This week, we bring you a personality who is a social change agent while making it look effortless. Love or hate her guts, this persona is one many people who encounter never forget. From an early age she has always shown leadership and is never afraid to let her views be known. She is a Pan-Africanist, who is very passionate about women empowerment and the education of the girl child as well as the re-awakening of Africa’s slumbering giant – Nigeria! Read and be inspired.
“Loretta, be true to yourself in everything you do. Never give anyone the right to re- write your life script for you. Never let the fear of what others will think about you push you into becoming someone who apologises for everything and who is never able to truly be their true self.”
It was many years ago in Benin City, 1998 to be precise! A young lady walked into the crowded banking hall of the First Bank in Benin. She joined the long queue.
Two elderly ladies waiting on the side to be served stared at her, as must have many others in the crowded hall. They must have had some special connections and required some super important service because they occupied two of the few seats present in the banking hall and the bank staff were intermittently seen going to chat with them. The young lady saw them at once on walking into the banking hall but chose to ignore their intense gaze. Also, over the years, she had become immune to such stares. The forward movement of those on the queue was painfully slow but she eventually got to within earshot of the two ladies. Perhaps the fact she was now stood in their full view irritated them a bit more because they switched from English to conversing in their local Benin dialect.
Woman A: Look at this Igbo girl! See how she has bleached her skin.
Woman B: I can see her….these are the husband snatchers.
Woman A: Of course! How else is she funding the expensive bleaching creams?
Woman B: They must be very expensive because her skin is flawless (she hissed)
Woman A: With that mini skirt she has on, imagine the innocent men she will lead astray from their poor wives at home.
Woman B: This is one of those that stole my husband…. where does she get the money she wants to come and deposit or collect this morning if not from all those men she must be dating….
The queue moved one and the young lady could no longer hear their conversation. She smiled to herself, her big brown eyes dancing with mischief. By the time she finished her transactions, both self acclaimed judges of humanity were still sat in their ‘exalted seats’, preceding over the affairs of ‘lesser mortals’.
The young lady walked up to them and greeted them very respectfully as one would revered elders in her native Benin language; telling them to continue their analysis of her. The look on their faces was one of both surprise and shame. The two women were too stunned to speak…the young lady cat walked away from their presence, smiling. The pity in her eyes made them more sober and embarrassed.
I am Loretta Oduware Ogboro-Okor I was that young girl all those years ago.
Guess what, the quote at the beginning of this write up, those were the words of my father to me when I was growing up. I have never forgotten them. My father raised me up to be very pleased with how God made me and believe in myself. He helped prepare me on how to overcome the stereotypes societies present and equipped me for the “cultural pretence” that is the bane of African societies.
Now do not misunderstand me; my father was proud of his Benin heritage and he passed that on to me. However, he understood the ability of society to rein people in. He knew this was even more the case with women and so; he spent his days, making sure I understood that God fearfully and wonderfully made me. That there is no two of me on the planet and that I could be any thing I wanted to be. He fed my young mind with the notion that I had a functional brain that was in between my ears, which I needed to develop optimally, to enable me reason and fend for myself on my own terms, rather than depend on the vacuum in-between my legs.
Furthermore, he raised me to express my self unapologetically. What other people think of me does not matter. What matters is what I think of my self. It was left for me to make my choices and I was to decide if these were choices that were worthy of my pedigree or not. This pedigree has nothing to do with status, wealth or physical looks. Not at all… It was the pedigree that was founded on knowing that one has to make choices that “promote value for human life and that our shared humanity is the true religion”. It was the pedigree that understands the meaning of delayed gratification and the ability to work patiently and strategically with focus, be tenacious and never give up.
It will be clear to you by now, why those two ladies in the bank did not bother me in the least. Society wants people to act in certain ways to tick the ‘good boxes’. Unknowingly, men and women are made into masters of deceit without them even knowing. Perhaps if I had worn a ‘Mary Slessor’ type garment with ashes in my hair; it may have gladdened the heart of those two. Maybe if I had come begging them for money and not gone there to make a deposit bequeathed me by my late father, their day would have been complete. However, I was not perturbed about whatever it was they thought. I knew who I was and owed them no explanations. I knew whose daughter I was.
I have used this example of that incident in my life to give you an insight into my world. When the writer of this blog approached me for a write up, the first thing I asked her is what do you want me to write? She replied, tell us about you. Tell us how you have managed to achieve what you have and together, lets inspire other people, especially women.
