In the month of March, I hosted Raquel Jacobs
Born on December 7th , she was named Rachael at birth. She tweaked the spelling of her name to Raquel at the age of 14. She is from Kaduna State. Though she speaks without an accent of the Northern people of Nigeria, you can tell she is from the North if you look closely.
She can eat eba at 7 a.m and drink tea at 2 p.m. She’s weird like that. Another interesting thing about her weird self is that she sets her alarm to ring at weird times like 4:22 am or 6:31 am.
In this session she shares the story below of her life so far…..
My name is Raquel Jacobs. I was born in Lagos but originally from Kaduna State in Nigeria. For as long as I can remember, people called me a strong girl. But I wasn’t always strong.
I can’t tell you I know the challenges I faced were preparing me for the work I currently do. My dad died when I was 16 and my mum when I was 19. Life took a different turn after my dad passed on. I immediately became an adult and had to look after 3 boys because my mum was sick almost all the time.
I finished secondary school at 16 but couldn’t go to a University immediately for different reasons. As a teenage girl from Northern Nigeria, losing my parents meant different things; an end to my education or marriage.
My family’s first move was to split my brothers and marry me off to a rich man who could take care of my siblings. My younger brothers all dropped out of all school and everything seemed impossible. I kept on and worked hard. I was just 16, really didn’t want to be married, I wanted to go to school. So I ran away.
Dear teenage girl reading this, please don’t run away just yet. Talk to someone. Running away might not be the best option. For sometime, I lived under the bridge because I was tired of the life in my face everyday.
I had 5 near-rape experiences, once from my uncle and four times from random men in Obalende. The uncle was the maternal uncle I trusted.
I was kicked from one place to another because I refused to join them on the street. “Join us or leave” they said. I slept in cyber cafés and uncomfortable places that left so many scars on my body. Sometimes I really don’t like my body. I chose cyber cafés because that gave me access to a computer at night and could sleep without interruption.
One day, I decided to start a business after one of the girls said “Use what you have to get what you want.” My first business was making and selling “Zobo” – a drink made from Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) I evolved to “chin-chin” and then to soya milk. The girls didn’t like it, but after two weeks, they started patronizing me.
Living out there in Obalende was not good for me mentally and spiritually but I trusted God that it wouldn’t be the end. I kept on waiting and praying that He helped me. I carried my Bible with me the whole time I was living from place to place. A few times I yelled at God for allowing me go through the things I was going through. I was always physically tired, but even through those challenging periods, I felt His hand on me the whole time.
I left the street to live with an uncle. Finally, a roof over my head. But a few weeks later, he asked if I would sleep with him. The new friend I made on that street in Ikoyi asked me to leave the house and he found me another place to stay. My life generally was hard as a teenager and that made me very tough.
These challenges made the 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 talk 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.
My respect for parents went up because I suddenly knew what it was to feed, take care and be an example to boys. So many times we face difficulties that alter the itinerary of our lives, only to find the detour was actually God’s path. Today, my two brothers and I are university graduates. This has been the most challenging experience of my life.
There were times my brothers and I cried and pray to God to send help because we had no food to eat. I still face challenges. The experiences changed me in a way I didn’t even know. I am always running even as an adult. I remember opening my eyes last year in a hospital and the nurse said to me “It’s a shame you tried to kill yourself.”
The truth is, I was just fed up! The issues were way bigger than I could explain on a hospital bed. I got back home and my neighbour asked, “Did you think about your brothers at all before you tried to take your own life?” I still couldn’t answer. I just sat there at home and cried. I felt stupid. “What got into me?” I kept asking. I had to unburden myself. It was a the point when I had no choice but to do so that I did. It is needed.
Truth is that we all go through a lot and from time to time we need people to listen to us, talk to us and hold us by the hand. I was struggling with a lot of things, but I only showed people what they needed to see. I only told them what they needed to hear. I showed them strength, told them I was okay. I acted like everything was just perfect! But it wasn’t.
I didn’t tell them that I still heard voices in my head of people having sex. I lived in a brothel remember? Because the commercial sex workers brought their customers to the house for months, the sound they made flooded my head. I didn’t tell them that I hadn’t forgiven my family for abandoning my brothers and I after my parents died. I couldn’t tell anyone that each time I asked for help to by food or pay rent, I lost a piece of myself.
I couldn’t tell anyone that asking them was a difficult decision that I make each time I open my mouth to ask for help. I didn’t tell anyone that raising boys is way beyond the stipends they hand to me to buy food. Raising boys is not easy. I couldn’t tell anyone that I am afraid to get married because somehow I feel it will separate me from my brothers. I couldn’t tell anyone that I lost faith in love after my engagement ended. I just couldn’t.
So, each time I try to love someone, I give myself a million and one reasons why it shouldn’t work. I didn’t tell anyone! No one knew I was hanging on the edge the whole time. I became good at pretending all was FINE.
I looked perfectly all right, but no perfectly all right person decides to take his or her own life. It was in that moment I decided to call my aunts and uncles and honestly tell them that I forgive them. It was in that moment I decided it was to finally let someone in. Not half in, completely in without holding back. When I did this, I felt like the healing had just started, I felt like a heavy burden was lifted off my shoulder.
My life hasn’t been easy but I am grateful. I will continue to inspire young people to dream and help them achieve it in the best possible way that I can. With all the challenges and struggles, God is using me to reach young women and children.
Through @btceducation_ Foundation, we help 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.
The After School Project allows volunteers to teach the children, Math, English, Dance, Literary
The Inspire Teaching Project is our teacher-training workshop for all our schools.
Through @Club31woman Network we reach out to young women,teaching them about God and mentoring teenage girls.
The greatest reward has been the responses of the children, the parents and the schools we work with it. Knowing that our little acts of kindness actually does go a long way inspires us to do more. Find what you love the most and do it. Because once you find purpose, only you can stop you. It doesn’t matter what life throws at you.