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Sunday, February 25, 2024

GRACE YOHANNA ABBIN – Retired banker and Women’s rights activists

Retired banker and Women’s rights activists tells her fascinating life story.

I was born in Kaduna State in North Central Nigeria, over forty-five years ago. My parents are Mr. and Mrs. Takai Agang Shamang and I am the first of their eight children.

One interesting fact about my family is that we have double sets of twins. I have an identical twin sister named Gloria . We were born at seven months because my mother had a domestic accident that resulted in preterm labour. After we were delivered, the doctors kept us in an incubator until we became mature enough to go home.

Twin children were celebrated highly at that time. So we received  lots of gifts from family, friends, neighbors and well wishers who heard about us and some of the gifts lasted even till my mother’s next child birth.

I grew up in an average-income home. My father began his career at Arewa Textile. Later on, he joined the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA). He worked there for many years and retired as an assistant general manager. My mother was a successful seamstress. Her beautiful designs attracted customers from all over the country.

The first people that influenced me positively were my parents. They were disciplinarians and not lenient on dealing with us. They taught me to work hard, be kind and disciplined. Being the eldest child, I was expected to guide and watch over my siblings, and when they made a mistake, my father or mother used to say, “Grace, where were you when this or that happened?” At first, I used to feel bad about it, but now I can boldly say that the training I received as a child molded me into a responsible adult.

While other parents believed that educating a girl child was a waste of resources, mine gave their daughters the best education that they could afford. I started my pre-primary education at Ijioma Memorial Nursery School before proceeding to Suka Special Primary School in Kano. After obtaining my First School Leaving Certificate in 1983, I went to Aminu Kano Commercial College, Goron Duste, Kano.

Life in secondary school was fun. One thing I enjoyed was the cordial relationship that existed between people of different religions and cultures. They appointed me the head girl on merit. I also enjoyed playing hockey and basketball. My position as the head girl taught me how to interact and build good relationships with people.

I had many good teachers, but I always remember Mrs. Bello because she was very kind to me. She used to monitor my academic work and was always available to correct my mistakes. After I got my ordinary level certificate in 1989, I proceeded to Kano State Polytechnic, Rano, where I bagged a National Diploma in Corporative Studies.

I graduated in 1991 and was posted to Union Bank for a one-year industrial attachment. While working there, I was punctual, diligent, and hardworking. Then one day, one of my coworkers informed me that the bank only hires interns who have been approved by the manager. So I told my dad to convince the manager to offer me employment. However, I was surprised when he said, “l won’t talk to anyone on your behalf. People are watching you over there, so let your commitment and skillfulness speak in your favour.”

When he said that, I worked harder and kept a clean record. So, three months before I was supposed to leave, the general manager sent for me. When I met him, he said that the organization would retain me because everyone attested to my good conduct. So, that was how I got employed at Union Bank, and I spent over 20 years in the banking industry.

Working in the bank was a pleasant experience. Although it was very stressful, I still continued with my education. I got my Higher National Diploma at Kaduna State Polytechnic in 2006, and my first postgraduate diploma in Education at Usman Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto, in 2008.

One lesson I have learned in life is that nothing can hinder a strong-willed person. When I was an intern, my dream was to reach the peak of my career, and by the grace of God, I became an operation manager at Union Bank. I was the head of customer service and operations. I also served as an instructor at the Union Bank Learning Academy, Zaria. So, after several accomplishments in the banking industry, I left and became an activist for women’s right.  My leaving was a voluntary resignation and I have started recieving my monthly pension.

We live in a society where gender-based violence is predominant. Women, girls, and children are the major victims of assault. I believe that our culture indirectly contributes to the increase in violence. For instance, I have seen women whose husbands beat them to a pulp, yet they continue to stay in the marriage because they are afraid of being stigmatized.

Every woman is endowed with talents. However, factors like illiteracy, the loss of a spouse, poverty, and a lack of help and encouragement can limit the potential of an individual. Therefore, I’m passionate about helping less privileged women become better versions of themselves.

In the year 2013, after retiring from the bank, I became a full-time Project Manager at Gantys Aid for Widows, Orphans, & Needy Foundation (GAWON). This organization was founded by my dad in 1998 and was registered officially in July 2005. My father started GAWON because he was a scholarship beneficiary while growing up. So after retiring from civil service, he decided to give back to our society through charity work.

The main aim of the foundation is to uplift and improve the overall living conditions of widows, orphans, vulnerable children, and the needy. We offer educational scholarships, free skill acquisition programs, shelter for the vulnerable, advocacy, referrals, linkages, and health care support services.

At GAWON, we are interested in the family’s welfare. We organize outreach programmes and collaborate with both national and international organizations to achieve different goals. We have worked with organizations like UNICEF, Save the Children International, Educational Sector Support Program in Nigeria (ESSPIN), Center for Integrated Health Program (CIHP), etc.

