After three years of remarkable work, the Regy and Henry Amazing Grace Foundation (RHAGF) has been actively changing the lives of children and women across Nigeria.
In this exclusive interview with Mrs. Duru Regina, the National Coordinator of RHAGF, we delve into her journey of compassion and commitment.
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She shares her insights, struggles, and the incredible impact that RHAGF has made on marginalized communities. Mrs. Regina’s dedication is a shining example of how one’s passion and unwavering commitment can bring about meaningful change, making the world a better place one life at a time.
Just like say, ‘Agbero’, people don’t want to think there’s anything good about them. The sex workers, for instance, people don’t think there’s anything good about those girls, so they heartfelt pity and the possibility of a second chance. You know, these were the things we had in mind when Regy and Henry moved into such areas to see how such kinds of girls or categories of women would be able to be given an opportunity to live, especially for those of them who desire to, who are willing to, who hitherto is one problem or the other that made them move to the sex slum. We thought that if we’re able to move in there, there might be a possibility that some might be saved, some might be salvaged, some might still come up to want to do something better. Because we don’t see work as something that is endearing and befitting. People don’t want to say they are related to sex workers, people don’t associate with them, even their customers. So, we looked at the stigma to see if these things could be changed. And the girls, is it possible that there is a percentage of any who want to get something out of life? So, Regy and Henry now became that response. We became that intervention that we thought a lot of them needed. That was the beginning of Regy and Henry in 2009.
In your role as National Coordinator, what are your primary responsibilities and duties, and how do you ensure the effective implementation of the foundation’s programs?
As a national coordinator. My job is enormous, coordinator just like it implies, it goes beyond just the personality. It’s your ability to coordinate the job itself, the ability to coordinate the programs. Although we have program officers who are design programs as a coordinator, you must bring them together. You must reach out to possible partners the must reach out to gatekeepers, must reach out to like an overseer, the job is like an overseer. So, the job is so enormous that it’s easy 24/7 kind of work because you can just be even at home and there’s a distress call somewhere. As a national coordinator, you must get up and you must reach out. You are the one who also has to, you know cover all the workforce together to see how the day-to-day program organization is been run. And it’s just so much what I tell you. The work as challenging as it is, has also been very rewarding, and very refreshing because it makes your brain remain alert, you are working off duty and you are working to see that all the activities are synchronizing the way they should be from January to December, all the activities, all of their reports, every visibility, study everything that makes a product because success is also falling back to you irrespective of who is designing it.
Yeah, basically every year ending, like from November now we’ll write it down for the year, we will design our program already making imputes for our program for next year. The fallout of this program, tells us what our next is going to look like. So, by November our reports, immediately after I went to an international conference, our reports are ready for this year. And now on our timetable for next year program is rolled out.
Recently, the RHAGF’s “Slum to School” program, has distributed educational materials worth 35 million naira in Abuja. What other empowerment initiatives or projects are you currently involved in, and how have they positively impacted the community or individuals?
Now, that ‘Slum to School’ is the educational aspect of Regy and Henry. What we do is economic and educational empowerment. So that one began in the year 2021. That was the flagship of the program. It includes enrolling children out of school and spreading those with weak family structures. What we do is to ensure that children are able to get an education no matter how little our contributors going to be. We projected five hundred children over a period of five years what we do each year is we return one hundred and sustained hundred, that is a hundred every year. We started in 2001 under the flagship of Dr. Idowu of UNESCO, we flagged open the program and enrolled a hundred children, enrolling plus sustaining and the beautiful thing about that program is not just enrolling them that you hear people say they enrolled children or supported children or sustained children. That program has a second phase like a sustainability program that sustains that program. What is that? It is called ‘Household Family Strengthening.’ What we do is to train a caregiver or a parent of each of those 100 children that we enrolled or sustained. what am I saying? In 2001, we trained their parents and empowered them, in 2022, we also trained and empowered and this year, we have just rolled them (a hundred), we just flagged up for this year what we did was to implement so next month we will also commence the skill acquisition program to strengthen their families to be able to sustain them to remain in school after we’re done with this project. So, this project has two more years of lifespan. We were thinking would go to each of the Area Councils in Abuja but we discovered that there’s so much need in Bwari Area Council. In the first year of the program, we did Kunte and Desape, a hundred children from these two communities. Then last year we did Sunkpe and Kuchikaw, a hundred again, and this year we did Shishipe 1 and Shishipe 2 one and a hundred children from these communities. The program is aimed at primary one to six and JSS one to three, so it’s still ongoing and it will elapse in 2025. By 2025 God’s sparing our lives we will be able to move to other communities and see how many lives we can touch there.
