There has been so much to say this week on different sports around the country, even things that the newspapers are not picking but sadly, most of the stories or reports are quite negative towards our sports or our sporting administrators and I am determined not to let my my blog be a place for negative stories and sensational reports so I have gone to find a bright light in the environment of gloom. Something to give hope to our sports and our people. Enter Mobolaji Akiode.
I first met this ever smiling pretty lady during the Olympics at Athens, Greece. She was a member of the Basketball Team and she stood out in various ways. She was intelligent and free spirited. Always talking positively of her sports, her country and her life. I recently met up with Mo and was intrigued to see how she has so soon after retirement started to impact the lives of a lot of people with her project Hope 4 Girls.
”Hope 4 Girls is a sports foundation using the platform of basketball to empower underprivileged girls.” She tells me with a sparkle in her eyes. You can see her passion and belief in the work. “Well I wanted to give back to society in a way that positively effected my life growing up and being part of a team and a school program really helped me develop the right habits as a young woman and I didn’t see enough of that here in Nigeria.” She explained when I asked why she started this laudable project. “I guess people only believe in using sport to win or lose, but for children it can develop really the right character, discipline, and leadership needed to succeed in life and I wanted as many girls as possible to have that opportunity to learn that.”
The camps started way back in 2009 and they have had different programs since. I grew very interested in the whole idea and asked her what achievements they had recorded so far. With a bright chuckle which is her classy trademark, Mo says.”We are still alive”. You do need to understand how difficult it is to do things in Nigeria to appreciate what an achievement staying alive for four years is. I understood this immediately since I am running a foundation myself but she then explains.
”That’s totally an achievement and if anyone knows how tough this Nigerian environment is can probably relate. On another note we have 6 kids on scholarship between Nigeria and u.s, One will be graduating university in may 2014. We are working on 2 more scholarships in n2014 and our foundation is the breeding ground for lagos youth girls basketball. If not for the last minute pull out, we would have represented lagos state at the youth festival. Our kids have gone on to represent lagos twice in the milo national finals 2011 and 2012 and would have done so this year as well, but I won’t comment on why they didn’t. We represent everything that is right about grassroots development and sports participation and that to me is an accomplishment”
Sponsorship has been a big problem but notable organizations have supported the project such as The U.S consulate in Lagos, Ovie Brume foundation and Toyota and Better Africa Foundation who has been there from the beginning. She admits that over the years some others have played roles in their activities. Long term support is something she desires now.”If you want to grow and do more than we are doing, we are going to need more support and long term so we can have a strategic plan, but all in all, I’m happy we are still able to manage what we can.”
There are many people that have received scholarship from Hope for Girls like Ruth Omotayo, Uju Ugoka, Felicia Ayietan, Olamide Aborowa, Pallas Akpanah, Ijeoman Uchendu. This is an amazing feat and then I relaxed, looked into her eyes and asked her, “What next? What is the Future of Hope 4 Girls?” Then for the first time, Mo’s smile disappears but the sparkle in her eyes brightened. After what seemed like ages she said, “I think for us the next step is to figure out ways to begin to help girls off the court. For example what can we do with girls who have graduated high school but can’t afford to go to the University? Can we help them start some small business that can sustain them, keep them motivated and use it as a tool to empower them so when they can be able to send themselves to school?” This impressed me. Because we as sports men are too quick to find handouts from government. Forgetting that success or failure lies on our doorstep not anybody. I look admirably at Mo. What a person. What an athlete. With a few more like her we would have hope not just for girls but our sports and our entire country.