The Raquel Jacobs Story
-An orphan bringing hope to Africa’s young generation
Like a phoenix, Raquel Jacobs is rising from the ashes of adversity and inspiring others to do so through her story. Her dream is to help children get quality access to education. At a point in her life, completing her education became a huge task. She lost her dad at the age of 16 and became an orphan at the age of 19.This beautiful young woman sold “Zobo” on the streets of Lagos, slept in Cyber Cafes and uncomfortable places. Today, she is a social entrepreneur who runs four initiatives. They include Beyond the classroom, Club31 Woman, AfriAspire and The Purple Squirrel Company. She shares the story of her rise from the ashes to glory in this interview
This is my story
Sincerely, a lot of things happened when I was growing up, I can’t sit here and tell you I know the challenges were preparing me for the work I currently do. But what I can tell you is that, somewhere along the line I realized that I cared too much and gave up of myself easily trying to help others. I had a rough time growing up. When I was 16, my biological father died, I transitioned from daddy’s little girl to no “daddy girl”. My life took a drastic turn and I struggled to finish secondary school.
After secondary school, it became harder to feed at home because my mum took ill right after my dad died and my brothers all had to drop out of school. My family started some conversations here and there about finding me a husband. At 16, I really didn’t want to be married so I ran away. I ended up on the streets of Lagos and lived with prostitutes, drug addicts, yahoo boys and young people who sold their kidneys for money. I had 5 near rape experiences, one from my uncle and four times from random men in Obalende. I was kicked out from one place to another because I really didn’t want to join the lifestyle on the street. I slept in Cyber Cafés and uncomfortable places that left so many scars on my body.
When I realized I couldn’t help myself I decided to start a business. My first business was making and selling “Zobo” (A drink made from Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa). I evolved to “chin-chin” to Soya milk and pure water. By the age of 19, my mum died and that left me with my three lovely boys. My life generally was hard as a teenager and that sort of made this work I am doing easier, because I genuinely understand what people are going through. I see a teenage girl struggling through life and I totally get it. I walk into the barracks to a lot of widows and I understand exactly what these women are going through. And it’s the same with working with public schools, without trying, I totally understand the needs.
In a way, this journey prepared me without my consent. If I was given a choice to choose that life and end up here, I probably wouldn’t but I did go through a lot of challenges and that has made me the person that I am today. I am grateful for that.
Passion for advocacy and development
I am not sure how to answer this but I remember a friend of mine asking me to talk to a teenage girl he felt needed some “talking to” because of the kind of life she was living. I didn’t jump at the offer honestly because I didn’t know what to tell her but when I finally did, I remember telling her my story without really saying it was about me and she was sober. She held my hands and said “Thank you”. A lot went on after that and when I finally got into the University, I felt the urge (I usually say its divine) to talk to younger girls about my life and the challenges I faced and was facing. I started a mentoring club for teenage girls, I did that for a while but, It didn’t make sense at the time and everything was about teaching the girls to be morally upright. One day, on my way to school I met a boy who then turned everything around. He was going to school with torn uniforms, socks and sandals. I followed him to the school right beside the University of Lagos and that opened my eyes to the education sector and then my work with children started.
My major influence
That would be my biological father. His values remains indelible in my life .God is ultimately my inspiration.
The goal of Beyond the Classroom is to improve literacy for children in public primary schools. We have the “Set for School Project”, which is focused on providing free school supplies for the children in our selected schools. The After School Project allow volunteers to teach the children, Math, English, Dance, Literary and Debating, Art and Craft, etc. The “Inspire Teaching” Project is our Annual teacher-training workshop for all our schools. We are doing this because we believe that the teachers need on-going training.
We also organize annual events for the children; like Christmas parties, world oral health day, world malaria day, and graduation ceremonies etc.
A lot of times, especially when I was still in the University. It was difficult running projects in primary schools, mentoring teenagers and also struggling to attend lectures, do my assignments, tests, exams and other extra-curricular activities I was involved in. I was a member of AIESEC while I was in school. I got in the Carrington Fellowship and we ran projects in all these organizations. It was hectic and I honestly wanted to give up.
There were also times when we needed to run projects and we didn’t have the funds for it. So many times, we had to move a project forward because of the lack of funds and I would sit alone and ask myself if this is what I really want to do with my life. Recently, I felt the same way knowing how difficult it is to get fund for a cause one is passionate about. I think it’s normal for everyone to have such feeling at certain times in their lives.
The greatest reward has been the responses of the children, the parents and the schools we work with it. They appreciate the work we do and that is the greatest reward. Knowing that our little acts of kindness actually does go a long way inspires us to do more
Counsel for budding entrepreneurs
Find what you love the most and do it. Because once you find purpose, only you can stop you.
Being a woman of rubies
A ruby is a valued and precious stone. As precious as rubies are, they have imperfections in them. I am a woman of rubies because I am a precious and valued daughter of God.
SUN Newspaper, Page 22 of the Women of Rubies column. 16th January 2016