What are the key challenges RHAGF has encountered while coordinating the foundation’s activities, and how have you been able to address or overcome them?
Basically, in any other organization, maybe for the first time you visit a community, there’s always an issue of acceptability and trust issues. Sometimes, they begin to look at you like the government has given you so much money and you are coming to just take their pictures and go away, they might start saying ‘Are they not like one of those people that have been here and never came back and so on? We have an issue of partnership and funding. We have issues, like this project after projection, sometimes, the people who are supposed to look into this kind of thing are not. There are organizations that are educationally based, and others, economically based. So, we have issues of partnership and funding, we have some technical issues, and sometimes insecurity. Like some of these communities, like the last one, we had to get a local vigilante and we had to make sure that everyone we invited, told them that vigilante and the local police are involved. There are a lot of challenges, and there is also an issue of continuity when you get into a community, you want them to tow a particular lane, and since everything has its own model, they don’t think they should go that way and you don’t have that kind of funding to remain there to ensure that they adapt to it.
Could you share some success stories or memorable moments from your work with the foundation that highlights its impact?
There’s been so much. Let me leave that of the ‘Slum to School’, although it has its own great moments too, especially with the trained parents of the past two years being able now to pay their children’s school fees. We’re talking about government schools, not private schools, so to be able to pay PTA of one thousand, nine hundred naira, some of them can because they make chin-chin and the rest but in the area of our vulnerable women, that’s the economic empowerment is a lot of huge success. Like I said, we started unofficially in 2009. It’s been a lot of girls have gone through our program. The mega one we had in 2017 training we have over 50 girls trained from the sex slum in Mabuchi, and it’s a huge one. Each time I remember that, it makes me happy to say that that program achieved that feat. We’re able to train them through different kinds of skills, through literacy and digital management, you know, being able to market, and many more. Each of our programs has been able to take them through counseling, mentoring, you know, different programs that can reorient them, you know where they’re coming from, especially working with the girls is so is a mind-blowing thing. Someone that the society has so much condemned, reduced that it is difficult to move freely outside knowing that sometimes it’s not their fault, but they find themselves there. For instance, we just had a training program that we had in Utako from July 25 to July 28. About and about one hundred and six sex workers were trained. Do you know in the course of the training there was this young girl that was there, she told us on the day that we were closing the program that she wanted to do pastry and was told to pay one hundred and eighty thousand naira and it was at the course of trying to raise the money that she finds herself in the sex slum and she’s never getting anywhere close. You know, training these girls opens you up with a lot of empathy and emotions. You imagine that these are my sisters and there’s no way you go there, no matter how straight-hearted you think you are you will go there you don’t break down. You go there you see them. They excrete in their backyard and of course, you know that sex work is like a twin or triplets to ammunition arm racketing, sex trafficking on rockets and drugs. A sex worker can’t have sex without drugs. When you ask them for instance, when you ask them what’s your day like? would you say God has blessed you today? Because in every business, someone wants to say God has blessed me. And you will hear them say ‘God has blessed me; he gave me ten men today…. You know it’s their mentality. Now, for you to be able to carry ten men that are not ordinary flesh like this. They get so high because the ten men I’m talking about might not be reasonable and clean men. It can be it can be anybody doing any dirty job. So, when they do drugs, it enables them to kill every emotion in them. They don’t feel anything, all they want is the money. So, they keep on later. And when we work with these people, they don’t care, call them anything, doesn’t concern them anymore. They don’t even live on this planet with you. They are ready to die. There have been instances where I go to talk to them, I had one particular case in Karo and after talking to the girls, one said I suppose Mama, please come back. She said, “Do you know you have to help me a lot to kill myself? With shock, I asked what she meant by that and she said “I’m tired”. There are cases of suicide every day.