For me, that was the most difficult request ever. The reason is because I do not feel I have achieved anything. Not until my desire to affect humanity on a grand scale is actualised, which is a vision that spans my lifetime; I will borrow the words of a good friend and say I remain a continuous work in progress.
I grew up to become a United Kingdom trained Obstetrician and Gynaecologist. I have over time, managed to blend my work in the science field of medical practice and research, with being an author, an educationist, a passionate motivational speaker, women and youth health advocate, as well as a social entrepreneur and an ardent blogger. I set up the Loretta Reveals “borderless motivational space” http://lorettareveals.org in 2015. I also co-founded the Ashanti Graham Health & Education Initiative Foundation (AGHEIF) with my husband in 2010 – a charity with the vision “21st Century Health Care for Africa.” The charity has made significant progress in enabling capacity development in Nigeria through healthcare trainings for medical professionals and providing important equipment and hardware for medical institutions.
I earned my MBBS degree from the prestigious University of Benin in Nigeria and bagged further postgraduate degrees: an MSc in Public Health Research and another in Clinical Education from the Universities of Edinburgh and Sheffield Hallam both in the United Kingdom.
My life journey reflects roles in leadership, people motivation, academics, research and advocacy. I am passionate about “Cultural Integration” in African communities as a means to tackling women’s Reproductive and Mental Health issues as well as Trafficking. I am dedicated to motivating people; principally those who are migrants from ethnic minority backgrounds to achieving a life of purpose and significance because I understand that having limited use of the common language (in this case English) as well as peculiar cultural sensibilities can be a huge challenge to societal integration for migrant populations – especially women.
I am the current President of the University of Benin Alumni Association, United Kingdom Branch. I have been awarded accolades for my voluntary works and community commitments across continents in both United Kingdom and Nigeria. I perceive myself as a ‘disruptor and catalyst to make people interrogate both their societies’ and their own values’
To other women out there I say believe in yourself. You are made uniquely by God. Seek out a man who is ‘educable and trainable’ to spend the rest of your life with. Do not let your choices be skewed by materialism and physical looks. Also, do not let your life revolve around marrying an individual but rather let your marriage revolve around both of you. Empower yourself so you can negotiate the terms of engagement in your home with your partner. Utilise those around you to enable your life when motherhood comes calling. I had the good fortune of having my mother in-law and my mother support me. Life is teamwork. We cannot do all things alone.
Learn to have some ‘me time’ and de-stress with activities or hobbies that give you joy. Never let go of your own life on the excuse that you are married with children. Marriage is not a toga to be worn at the expense of your own identity as a human being. You are first and foremost a human being, a woman who got married to further humanity in unison with a life partner. Do not be a case that ‘mortgages’ her identity and gets into a union to be slaughtered on an altar of marital union. Pursue your dreams one day at a time…and remember that truly great men liberate their women – they do not cage them. The warning signs are often there but many of us ignore them in our desperation to satisfy our societal dictates. Never let the fear of what people will say or think, influence your choices. Direct your own life film on your own life stage; do not relinquish your director rights to the self appointed judges in society because you do not know what they get up to behind their own closed doors.
We need to take raising our next generation seriously and infuse into them, the skills to negotiate life. Everyday we must tell them how special they are and encourage their self-confidence and self-esteem. The example of my encounter with the two women in the bank is a microcosm of how our wider societies can create stereotypes that rein others in either by omission or commission. My father liberated my mind; he gave me wings to fly by instilling a rock solid foundation in my formative years. Overall, I do not think I have turned out badly. Hence I have decided to write the book, “My Father’s Daughter”.
“My Father’s Daughter” is a memoir of an inspirational story about my father of blessed memory and I. In these times when few men truly understand fatherhood, it has become imperative that this exceptional story of the unique way my father raised me be shared with the world. His words and teachings guided me through adversities, helped me make life’s difficult choices and built rock solid confidence in me.
On a final note, I must reiterate how humbling it is to let others have a glimpse of my side of life’s pond on this blog, despite the fact it is ‘work still in progress’. I started this write up with a quote from my father and will end it with a quote of mine:
“#BeUnapologeticallyYou #DropTheBaggage #DefyGravityAndSoar for you are the only one who can hold yourself back”