods have been demonized but are actually quite healthy foods like palm oil which is among the top ten beneficial oils in the world right now. But people want to avoid palm oil. So, people avoid what they should be eating and eating what they should be avoiding. Our ancestors ate palm oil a lot but they didn’t die of all the ailments we are dying off. I believe it’s the combination of the eating habits of the past and the corruption of the fast food diet culture that’s causing all these ailments. You have palm oil in your diet then go eat meat pie and drink coke. Our ancestors didn’t drink coke and eat fast food – they ate basic, natural foods. So, we are going to basic nutrition. Eat your food wholesomely and properly and avoid anything artificial. Our whole concept is back to nature, as much as possible nothing artificial.
Another area that fascinated me is the issue of ‘swallows’. I believe that the concept of eating swallows and soups is not the problem because the soups are normally healthy. So, we now decided how do we make the ‘swallows’ healthier for people with diabetes and other ailments; also for people who want to lose weight. We now came up with the sweet potato swallow which we process from beginning to packaging. The sweet potato swallow has taken the market by storm because everybody is so fascinated that you can actually swallow sweet potato and feel so good with yourself. So, it’s a whole industry – we’re just trying to create food substitutions because we noticed that when you try to make people eat healthy or work on their weight, they don’t have substitutes. We are trying to give people substitutes in terms of healthy pastries, food options which we are seriously researching and developing.
Preventive health care is quite new in the country. What do you think should be done in terms of creating awareness so more people can key into it so we can have a healthier society?
I think the best thing is creating the opportunities and doing more of public education – if you can let people know that it’s not the food they are eating that is damaging in itself but what the food contains has some damaging effect. For instance, if you eat a meat pie that has about 500 calories, it’s not the calories that’s damaging to your body but the fact that the meat pie is made from wheat of which a lot of wheat products have so much corruptions that many people are not even aware of. Many people have wheat intolerance, they react to wheat, have inflammations and all that so what we try to do is substitute the flour for a more wholesome flour that the body absorbs better, like almond and coconut flour. So, we are changing the platform of which we present our pastries so things like meat pies, samosas, shawarmas even burgers, cakes and cookies; we are substituting all these with healthy sugar options like coconut and sugar cane and healthier milk options like almond and coconut milk. We keep things as close to nature as possible, no preservatives or additives.
Like the ice cream we produce, it’s strictly with coconut – 100 percent. So far, nobody even notices the difference – if we don’t tell you if its not the regular sugar and milk, you’ll think you are taking regular ice cream. So, we are filling the gap we noticed in the industry so people who want to be healthy will have a whole range of healthy options and won’t have any excuse. We also have our Go Nature range which include essential oils made from natural ingredients and are NAFDAC certified.
What are some of the unique facilities at the resort?
Our facilities are in three phases – first phase is fully completed which is already operational. We have a cardiovascular/ aerobic gym which includes twelve bikes for speed bike class with an instructor, ellipticals, steppers as well as a boot camp gym which is the weight gym. It contains equipment used in training the US army and other military units – it’s a gym where any military establishment can come in and have a work out as it was set up with that in mind.
We also have a glass house indoor pool fully equipped for aqua aerobics and aqua zumba, water games and exercise which is unique in the industry and the country, sauna and hot whirlpool, a beautiful spa for body and beauty treatments including Chinese massagers, a kitchen where we cook wholesome dishes and drinks with natural ingredients with no additives. There’s also a dental clinic among other facilities.
How do you feel seeing your passion come to life with the launch of the resort?
I feel so excited because it’s like a dream come true. It’s like giving birth to a baby. I can’t get enough of seeing the reality – the funny thing though is that the more I see the reality, the more I want to birth more dreams so I’m not resting on my oars. We are just starting.
What else do you do?
I’m fulfilled. I started it with my mother in Nov. 2008 – it’s called Women With Anointing Ministry (WWAM) and it involves teaching, training, counseling and giving them a shoulder to cry and empowering them in all kinds of skills acquisition like hair care, cooking, hat making, shoe making etc. We also have classes for children during vacation. The classes are heavily subsidized and we provide all the materials for them to use – all these so they don’t have any excuse not to be equipped. We believe that whatever they learn will be useful somehow including using it in a commercial venture.
Advice to Nigerians on the need to imbibe a wellness culture?
Nigerians must make wellness a lifestyle. Too many people are dropping dead daily due to undiagnosed ailments that are totally treatable. We believe in preventive care and are poised to help you eat healthy and enjoy life, eat and exercise right and keep your body young and strong. We are redefining our food mentality and reorienting our exercise experience. Our approach to wellness and fitness is completely different.
So many things we eat in Nigeria and the world generally now have so many artificial flavourings, preservatives and all that which are not beneficial to the health. So, Nigerians must go back to nature and eat more wholesome foods with natural ingredients that are more beneficial to the body instead of all these chemical infused fast foods and drinks that cause all kinds of diseases.
From your experience, what are some of the challenges Nigerian women face with regards to owning their own businesses?
Women face a lot of challenges – first of all, many Nigerian women are not even exposed to proper education, even till today. So, that contributes to the high poverty rate amongst them. Even when they are educated, they are not given the proper opportunities to utilize their potentials. A lot of the men are uncomfortable with their wives doing anything productive so many just want to keep their wives at home. So, you see a lot of intelligent women unable to do anything with their abilities. Even if they want to do something, the capital can be a challenge; there are hardly any organizations that help women and give them capital and nurture them in business.
Somebody said that women are the raw materials that are un-utilised in Nigeria and if we can get them to be productive, you will be so surprised at what they can do. What should be done is to have a more supportive environment that will make women more productive.