If you go there today and go there next week, be looking at their faces, from their facial expression, I have already nursed fear. Their landlord there collects money from them, they pay daily and if they don’t pay, by 12 midnight, he will kick them out. You know to me that does take you out. The lady said she wanted to commit suicide but when she was told that I came not that she was going to kill herself. But she decided to pass some time, to come and listen to me. She said after listening to me, she thinks she can try again. She said I should come and see. I went to her room and she showed me a sniper a small dagger and other substances, she was contemplating the one that would kill her faster before she was told that I was around. She kept asking about the training, which I told her was free. Our programs are free of charge. Just sit down and listen. She said she would give life a trail. Let me shock you, that same is one of the biggest entrepreneurs we have in Karu slum. she’s now an ambassador, talking to the girls, if I can leave you can live. This is not to work. Of course, when you begin to empower them and they begin to make something out of life little money makes a lot of sense to them, to say that no one is rough-handling, they feed well and they’re happy and they’re telling you that once when they become entrepreneurs that they start saying ‘did you say I slept with this person? So, their value is returned. So, there are various changes in the course of the training. As we do training, we put in a lot of activities. We bring it a lot of people who are interested to know that there is someone that can go the sex workers. They are good people and humans like each one of us it is just circumstances that brought them there.
When we go for this training, we take with us over twelve skills. Recently during the training, I talked about, the Abuja social support welfare with us, this is the Award the former minister of state for FCT gave us. Over the years, what Abuja Social Supports has done is arrest the girls in the street, if you notice, you will realize that the girls are been arrested just like the Almajiris for littering the streets of Abuja, and of course, you know that Abuja is like the Italy of Nigeria, like Spain, like America. Imagine if you are in the village and you are telling somebody that you are in Abuja. All the girls in the village want to come to Abuja and when they come and realize that it’s not as easy as they thought they could pick money on the streets of Abuja and the easiest place for them to sleep is the slum. They give them a lesser rate to pass the night and while sleep there and suddenly discover that they don’t have money, they are now told to do what others are doing so that they can feed.
The highlight of working with these girls is over the years, you will see a rehab person, a rehab person in the sense that you see her dressing changes. She no longer wears a skimpy dress, and their mannerisms change. The way they talk changes is going to change because it’s not just a customer the customer has changed from a night customer to a day customer. Now they have something to offer, they’re not as often sex for business they are offering goods and services. So maybe like we have a lot of girls like Doren, she’s making big sales. According to her, she ran into her former customers were like during the conversation, the guy was like, Is this true? This can’t be you. After many conversations, the guy was so pleased that he went to the ATM machine, withdrew twenty thousand, and gave it to her. So, what I’m saying, is customer change.
Like my former DG of NYSC, the wife had her birthday two years back in the sex slum and the army generals’ wives that came were all crying because they didn’t know that these girls were approachable and eventually, they mentored a lot of them to become good people which means associations will also change because they have to go out to where responsible people now go to.
What strategies does RHAGF employ for fundraising and resource mobilization to support its initiatives and projects?
