Her dream is to touch lives of women and less privileged children in her community in Osun State and everywhere. Late last year, she moved to Abuja as the Special Assistant on Women and Children in the office of the Deputy Speaker, House of Representative. Read about what she’s got to say in this interview with Sunday Sun. Excerpts:
By Christy Anyanwu
Let’s know you more.
My name is Teniola Lanlehin, I’m an indigene of Osun State. I moved to Nigeria in November, 2014 from the United States of America. I’m very passionate about Osun State. I stayed in Osun State for over a year to give back to my community in Otan Aiyegbaju. I incorporated EWAA, my NGO, to touch lives of especially rural women and children. EWAA stands for Empowering Women In All Areas. I’m focused on different challenges faced by women, especially the ones in rural parts of Nigeria. That is my focus. I started in 2006, almost ten years since I launched my NGO. Everybody feels they have to leave their home towns to go to big cities in order to achieve but I believe you can bring the cities into the rural parts. Not everyone should leave their home towns. There are so many things that we can do, like bringing resources to women in the rural parts of Nigeria. I started from my own town in Osun State. Most people will come from abroad and stay in Lagos and other big cities but I have always loved to stay in my state, because if you have a vision you cannot execute your vision from afar, you have to be close to the people whose lives you are trying to touch . I have always been in Osogbo in my home town. When I finally moved home in 2014, I stayed in Osun State throughout. It’s wonderful, I love my state. There’s no stress unlike in big cities. People are more receptive to you and they appreciate that you left the United States to be part of them.
What’s it like being a professor?
I lectured in the United States for almost 15 years in different universities in Chicago but my favourite, where I spent about 10 years, is Northeastern University, Chicago, Illinois. I taught writing arts and everything that has to do with language.
How did it all start?
My background is in English Language and I have a master’s degree and a PhD. I’m just passionate about language and the arts. If I need to dissect things in the English language, I can do that. An opportunity came, then I relocated to the United States and told myself this is what I wanted to do. I didn’t go to the US to do something different from my field. After 15 years of teaching in the university, I refocused on elementary education. That’s what I did before returning to Nigeria in November 2014.
What was your ambition as a young girl?
Since I come from a family of lawyers, I also wanted to be a lawyer. At the end of the day, I just fell in love with Linguistics. My uncles, cousins and other family members are lawyers. Now, I have three lawyers in my family and that’s enough. Chief Kola Balogun, my mum’s brother was the country’s first Minister of Information and was a contemporary of late Nnamdi Azikwe.
What has life taught you?
Don’t give up. If you have a vision, make it your mission to achieve it. That is what has continued to drive me as a person regardless of what I’m going through. Surround yourself with positive people who understand your vision and your passion. I chose not to give up on Nigeria and that’s why I came home.
What’s the secret of your lovely skin?
I eat healthy. I don’t bleach. I tell people bleaching is not worth it. Be happy with what the Lord has given you. This is my natural skin, I don’t use bleaching cream. The only cream I use before leaving my house is my sunscreen. In the UK, they call it sun block. I use it an hour before I leave the house to protect my skin from the sun. When people come up to me and ask what kind of cream I use, I tell them I don’t use anything. I just try to have a healthy lifestyle.
How do you spend your leisure?
I love to shop. I just want to go and buy things. I also love going to the movies or relaxing at home. There are so many weekends that I just do not go anywhere. I love music, dancing and writing. Those are some of the things people do not know about me.
What’s your take on fashion?
I always like to keep it simple. I love my jeans and tee shirts. I am not a dress person but I do have a number of dresses in my wardrobe. Apart from the American thing, a lot of people actually think that I am Ibo but when I tell them that I am Yoruba, they are amazed. I do have an Igbo name, I call myself Amaka.
What was your childhood like?
It was wonderful. My father is deceased and he passed away in 1992. Growing up, my parents did everything for us and our education was always their priority. My siblings are highly educated people and we have passed it on to our kids. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon but we were comfortable. I traveled to the US in 1997. After college, I went to the US. I actually schooled in Europe and on scholarship in Poland. I speak polish fluently. After my program in Poland, I went to the US. I have been there teaching and I work in corporate America as well, with publishing firms but teaching has always been my niche. I love being in the classroom and since I came back, I have done a lot of volunteering teaching and trying to expose teachers to other teaching methodology that can work for them in the classroom. I volunteered six hours of free lectures at the Open University in my home town. I love to be of great impact on students. I lectured for years in universities in the United States of America. I have taught in over 7 colleges in Chicago teaching English. Language Arts is my passion.
Why are you passionate about rural women?
In February 2005, I had the opportunity to go to the United Nations for a conference on women organized by the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). That was my first time and going back to Chicago, where I was based, I just felt inspired and realized that I really wanted to touch the lives of women.
I just wanted to touch women, women who don’t have the opportunity to be exposed to the good life other people live in the city. That was how I sat down and thought about how to do it and the acronym Empowering Women in All Areas (EWAA) came up. Being a Yoruba person, it came with a wow, what a better way to express how beautiful women are. So, that was how my journey started and in 2006 , I actually came to Nigeria and went to my hometown because I believed charity must start from home. My parents are from Otan Aiyegbaju in Osun State even though I was born and grew up in Lagos. I met with the kings and women. It was such a beautiful day and all our people were represented.
Can you share some of your memorable moments with us?
Actually my first memorable experience was when I read to some children and they were so much into the book. I had this big colorful book and I sat on the floor in their midst reading to them. As I read, I could sense their excitement and they were really thrilled. What I think should be advocated is that there is a need to dedicate time for just reading in the classroom. Teachers should promote reading and get the little ones to sit down and read. Reading opens your eyes to details, takes you to places that you have not been to. I am a strong advocate of reading.
What are some of your challenges?
The very first challenge that I had in 2006 was that people came to me asking, “are you doing this because you want to be a politician?” It took a while for them to understand that I was doing this because I’m passionate about it . It’s not about any political appointment or contesting for anything. I’m passionate about it and I do want to make a difference, not because I want to get your votes. This is a long term vision and I just love every moment of it.
If you had to advise young people, what would you tell them?
The fast lane is not worth it. Just go at the pace that God has given you. How do you know? You will know by your actions, go with the flow. Don’t be too ambitious because at the end of the day, we know what happens. It’s not worth it. Take it one day at a time and be contented with what you have. I am not saying that you should stay in one place and be stagnant. You have to be creative, think outside the box. Don’t worry about things you have no control over. At the end of the day, what’s going to be will be.
You’ve been living and empowering the less-privileged in Osun. Could you tell us a little more?
Don’t get me started. I always tell people, if you are tired of stress in Lagos, p l e a s e come to Osun State. It’s free of traffic congestion and our people are nice, very accommodating people. Every time I go back to the US, because my daughter lives there, everyone would be like “are you sure you have been in Nigeria all this time?” I look even more radiant, I eat fresh food, Osun and especially Osogbo is beautiful and calm.
Now that you are SA to Deputy Speaker , House of Representative, who is running the NGO?
As I carry out my role as the Special Assistant to the Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt.Hon Lasun Yussuff for Women and Children Affairs. I have put in place a team that would carry on my vision with my NGO.(EWAA, Empowering Women In All Areas)
I have a strong confidence that my team will do a good job in making sure that continuous resources are provided for my rural women and children. My ten years experience of running my NGO has prepared me for this next stage of my journey working for the Deputy Speaker. Our office will strive for excellence in empowering women because the Deputy Speaker believes in creating oppoutunities for women to excel, and be productive of members of the society. I feel very honoured to be part of the movement where the primary objective is to be of service to the people.