–Durojaiye, social worker
By Christine Onwuachumba
Dr. BOSE Durojaiye can best be described as a change agent. This is evident in the magnitude of work she does to help the society.
She started the Touch-A-Life (TAL) charity in 2001 to help poor patients fund their treatment and, in 2009, her TAL Centre served as a refuge for the homeless in Lagos
Today, her Touch-A-School Project and Touch-A-Life Scholarships are youth-focused, providing succour for indigent students.
In this interview with Daily Sun, Durojaiye talks about her inspiration and what fuels her passion to help underprivileged people.
What is Touch-A-Life project all about?
In one word, it is transformation. TAL’s mission is to encourage, inspire and challenge the less privileged to transform their lives. We do not believe in handouts or gifts, where people will keep depending on the giver. Instead, we find creative ways to bring about significant and lasting changes in the circumstances of individuals and communities, hoping that this would cause a ripple effect around our country at large.
What inspired you to start this charity work?
It is a calling. I feel blessed to have found my purpose early in life. I started this work while in medical school in Ibadan. I would spend my last kobo on patients who were unable to afford their medication.
I recall trying with a friend to start a charity fund as early as then, to cater for ill, poor patients, but one of our professors checked our scores in our most recent test then and advised us to study harder, instead, to help ourselves first as charity begins from home. We had done a bit of groundwork but shelved the idea, not for long though.
I graduated and came to Lagos for my housemanship programme and was confronted again with scores of patients who were unable to afford treatment. This was how the work took off. I went into a partnership with my sister who is a pharmacist, who was then working locum at a few places in Ikeja. She was begging for drugs and I was begging for funds from mostly family members.
A good part of my slim income was not spared but the joy and fulfillment we got from this cannot be described. Our little effort went a long way and I still remember some of the happy faces we managed to bring about, to God’s glory. About the end of my housemanship programme in 1995, I joined the Government Workers Training in my church. This was to be a life-changing experience because it was from that point in my life that I began pursuing my God-given purpose in life.
I actually started a career in social from that training when I was, with some others, given the task of setting up a rehabilitation centre, Hebron House, and later stayed behind as an administrator. Since then, it has been from one project to another. I see myself as an agent of transformation, bringing good news to the poor.
I started Touch-A-Life in 2001 as a platform to help poor patients fund their treatment. From there, we started helping those we came across with grants for accommodation, education, etc., before we bought the TAL Centre in 2009 as a refuge for those who are homeless in Lagos.
It appears you have been able to help in different ways. Are you still into all these projects?
In a way, yes, though we have since evolved to be a youth-focused charity through our Touch-A-School Project and Touch-A-Life Scholarships. I am convinced that, as an organisation, we have gone through different stages to arrive at where we are presently. I believe that we have been processed by God for the kind of work we are doing now.
I got the idea of the Touch-A-School project when I was the parent-teacher association chairperson of a private school and we wanted to give something back to other less-endowed schools. We did this successfully and made N5 million worth of desks and chairs, which we donated to some public schools in Lagos State. I thought it would be good for such a project to continue, so we decided to incorporate it into our programme at TAL.
What we do is to collect valuable and useful goods from private schools and donate to public schools. The most important aspect is the motivational talk that we give to encourage the students to strive to achieve their potentials.
We go to their schools as role models. We also give them the gifts we have collected. By so doing, we try to disabuse their minds from many negative ideas they might have about the path to success while encouraging diligence, good manners and hard work.
We try to educate older students about the different ways of achieving their dreams beyond secondary education such as self-sponsoring/part-time studying, free online studying, available scholarships and entrepreneurship. We also have TAL volunteers, who are real-life examples of diligence and perseverance, and even past TAL scholars, who join us from time to time. We also hope that our gift will be a sign that Nigeria is not all about ‘grabbing’ but we can be a community that looks out and cares for one another, help schools and communities.
You mentioned that the motivational talk is the most important aspect of your work, tell us about it.
A musician once sang that, ‘There is fire on the mountain, and no one is running.’ This statement clearly describes the landmines that are being planted daily in our younger ones.
We are yet to realise that the coming generations are growing up in the most challenging moral environment that we have ever had. We are all products of our environment and this generation is lacking in role models.
I was once working in the pediatricssection of a general hospital and, one day, we had light-hearted chat with children on admission. I still remember clearly the frank but shocking responses we got from some of them. They said they wanted to be policemen or customs officers so they would be collecting bribes. This is the fact staring us in the face.
You only need to read the news and see the many atrocities being committed by youngsters. This is why it is pertinent that deliberate intervention is put in place to re-orient children. This is what we try to do through our motivational talks.
If we want to live our old age in peace, we must rise up to the challenge of imparting age-tested values to those who are the future of this country.
You seem to have your hands full, so why scholarships, especially full-duration scholarships, the funds and all that?
Education is a long-term investment and I cannot think of a better legacy to bequeath to any individual or group. As a nation, what we are suffering from mostly today is a paucity of knowledge in all spheres of our society. Informed people can make wise choices.
What we hope to achieve with our scholarship programme is two-fold; first, we want to bring the opportunity of a tertiary education to indigent but talented students, starting with the academically able.
We are saying that adverse circumstances and family finances should not limit those who are excelling in public schools. This is why our scholarships are limited to non-fee-paying schools because this is where you will find the highest population of the most indigent students.
To start with, we are looking for the most brilliant indigent students, especially in the sciences. We have plans to also award sports, arts/drama, and public speaking scholarships in the near future.
Secondly, we want to inspire as many as possible to be diligent in their studies. We found that many indigent secondary school students lack the necessary drive to succeed, more like losing hope before even starting a race. So, we give scholarships to reward diligence .
How do you fund your projects?
We source funds mainly from within the membership of the organisation so we are always looking for more members. We have different levels of membership: the TAL financial members making monthly donation used to run our office and other projects, while the TAL enablers sponsor the scholarships by adopting at least one student for part of or the whole duration of his/her tertiary education.
We also have the TAL Ambassadors, who make up the organising committee. It is the highest level of membership.
How do you keep it all going?
I am on a simple mission: to increase in the knowledge of God and serve Him. I realise that my service to the poor is a large chunk of my own service to God. My education and background have also prepared me to chart a course in ambiguous paths.
However,. I once got frustrated with our homeless project, as we often wanted to do more but were handicapped because the enabling environment was not there to complement our work. I knew that a few policy changes could address many of the concerns our clients at TAL had and I had often wondered how other nations ran their welfare states. My antidote was to study Public Policy for a year and I got firm unconditional offers from both UCL and LSE, but later settled for an online course at SOAS instead.