• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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How Ifeosa supports underserved communities through storytelling

How Ifeosa supports underserved communities through storytelling

Inspired by the experiences of Africans globally, Ifeosa Onyekpe, a non-profit leader and Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University, founded Stories of Home – a non-profit organisation set up to empower underserved communities through storytelling and direct support.

“During my final year of undergrad, I cherished the idea of using life stories to inspire our community as there is so much strength in it,” Ifeosa says.

“We find in sharing the stories of our journeys and dreams. As time went by, I sought meaningful ways to help the communities around us, in addition to storytelling,” she adds.

Five years after, what began as a simple storytelling project has evolved into an organisation with 15 team members and 70 volunteers. Starting with N50,000 in December 2018 during her Youth Corps service, Ifeosa rallied friends to donate money, clothing, and food.

“That N50,000 was our priceless seed, showing us that we could always do something with what we had. Over time, we received more significant donations from people who wanted to make a meaningful change,” the founder notes.

To identify the needs of underserved communities, Stories of Home developed a research system to survey different communities and households.

“We are aware of how limited our resources are compared to the many difficulties these communities face. Yet, we give the most we can each time, knowing every act of kindness is invaluable,” Ifeosa says.

“One heart-breaking example was a community in Sogunro needing a new bridge to cross canals safely. We had just started our organisation then. We could not afford it at the time, but we helped with what we could. We know that in each family and child we support and each story we share, we sow something that will make its difference in its time.”

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Looking ahead, Stories of Home is focusing on the Hope Learning & Library project. According to the founder, the project aims to build meaningful, sustainable support.

“We are involving traditional rulers, parents, youth, religious institutions, and public school administrators as our first partners. One thing we have learned is the necessity of local partnership in creating sustainable models of support and solutions for the most vulnerable amongst us,” she says.

On community engagement, the founder emphasises sincerity and transparency. When working with the Umu-Oshimili people of Ossissa, for example after the 2022 flood, Ifeosa and her team met with its leaders and the community, explaining SOH’s intentions. “We genuinely cared about their challenges,” she says.

Challenges are inevitable in non-profit organisations, such as funding and community factions. Ifeosa highlights that funding mainly comes from friends, family, and public donations, which often limits their capacity. They’ve learned to prioritize needs and accept foregone alternatives. Today, they focus on the Hope Library & Scholarship Project.

Teaming also poses challenges. Members invest time while managing their personal lives, making it demanding to balance both.

To address such challenge, Ifeosa incorporates a system of flexibility so that the organisation shuffle team leads, has evaluation processes from time to time through which everyone checks their schedules and see if the commitment in each season would be too demanding on them, and give everyone the chance to just breathe!

For volunteer management, Stories of Home recruits once or twice a year, looking for passionate and committed individuals. They provide onboarding and ongoing training. “Our volunteer pool is diverse and international, which has its challenges, yet we have dedicated Hope Volunteers for whom I’m thankful.”

Looking back, Ifeosa shares significant lessons: “I have learned that leaders must make decisions, especially the toughest ones, and we grow better able at making them as the years unfold. I have learned that it is a great gain to continuously simplify our vision; that kindness is never a competition; that it is a good thing to start small while keeping the greater dreams close to heart; that we must strive to stay inspired; and that our hearts must always be sincere.”

Stories of Home’s long-term vision includes expanding the Hope Library project across Africa and creating spaces of hope, support, and inspiration for children. They also aim to complete their Hope Stories collections to fund scholarships and community support.

Personally, Ifeosa sees Stories of Home as a reminder of the power of vision and kindness. “It serves as one of my deepest reminders of how un-alone I am, and how life gives us ideas and dreams through which we could help others. When we find those dreams and ideas, I hope we are never too afraid to take them and to run with them.”

On her advice for aspiring non-profit founders, Ifeosa says, “Start in the places where you are. The vision does not have to be fully clear at first, start where you are. As you begin, give yourself the room to keep refining your vision. And always give yourself the space to pause when needed.

“When you begin to assemble your team, look out for those with passion and a sense of commitment. Do not be afraid to try, even with the mistakes that will come.

“Remember the gift of people, and talk to people who have gone ahead of you. Truly care about the people and communities you are serving. And finally, remember God. He is the Refiner of our vision and the Sustainer of our dreams.”