"If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation". Ghanaian scholar Dr James Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey (1875-1927), one of this century's greatest educators had this to say !!
By: Josh Chigwangwa
Community Category ZAA 2013: Community Champion Nominee
|MRS MORLEEN NYIRENDA OKOLONJI|
What is the vision that inspired Morleen Okolonji to devote part of her precious time to charity? What is it that inspired her to set up this charity, "Women of Substance Community" (WOS) in Barking, Essex? Morleen was this year nominated for the Zim Achievers Awards (UK) 2013 Community Champion due to be held on Saturday, 20th April 2013 at the magnificent Millennium Gloucester Hotel in the heart of London. Visit Ihttp://www.zimachievers.com/ to vote and book your seats on-line, tickets usually sell fast on a first-come- first-serve basis due to event popularity and limited capacity.
I was privileged to share a precious moment over a cup of tea with Morleen and getting her to pour out to the world, what it is that inspired her to work for her community in such an amazing fashion. I realised that it takes a devoted heart and selfless commitment to be a woman of substance. I trekked Morleen all the way to Barking in Essex, UK and am grateful of the hospitality l received and rare moment to open her heart, believe me you, it is made of real oak and she is such an awareness and amazing character. She has lived up to the celebrity fame, “The Only Way is Essex”.
Morleen Okolonji is the founder member and CEO of Women of Substance, a community organisation based in Barking, Essex working with young people to nurture, educate and empower them to lead a life of pure substance, free from drugs, alcohol abuse and gangster life fuelled by peer pressure thus depriving young people an opportunity to play an active role in building successful careers in life. According to UK official statistics, in December 2012, 974 000 young people aged 16 to 24 were unemployed, representing 20,8% whilst 1,62 million 18-24 year olds' were economically inactive in the period October to December 2012
Morleen is a trained counsellor, advisor and teacher, currently studying Masters in Teaching and Learning at Edge Hill University in UK and a Minister of the gospel. She was born in Harare, Zimbabwe and has a passion for women who have been oppressed, abused and disadvantaged as a result of their life circumstances. She has a unique role that allows her to reach out holistically especially to women. She also has a passion for young mothers having previously had a challenge of having a child at an early age herself.
Below is a transcript of my interview with Morleen. It was amazing to realise how she has impacted diverse communities and positively contributed to tackling head-on, challenges faced by the UK's Coalition government. This is a clear testimony of how migrant communities are resourceful and contributing to greater good within communities.
Josh: What motivated you to engage in community work?
Morleen: My motivation was triggered by growing youth unemployment and the infamous London riots and preceding disturbances thereafter. The aim was to encourage as many youngsters especially girls off the street and into something constructive and fun-filled. I focussed my target at under-represented 16-25 yr olds’ with the goal of encouraging them back to reconsider learning and acquiring new skills, rebuilding their confidence, giving advice and training as well as entrance to possible job opportunities to give the youngsters access to a better life
|London riots inspired me to make a difference|
Morleen: The Project is also aimed at supporting young women that have showed a definite interest in training and working in the hair, fashion, and beauty industry, who have made an effort to attend group sessions. “WOS” is growing and expanding by the day, the project is helping an array of youngsters and women who get trapped in that never ending circle of despair and hopelessness. It is also helping to break them out of this circle and we’ll help give them the focus.
Supporting youth people to gain confidence and to be focussed in life
Josh: Did you find it easy setting up your charity, what are the challenges you have faced?
Morleen:It has not been easy because I had to go through a lot of paper work and challenges that can set you back but with perseverance and the right people behind me, “l prefer calling them my “CONFIDANTES” it all worked out for good.
Josh: How has the community around you welcomed this project?
Morleen:“Ohhhh!!” she shrugs, “It was with open arms, I identified a need and filled in the gap and they have been so supportive of WOS to the point that we were even nominated for a Peace Award 2012 for bringing people together by the Council” She beamed at me as I smiled back in admiration.
|Morleen Okolonji with the Mayor of Barking and Dagenham|
|Peace Award for Bringing People Together|
Josh: What are the highlights of your achievements or activities you have carried out so far?
Morleen: WOS has helped more than 300 men to identify their mission, vision and to unlock their potential through coaching and mentors, with some success stories. About 150 women were supported to start small businesses, 80 were supported to go back into education and more than 100 into employment.
One such person is Shannon Storey who has managed to secure a job and her own business as a result of winning the Miss BD Role Model 2012 project. She is also due to receive her £1 200 package with La mode. With the title, Shannon is going to be an “Ambassador of Change”. She is signed under the “Women of substance” for the next one year to work on projects such as promoting health and peace awareness to young people. She will be the voice for less privileged and above all, a role model for young people.
Young Women attending sessions to gain skills to start businesses
Josh: How have you found it working with people from different backgrounds and cultures?
Morleen: Very informative, fun, an experience every human being should get a chance to do, you become aware and appreciate the difference people of all walks of life have e.g. the way we talk, eat, relate, socialise.
It’s very educational for me and l loves it so much because l has managed to have friends from so many different countries.
|Uniting diverse communities from different cultural backgrounds|
Josh: Do you have any plans to work with deprived communities back home and other parts of the world?
Morleen: Definitely! l feel like setting WOS here in the UK and the success its had for the past 5 years, has been a learning curve for me, with everything l have learned and experienced l feel like am really equipped and ready to take WOS to Zimbabwe and really impact Women and their families’ lives, l have already started working and making plans for this.
Morleen: Women of Substance” prides itself on integrating people from diverse communities and cultures to enjoy a shared vision.
Morleen:“So Zimbabwe “Watch this Space”
Josh: How did you feel being nominated for an achievement award?
Morleen: Am very honoured to have been recognised by my fellow Zimbabweans, it has given me a feeling of acceptance and appreciation , because most of the time we hardly support ourselves and l appreciate what ZAA is doing, its sending a message of togetherness and unity between the Zimbabwean community.
I also feel like all the people that were nominated are all winners and blessed, because it’s not easy to do what we do in a foreign country, well done! To all of them, they make me so proud to be a Zimbabwean.
Josh: Do you have any message for other women or young people about your experiences so far?
Morleen: Keep doing what you are doing in time you will achieve!! The power of unlocking your vision or mission is to do what YOU love doing, e.g. if you love waking up every day and going to work as a nurse, mother, wife, teacher. social worker, community worker, etc for me that’s your ministry that’s your “calling as a child of god!, Ministry does not always mean you have to be a Pastor and open a church, the ministry is in our everyday jobs, so if you are doing what YOU love doing already you are impacting lives. Morleen can be contacted by email on: firstname.lastname@example.org
“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”- Kurt Vonnegut.
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