FROM the ARCHIVE:
In a male dominated world, some women are sincerely climbing up the ladder to success by sheer determination and integrity. Mrs. Erelu Adeyemi, comes in handy as one of such women. Feeling unfulfilled as a teacher, she unrelentingly went after her dream to be able to do much more than the classroom routine. And, she indeed succeeded!
Today, as the proprietress of Foresight Int’l School, Festac Town, she is voted as one of the top seven entrepreneurs of the environs because of her doggedness and sincerity. In this interview, she opens up on the journey so far to Tayo Faloye. Get inspired…
You have been nominated as one of the top seven entrepreneurs of our environs, can you tell us about your background and career?
I am Erelu Adeyemi. I am from Ogun State, married to an Ondo man from Owo. I have my N.C.E. I graduated as an NCE teacher in 1983 and further got a B.A from the Lagos State University, Ojo.
As a proprietress of a private school, what inspired you into starting a school?
Basically because I love children around me and I always feel as a teacher I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t able to give my best, so I thought I could still do something more. That was why I decided to start a school; but mostly because of the passion for children.
For you to have started a school, you don’t seem to agree with the adage that ‘teachers reward is in heaven.’
My answer is a No and a Yes. Teachers reward is in heaven as Jesus Christ said in the bible: ‘suffer not the little children to come unto me.” That means to me, if you love and take care of children, there is something in stock for you over there (heaven). At the same time, their reward is here because if you do it the way it is supposed to be done, children will acquire the right knowledge and will become important people in life, and they will never forget you. I was opportuned to be at a seminar some weeks ago at Sunfit organised by Amuwo odofin L.G.A for proprietors and proprietress of schools, and the Chairman proudly introduced his teacher when he was in school. Those are part of the rewards for teachers. Within me, I thought that the seated woman must have felt well honoured because there is no honour a teacher wants more than that.
From being a teacher to becoming a proprietress, how did you achieve this and what are the hurdles you met on the way?
I remember back in 1997 when I started, it wasn’t a bed of roses. I started in a 2 bedroom bungalow and then, we were begging parents to bring their children because there were many big schools within Festac Town. As we were just coming newly into the market, parents wanted the ready-made schools. We had to engage in house to house aggressive marketing, which yielded a very good result. So, within a spate of six months, we had about eighty seven children. Some of the sisters that helped me then are now in banks and I am not surprised because they are good marketers. Then, finances… it wasn’t easy because many of the parents were not paying. Some will tell you ‘my container has not come,’ ‘my husband brother is getting married,’ and many more excuses. And, it is still like that till today. Many parents are not getting their priorities right.
The proliferation of schools now is alarming. Don’t you think this should be regulated or controlled?
I think that should be the work of the Federal Ministry of Education. If they do it, then it would be the best thing for education rather than have untrained teachers just wake up one day to start a school. I don’t want to sound harsh so as not to become an enemy of progress because the economy is hard. It is very easy to start a school, but it depends on your level because if you need to go far, much is expected of you. Who know, if the federal government can come up with something like the merging done in the banking sector, they can also do it to schools so that it would improve the quality and standard of education.
You mean there are no set standard or criteria before starting a school?
None that I know of. If you want your school to be approved, you would go to the ministry of education to collect a form, and you start up with the process. Then, they will come down to see if you have the basic things or if you meet up with their requirements and your school will be approved.
As a teacher, tell us about your most embarrassing moment?
The only embarrassing moment I have ever had was when a parent came in to beat up a teacher. I wasn’t around when it occured. I was at the Ministry of Education. I try to play like a role model that teachers are known for. So humiliating was the incident that after beating up the teacher, the parent seized the teacher’s phone. I told her to release the handset, that because you are our customer and they say customers are always right does not mean you should go to the extreme, but she refused I appealed to the teachers to be calm. So we had to call in the police and I think they handled the situation the way I love it. They dealt with the parent and the teacher was happy.
Funding is the bane of many entrepreneurs. How have you been able to raise the fund needed for your school project?
I thank God I have an understanding husband who believes in me and has always been there for me up till now. He single handedly financed the school from renting the bungalow and providing all the things that we needed and went as far as paying the staff for eight months from his own pocket. And, in 2004, the SMEEIS came up initiated by President Obasanjo to help small scale enterprises. I applied and by the grace of God I was granted the sum of twenty million equity investment by Prudent bank now Skye Bank.
Do you feel fulfilled having your own school?
I have always felt fulfilled because of the passion I have for it. It’s something you cannot really explain. Fulfillment in life is not by cash. It is about making other people happy. Making and not breaking another human being. Putting smiles on your students faces especially when they come to check their WAEC or SSCE results; that is what I call fulfillment.
What are some reforms you would like to bring on if given a chance to change things in the education sector?
To change things in Nigeria, I think you have to start from the parents. Every child comes into this world in a clean slate. It is whatever we build there that we meet. In those days, you can hardly see a parent going to a school to quarrel with the teachers rather they will add to the beating of their children if they hear any complain about them. But the reverse is the case now. 98% of private schools don’t use canes, and the bible says ‘spear the rod and spoil the child.’ So the children are at liberty to do whatever they want. Parents are not helping matters because many of them are never there, forgetting that all their hard work and efforts will be left behind for these same children you don’t have time to train. So, I think parents’ orientation must have to be changed first.
You have spoken so proudly of your husband; tell us one spectacular thing he did when he was wooing you?
Well, we both met at first bank, and I have always called him an awkward lover. He doesn’t belong to the group of people that will shout I love you, these and that. He is the kind that will not tell you lies. He walked up to me the first day I started work in first bank and said “I think I like you.” So we started from there.
What is your advice to those who want to be where you are today?
It is not a bed of roses but at the same time it is worth going into. We all cannot be waiting for jobs that are not there. So, you just have to take a risk, be committed and consistent.