Over the years, we tried to reach out to people with like minds in what we do. As I speak to you now, there is actually a partnership already and some people will also say since you are coming up with this program and you will be getting this, you will be getting that. Can we get this for you? Can we get that for you? There are some who just sitting and waiting for the program to start. Okay, you have Slum to School, we missed it. Can we join next year? We are also online, we are working on paid advertisements because a lot of people keep telling us that we do more underground, people don’t see you, and what you do is more voluminous. You need to be in that space where everybody will see and the kind of things you do is rare, many people do not want to go to the sex slum, hugging sex workers and the rest of them. We tend to be on social media as much as we can but we don’t think we are doing much. We also try to write to organizations to get them informed of what we do and to also draw attention of partnerships. Gradually we are getting some partners to work with us recently. Like that, the social support development will eventually convince them to stop arresting the girls because when they arrest the girls, they will give them to the police who on the other hand, violate them in the cell.
So gradually for the first time after this award, over seven years we have been following up on them. So, after this award, they have calmed down and decided that any of our products they want to be part of. So they were in this program in July this year. There are also digital people who will try to work with them in the area of digital literacy because the girls now will snap and post nude pictures after the program the product changes. You are either snapping the snacks, clothes, and other things you have made. And we said you can do better with your phone. We don’t have money to empower you with a shop.
We partnered with SMEDAN, was in our program in July. They came to see if actually, these girls are trainable and they were amazed and so there are some others like Women’s Affairs, Minister of Education, Minister of Youth and Sports, you know a lot of them that work with us. There are a lot of them both private and others.
What advice would you give to individuals or organizations looking to make a positive impact in their communities through charitable or philanthropic efforts, based on your experience with the Regy and Henry Amazing Grace Foundation?
We try to tell them to follow their passion. If you work in the area of just doing NGO, you just fall off along the way. But if you were able to follow your passion, if not for passion, I don’t see myself continuing with these girls but every new day the strength is renewed because it’s my passion. We have been struggling you know in our pockets, family and friends but then we can’t stop. In 2007, when we did that first mega one, I remember that it was like it was never going to be but it was even part of that breakthrough you know that made that one happen. I would wake up in the middle of the night and say ‘This program must happen’ and my husband kept talking to me, just to tell you the willingness. It is a thing of body, spirit, and soul, you must be present.
The work is so enormous. I don’t have an excuse for not being there. I remember in one of the years I was so heavy but I was thinking of the girls, at some point, I was visiting them like every month and of course, you don’t go empty-handed you know you go support them sanitary pad provisions, you know things you have like bible because we also add moral to what we do. Then I remembered I was there I think it I was like almost nine months and the girls was asking me, must you come? Are you not tired of us? I said no, I’m not because I think you need to come out. I think you need to do something with your life. So it’s like an obsession. So I advise anybody trying to go into charity work. Be sure is something you want to do. Be sure it will be an enduring with you. Make sure you give it everything you have. I remember that when we did the graduation, it was one of my staff was asking me around six pm,if I had eaten and I said no. Sometimes, I forget to eat. After that program, I had two thousand naira, because, I gave it my all and as God blessing me, and always been there for Regy and Henry. I have a very supportive husband and all my staff volunteers even the Servicom members who work with us are like a gift because everybody, as if there is money to do charity work somewhere, we work like siblings in the field
Let your mind soul and body be in what you’re doing. And don’t think the NGO work is about getting money, getting funds. All our work, we have not gotten any grant, I don’t know the color of grant money but see us so strong. At our last meeting in Avalon UN Women roundtable when Regy and Henry were mentioned, if you see the applaud and recognition. All you need is commitment. So far it’s been family and friends that have been supporting Regy and Henry as committed family and friends because they trust what we do. They trust that when they give you the 5000 when they give you 2000 They will see the outputs and all of them celebrate to see that one of our sex workers has getting married, in July, two of our girls got married. This year, Nnenna, who was in our 2017 program had her third child in marriage, Karen has gone back to Cameroun, she now own an online TV, She has over 12 skills now, she told us that there is high rate of sex work and she thinks that people need her with all the impacts she has gotten, she needs to go and replicate same to her people reaching out across the world.
Thank you very much for your time.