Kemi Levi: Giving economic power to vulnerable women, widows

Odani Green City is a fast-developing estate in Elelenwo area of Port Harcourt, close to Indorama-Eleme Petrochemicals Limited on East West Road. The major road into the estate passes quickly through Peace Plaza on the left. There, training has opened for some 50 women and widows.

Kemi Levi, founder, Total Woman Initiative (TWI), is pumping passion to fuel the scheme. She told BusinessDay that she began with 300 women seven years ago when she had in mind just 100.

The scheme teaches anything that fetch money for a woman so no woman goes about needing ‘urgent 2k’ (begging). The skills for 2022 include soap making, baking, fresh fruits production, videography, beauty (beauty accessories, make-ups, etc). Sometimes, she picks on a widow and transforms her life like she did in 2021 with the Choba woman who now runs her business and comfortably trains her children in school by making daily savings.

Addressing the 2022 participants, Levi, the Chief Chef of Brook Cherith Restaurant, asked the beneficiaries to endeavour to train others and help others so the circle does not break. “Don’t wait till you have millions of naira before you help. Your 50 kobo can rescue somebody in a situation,” she said.

Explaining the passion behind her scheme, Levi said: “I was there before. At 16, I was sent out of the house; no father, no mother. It was a total stranger that trained me and assisted me.”

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She said she began running Cotonou/Lagos route at the age of 18 but that a total stranger helped her.

Seven years after, the head beautician of Chermown Shaqed Unisex Salon said she has met 70 percent of her desire in helping women. Her beneficiaries go through six months training that also involves field work and entrepreneurial training. She also checks on her trainees to ensure they are doing well.

On challenges, the creative designer of Kayskulture Boutique appealed for more partners to enable her reach more needy women. “There are some other skills I have not been able to bring in because the resource persons are asking for very high fees.”

Levi, who said her target is to go nationwide, said she will begin to link her trainees to organisations and cooperatives to get more exposed and get help. She also links them to loan facilities.

A cross section of participants
Cross section of participants and resource persons at the Kemi Levi’s Total Woman Initiative event in PH

She said her husband, Levi Olukayode Afolayan, a pastor, has been a big pillar behind her scheme. “He has never been an obstacle. He owns the facility I am using. He encourages and helps me. In my mind, I know he believes in this, not just because he wants me to be happy. I told him from the onset of our marriage what my passion was,” she said.

She said she began by giving something to some vulnerable members of the husband’s church without disclosing the giver.

Asked how she sees many people suffering when there is government, she said; “I always believe that government does not have solution for everybody, though I believe they had the duty to act. There is no white colour job these days. Even government officials are looking for how to help those around them. Government’s striving to help everyone is not working. If everyone can help the ones around them, Nigeria would be a better place.”

One of the resource persons, Akmiro Oluchi Amogbe, the beauty expert, advised the trainees to try and acquire all aspects of any trade or vocation they want to learn, saying that is the only way to cast their bread upon the waters.

The husband of the founder, Levi Afolayan, said the decision the beneficiaries made to come and train would impact their future.

He urged youths to learn first and look for money later. “Please be faithful to yourself and your trainer. Honour your trainers in the course of your training. It costs you nothing to be trained but it costs Total Woman Initiative so very much. Please apply yourselves to your trainings, start out with the goal to be good in what you do and you will eventually make it.”

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