Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Organization Spotlight: The City of Light

Meet the Makinwas. I had the opportunity to meet Alexandar and Margaret during my time in Austria, and I am so excited by the work that they are doing in Nigeria.

For years, this couple has been persevering in beginning a project for their home country, but this proves to be extremely difficult from a distance and with little funding. Their organization, "The City of Light & Liberation Foundation," seeks to serve the vulnerable populations in Akure, Nigeria. After living in Austria for over 30 years, they have a particular heart for women who are trafficked from Nigeria to Europe for work in prostitution.

Fortunately, there is an agency specifically designed to facilitate the smooth repatriation of young girls who are rescued from trafficking - the International Office on Migration. However, according to the 2014 TIP report, there is a misunderstanding in Europe regarding the quality of services available to women returned to Nigeria from Europe. Nearly all of the Nigerian victims are tricked to moving to Europe and indebting themselves to their traffickers through the promise of jobs. Unfortunately, this is highly effective in a country where poverty is high and family expectations for girls to provide are strong. When survivors are returned, they find themselves in the same situation of poverty as before. The cycle continues.

This is the problem that a specific project under The City of Light seeks to address. The Makinwas have a vision to establish a training center where women who return from Europe can learn a trade, such as tailoring and fashion design. In fact, this is more than just a vision. The couple has managed to fundraise enough to purchase land and begin construction.

However, the organization began struggling to meet fundraising goals and had to halt construction progress a few months ago. A partner organization informed them of a U.N. trust fund grant that would be able to fund a large part of the project's expenses for up to three years. The Makinwas were excited by this possibility, but were overwhelmed by the prospect of writing a grant proposal.
When I arrived in Austria, there was a week left to complete the grant proposal before the deadline. I was working with the partner organization that had recommended the grant, and though their staff wanted to help this couple, they simply didn't have time on top of the work they were already doing to fundrais for their own projects. One of the organization's staff asked if I would be willing to help the Makinwas on this last minute proposal.
Of course I agreed! I am always excited to be able to give back in some way to the organizations I visit and the people I speak with. Often I am not in the country long enough to truly lend a hand, so this was an exciting opportunity.
The project that this grant would fund will assist over 70 women who have returned from Europe after being trafficked. Women would receive intensive training in fashion design and tailoring, as well as business management. After completing a two year course, women will be able to take out loans or receive employment from City of Light itself in order to make a living. The grant would cover construction completion, salaries of teachers, sewing machines, and loans for the students after graduation. It is so exciting that such a huge entity like the U.N. is trying to find a way to make a difference in the lives of individual victims.
Over the course of four days, I met with the Makinwa's three times, and together we wrote 10 pages of proposal content for this project. To be honest, it felt like school all over again, and the nerd in me loved it. I am particularly grateful that the Makinwas were willing to slowly walk me through their vision and plan, despite our cultural differences. I hope with all my heart that my words communicated clearly the passion and qualifications of this incredible couple.
These are the types of projects that are actually going to make a difference. Awareness is good and so necessary. Large movements are important. However, it is the grassroots organizations on the ground led by nationals and members of the community that will really make change happen. The Makinwas are an incredible example of this. If you would like to support them, find out more on their website here.



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