Raquel Jacobs, founded Beyond the Classroom Foundation, an NGO focused on improving education for the less privileged pupils in Public Primary Schools. Since then, she has been working directly with children and youths in marginalized communities in Lagos focusing on education and empowerment for girls. She is a public speaker, trainer and Co-founder of Club31 Woman. She is a Global Shaper, a Carrington Fellow and a LEAP Africa SIP Fellow. In the last four years, she has volunteered with numerous organizations including the World Economic Forum on Africa, U-turn Africa and AIESEC.She is currently working on a digital literacy project for children in public primary schools with Microsoft, Tech Camp Pretoria and Africa Leadership Development Institute.
She is the Priceless Super Woman for the month of April 2017. Here’s Vertopia Publize interview with Raquel:
Can we please meet you?
My name is Raquel Jacobs. I was born in Lagos but originally from Kaduna State in Nigeria. For as long as I can remember, people called me a strong girl. But I wasn’t always strong. My parents were amazing, but we lost them a little earlier than expected. My dad died when I was 16 and my mum when I was 19. Life took a different turn after my dad passed on. I immediately became an adult and had to look after 3 boys because my mum was sick almost all the time. I finished secondary school at 16 but couldn’t go to a University immediately for different reasons.
What experience has shaped your life the most?
As a teenage girl from Northern Nigeria, losing my parents at that age was bad for me. My family’s first move was to split my brothers and possibly marry me off to a rich man who could take care of my siblings. I started my first business at N200 (Naira) I got from one of the girls on the street. I made local “Sobo” drink to sell. I cannot write and say the journey was smooth because I faced a lot of challenges financially; my respect for parents went up because I suddenly knew what it was to feed, take care and be example to boys. Living out there was not good for me mentally and spiritually but I trusted God. I kept on waiting and praying that He help me. My younger brothers all dropped out of all school and everything seemed impossible. I carried my Bible with me the whole time I was living from place to place. At 16, I ran away from home and lived with my uncle who tried to rape me.
I left his house and found a place to live with prostitutes and drug dealers in Obalende in Lagos. For some time, I lived under a bridge because I was tired of the life I had to face everyday. I lived and slept in cyber cafes because that gave me access to a computer and could sleep without interruption. I had 5 near-rape experiences, once from my uncle and four times from random men in Obalende. The uncle was the maternal uncle I trusted.
How were you able to hold on during these trying times?
I have a solid Christian Foundation and this really helped me stay focus. There was no one to help me but I didn’t lose my faith. Even though the pressure to conform was constantly ringing in my head, I knew all the things I see now are only temporary. A few times, I yelled at God for allowing me go through the things I was going through. But even through those periods, I felt His hand on me the whole time.
Today, my two brothers and I are University graduates. This has been the most challenging experience of my life. I tell myself, if I could do this, I can do anything in this life. There were times, my brothers and I would cry and pray to God to send help because we had no food to eat and I will remind them that we still have a house and some people don’t.
How did Beyond the classroom foundation start?
In my first year in the University, I felt the need to mentor and educate young girls about the things that I went through and still going through and I started the Girl Talk Initiative for teenage girls. I ran that project for a while and alongside mentoring girls we also ran another project that provided over 1500 free sanitary pads to girls in slums who cannot afford it and taught them basic menstrual and personal hygiene.
My team and I did this for a year until one day on my way to school, I saw a young boy I saw walking to school with torn uniform and shoes. Seeing him that morning, drew my attention to the public school system. I followed him to his school and saw the appalling state of the public school and later found out that the school is not only in a bad state but has a lot of uninspired children and children who are demotivated to learn. Beyond the Classroom Foundation started a few months after this encounter. BTC is now a registered non-for profit organization focused on improving teaching and learning of less privileged pupils in public schools.
We have the Set for School Project, which is focused on providing free school supplies for the children.
The After School Project allows volunteers to teach the children, Math, English, Dance, Literary. The Inspire Teaching Project is our teacher-training workshop for all our schools. Through @Club31woman Network we reach out to young women, teaching them about God and mentoring teenage girls.
Favourite Bible passage?
Matthew 6:33 (AMP) But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also.
Philippians 4:6 (AMP): Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God.
How do you handle male admirers?
Honestly, managing male admirers is not difficult. Just say “thank you” and be polite about it. As long as you’re a woman, someone somewhere will find you attractive and admire you. If you’re asking about managing men that are asking to date me, then that’s a different thing entirely. I have come to realize that turning down a guy can be a sensitive matter and it completely depends on the guy and how he’s pursuing me. Some guys may be understanding enough to back away when I tell them I am not interested. But in some other cases, some have assumed I was playing hard to get and pursued me with renewed vigour. I have learned to turn them down quickly if I don’t like them because the longer I wait to tell a man I am not interested, the harder he will take it. The smartest which is the only way I do mine is being honest and direct from the very beginning. This saves us all time and heart aches.
My life hasn’t been easy but I am grateful. I will continue to inspire young people to dream and help them achieve it in the best possible way that I can. I have noticed how simply showing love to someone lights up their day.
The greatest reward has been the responses of the children, the parents and the schools we work with it. Knowing that our little acts of kindness actually does go a long way inspires us to do more. Find what you love the most and do it. Because once you find purpose, only you can stop you. It doesn’t matter what life throws at you. “you have to embrace your struggles, because God often speaks to you through them.