Christybelle Sylva John, Coordinator, Ray of Hope Empowerment Foundation, says her sole mission is empowering more women and children, whom she believes are crucial pegs in addressing Nigeria’s developmental challenges.
Through her foundation, she continues to reach out to impoverished women and indigent children, helping them find succour in the current economic downturn. She shares her philanthropic experiences with PREMIUM TIMES.
PT: A bit more about yourself…
Christybelle: I am from Enugu State but lived all my life in the North. I schooled in Zaria, Jos and a bit of Enugu State and Abuja.
PT: How many languages do you speak?
Christybelle: I speak Hausa, English and a bit of Yoruba.
PT: Can you tell some memorable things you recall growing up?
Christybelle: I had a fantastic upbringing. I had a father, who was a strict man, who had a military background and a mum who was a teacher. We may not be from a rich family but we had a comfortable life.
PT: Looking at you, and at the humanitarian streak, how would you say you came about it?
Christybelle: I grew up in a very large family. We were just six of us from my father, but we had a lot of people who lived with him. When we were going to school then in ABU Zaria because my dad is someone who loves education so much, he invested in the lives of a lot of people.
He believes he may not give you all you want but knowledge is something he will give you and no man can take it. I saw him take care of other people’s needs so I grew up with that mentality.
PT: We still want to know about your passion for the vulnerable having seen some of your field projects…
Christybelle: Growing up in the North, I saw those who were highly placed, I saw others ‘placed below’. You see a lot of children coming to particular house singing songs and waiting for the owner of the house to come to give them food and I feel it’s not supposed to be so.
We don’t need to make noise when we see people who are in need so that was what prompted me to start this programme and before even this organisation was registered when I was in school I have always been this kind of passionate person who does not want to see people in need suffer.
When I was in secondary school, each time we were going back to school my dad will tell me ‘I know you, by the time you get back to school go and share the provision and start calling me again for new ones’. This was because I couldn’t stand seeing people ask for help and if it is within my reach, I cannot say no. When I was in university I used my little money to visit the motherless baby homes. This was what I started in school and I grew up and I felt there was a need to continue.
PT: What is the story behind the name of your outfit?
Christybelle: When you are in a dark place and you see a glimpse of light, what it shows is that there is hope for you. That was how I came about the name.
PT: Tell us about the major projects you have handled in the past?
Christybelle: Yes we have done several ‘back to school’ outreaches in the last few years which is our usual programme for our children from low income families. We have done women empowerment programmes in many cities. We have done medical outreaches which we tagged “health on the wheels” where we go to communities and those at the rural areas.
PT: If you were to give a number, how many Nigerians have you reached through these projects so far?
Christybelle: We have lost count since 2013. But I can conservatively say we have reached over 50,000 people. We have done programmes in Benue, Kaduna, Kastina, Imo, Enugu, Abuja and Zamfara in the past few years.
PT: Who is sponsoring these projects?
Christybelle: I started with my funds but sometimes I run to my parents for assistance. People who valued what we were doing supported us. With the help of social media when we are having an event, we put it out there and people rally support for us financially.
PT: Can you share some of your challenges on the field?
Christybelle: Sometimes, when you get to some communities and you write to them seeking permission, you experience bottlenecks. In some places in the North when you are trying to bring in programmes like family planning, it is difficult. The women tell you they can’t stop having children until God stops them.
PT: You have seen the level of poverty and insecurity in society, what will you say triggers it? How do you think this can be solved?
Christybelle: It’s a chain reaction, how do you change it when so many children are not properly educated and are roaming the streets. To break this you have to get them informed.
PT: Our population is growing, do you think this has also contributed to this?
Christybelle: Yes, I have a small family and I know the cost of taking care of these children, how much more a man who has 19 children. That why we are having issues of terrorism and kidnapping. These are children who could not get the paternal care they need, so they go into the street to care for themselves. If you don’t take care of them, they might become prey in the hands of the predator. We also believe in teaching a man how to fish is more sustainable and will reduce the level of insecurity and poverty. If the almajiris in the northern part were educated and empowered there would have been less insecurity in the northern part.
PT: Going forward, what do you think the solution could be?
Christybelle: Empower our women, who are the foundations of families. Take the children off the streets. We should put in relevant policies that target our women and children. If everything was working for them (women, children), I don’t think we will have the level of crime and insecurity we have now.
These children feel how can one man come and acquire the whole wealth that belongs to an entire state. When you are put in a leadership position, you are expected to provide basic amenities. But is this always so? The time will come when the children you don’t provide for will fight you or your children.
PT: What are the programmes you have planned?
Christybelle: We have an ongoing programme which we started in March to commemorate the day of the women globally. It is called ‘Women rising against poverty’. We started March 20. We have empowered some women with start-up funds to boost or start a new business. The next programme that we are going to be doing after concluding this is Menstrual Hygiene, where we will create awareness in rural areas and distribute sanitary pads.
In September, we will continue our regular ‘Resume back to school’, where we support children from low-income families with necessities to be able to excel in life. We donate free books, bags and other accessories. Those who are not able to pay their schools fees, we place them under our scholarship.
PT: Any interesting experience on the field you would like to share?
Christybelle: Two. There was a child I saw her by the roadside one day, she was supposed to go to school, but I saw her crying. I asked what was wrong. She said they were supposed to be writing an exam in the coming week but she is yet to pay her fees. That was in 2019. We didn’t want her to miss that term so we spoke with her mum, paid her fees and since then she has been under our scholarship.
During one of our programmes on Menstrual Hygiene, we visited a school in Zaria. There we saw over 300 students, sitting on the floor, no seats. I came back to Abuja, mobilised funds and we bought 300 desks for them. There are many more stories.
PT: So what motivates you?
Christybelle: Seeing smiles on people’s faces and making the world a better place.