In 2014, the Save the Children International Project provided full support to vulnerable children and their families. During the outreach, I had to leave my comfort zone in the city and travel to rural communities to touch lives. In this project, the people used the resources in their community to fix the challenges that they were experiencing. We also had a project aimed at touching the lives of 4,000 children and 1,000 caregivers in 10 communities of Zango Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State.

In our communities, we often see children neglected by parents and relations when they ought to be in school. We started the1000 Caregivers Project to educate parents and guardians on how to handle child protection-related issues. We also empower them through self-reliance activities and encourage them to send their children to school. In Manchok, we run a free private nursery and primary school targeted at providing quality educational support for the people in that area.

The Gantys Aid for Widows, Orphans, & Needy Foundation is located in Manchok, Kaura Local Government Area of Kaduna State, and we intend have a secondary school too. Every day, people come to us with their pains and traumas, but they go back with joy in their hearts. In GAWON Foundation, we do what we call “GIVE OUT THE GIFT”, By the grace of God, we have helped many people make a fortune out of misfortune.

One major challenge we are experiencing is the need for continuous awareness and sensitization. During some of our outreaches, we were criticized and rejected by some people who were less informed about our objectives. They assumed we had ulterior motives. So, we had to organize awareness campaigns to inform them that we came to perform good deeds only.

In the last nine years of full participation in humanitarian services, I have built my capacity in the educational sector, gender-based violence-related issues, and auxiliary social work. I am also concerned about how to restore peace in locations where there is conflict. Due to my experience, I was recommended to serve as the Manager of the Salama Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) at Sir Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa Memorial Hospital, Kafanchan. I  also working as the Special Adviser for the Department of Policy and Management, at the office of the secretary to the Kaduna State Government.

The most important thing in the world is family. I have a home where everyone can come in and feel relaxed. I also have three sons and some adopted daughters who are living with me. Due to the nature of the work I do, I always travel from one place to another, and sometimes combining the responsibilities of work and family can be very challenging. So, I created time for everything. When it is time to work, I focus on that, and when it is time to relax with my family; I ensure that nothing else interferes. My loved ones are happier with what I am doing now than when I was in the bank.

Feminism is a word that is commonly misunderstood as downsizing men or declaring them inferior. If being a feminist means equal opportunity, equal salary, and equal fame, then yes, I’m a feminist. It is my dream to see a society where women are not exploited, abused, or considered second-class citizens. I want to see women who are excelling in different areas of life.

When you are offering selfless services to people, the greatest award is the messages of appreciation you receive from them. After I joined GAWON, I received several awards, commendations, and recognitions. In 2008, I received the Woman of Distinction Gold Award, in honor of our work in nation-building and development. Also, in 2019, the London Graduate Central Office gave me another award.

As I mentioned earlier, I and my twin sister have the same face, complexion, height, genotype, blood-group, body shape, and voice. We always dress in the same attire, and people often gaze at us whenever we pass by. When my children were still tender, they couldn’t differentiate their mom from their aunt. Also, while I was still working at the bank, my sister was working at Power Holding Nigeria Plc. Then one day, I met a customer who said he saw me at the Power Holding office. I had to inform him that he had seen my twin sister.

Even our parents still make the same mistake sometimes. There was one day when I offended my mother. So she went to report the issue to my twin sister. When she came into the room, she started narrating the incident to me because she thought I was Gloria. After listening to her, I asked her, “Mum, why are you reporting this matter to the same person who made you angry?” When I said that, she realized who I was and started laughing. That was how the misunderstanding was resolved amicably.

During my free time, I enjoy reading and meditating. Books on motivation, self-development, and fulfilling life purpose are my favorites. I also enjoy reading Christian books for counselors. Another way I relax is by hanging out with my siblings. Although most of us are married now, we still come together and have fun during family reunions. I enjoy songs with a good melody. My favorite musicians include Don Williams, Dolly Parton, Jimmy Cliff, Jean Cornel, etc.

In conclusion, I’m grateful to God for the woman that I am today. I believe that I’m fulfilling my life’s purpose after working with GAWON Foundation and now with the Sexual Assault Referral Centre, so there is no other place that I would rather be. This mission draws me closer to the ordinary people in our society. I mean those who don’t have free access to the basic necessities of life, freedom in life, voice, so to speak. In Sexual Assault Referral Centre, we handle reported cases of all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and Child Protection related issues. It is a one-stop shop location for survivors of rape and other forms of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). I have learned a lot through my experience, and I am happy about the impact we are making.

The services we offer here covers the eight Local Government Areas of Zone 3 (Southern Kaduna), Kaduna State. Although I just heard about Iya Magazine, I love the good work that they are doing. I’m also grateful for the opportunity to share my success story with other women. Thank you, Iya Magazine.

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