Editor’s Note : This interview was culled from https://blog.malala.org/ —–
Last week, two generations of Nigerian education activists joined forces to fight to see every girl in school. 15-year-old Peace Ayo Adegbola and Gulmakai Champion Kiki James both represented Malala Fund at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, a summit of the heads of government from all 53 member nations of the British Commonwealth.
Peace is a student and co-founder of Youth Advocate for Sustainable Development — an organisation breaking down gender biases in Nigeria.
Kiki is the founder and CEO of ACE Charity Africa, an organisation that helps provide secondary education for children in northern Nigeria. With her Gulmakai Network grant, Kiki advocates for the passage of the Child Rights Act, which guarantees children in Nigeria the right to education through junior secondary school.
Although their work in London kept them busy, the two activists still found time over afternoon tea to catch up and discuss their home, girls’ education and their experience at CHOGM.
Peace Ayo Adegbola: First of all, I want to say that you have such a strong presence. I’m inspired by it. Can I ask you where you get your confidence from?
Kiki James: I’ve been on my own and working since I was 16 years old. Now I’m 36. The confidence comes from experience and from reading a lot of books. I’ve always known who I wanted to be from a young age and I’ve built myself up to become that. You have a lovely father. He supports you — that’s amazing. I imagine how much further I might have gone if I had the same support from my family.
What has it been like for you to be here in London speaking about girls’ education and Nigeria?
PAA: Amazing. London is one of the [cities] I always wanted to visit. There are actually three places I have wanted to visit: London, Paris and India. I love Indian movies. Coming to London is a dream come true. While here, I also got to visit BBC. I want to be a TV reporter later on so this helped me learn a lot about reporting. At CHOGM, I heard people talk and learnt different perspectives. It’s been a wonderful experience — I want to do again.
My father started exposing me to public speaking from an early age so no matter how frightened I am, I still find a way to do it. I was definitely a little afraid to speak in front of leaders but I kept telling myself that I’ve come all this way just to speak to them, I can do it. When I spoke, I talked about a girl from my community called Rejoice. I felt really good about that. She is really the reason I’m here.
KJ: What do you think your strengths are as an advocate?
PAA: I would say communicating well and listening. When I listen to advice, I improve. I always want to push myself. I don’t care if I fail or if you laugh at me. I just care that I do better than the last time.
KJ: I think that’s true. I’ve seen that you have a natural willingness to learn.
PAA: Thank you. I know that you are also an advocate and you’re great. I want to be like you because you command attention. What else are you really good at?
KJ: I’m a good cook. I would have been a chef if not an advocate. It’s therapeutic to me.
PAA: I like cooking too. What do you make?
KJ: I’m really good at making African food and continental. You know when my husband met me, he stopped eating out. I used to own a canteen in Abuja as well.
Tell me what’s something you’re passionate about and really good at?
PAA: Fashion. I love colours and fabrics. I’m good at combining colours to make clothes look good. And I love shoes. When I put on heels I feel like “I am here and you better listen to me.” I also love music. Sometimes my father will put music in the house and everybody will start dancing and won’t stop until it hurts.
KJ: Now I’m thinking about what I like to do for fun. I think Netflix. That’s it. When you have two kids, you don’t do much for fun!
PAA: Tell me about your work in Nigeria.
KJ: My organisation ACE Charity is currently based in northern Nigeria and we have three focuses: education, economic empowerment and affordable healthcare. But what’s nearest and dearest to me is the work I do for girls’ education.
PAA: Why is that?
KJ: Because you can’t change the world without education. With education, you can think for yourself — no one can tell you what to think. And you learn how to think.
PAA: Yes, I agree with you. I often get asked why my focus is on education. I say that I have to give girls something that’s sustainable. And if there’s anything that’s sustainable, it’s education.
KJ: Exactly. I think of it like a gift that no one can take away. Once you’re educated, no one can take that from you. Once you’re educated, your life is changed forever. You can march shoulder to shoulder with people around the world.
PAA: That’s exactly right. This has been a really nice talk.
KJ: Yes. We have a huge task ahead of us where we have to universally amend policies surrounding education. But I want to start with building libraries around Nigeria and eventually in rest of Africa.
PAA: I agree with you. My vision for Nigeria is to see every girl educated. The reason it is difficult now is because of the policies that are in place. Changing policies is the starting point and biggest way we can get more girls in school.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.