It is not every day you meet a young lady in her thirties who has empowered over four thousand women as well as have over five hundred undergraduates call her mummy because she pays their school fees. But that is the life of Engineer Funmilayo Adekojo Waheed the lady behind Funmilayo Ayinke Humanity Foundation.
For someone who spends hundreds of millions to help people every year, it is curious there are no airs around her, she is as natural as they come, warm and unassuming. To her, ‘money is good, but useless when you don’t use it to add value to people’s lives’.
Having spent childhood and early adulthood in great depravity, it is easy for her to relate with the poor and needy, especially widows and children of widows and single parents. These are the people she set out to help. We met her at her Abuja office a few days ago to find out why she is spending so much on humanity and how she is going about the NGO that is gradually becoming talk of the town in Ogun State and among students all over the country. Excerpts
At what point did you start helping people, devoting resources to the needy?
I won’t deceive you, it has been long. Even as an undergraduate when I didn’t have, and I had to struggle to pay fees, I was always doing something. I recall one instance, while I was at Uniport, struggling to pay school fees, there was this woman whose daughter dropped out school because of 1,000 Naira. I paid the money and friends were looking at me and saying, ‘you sef’, na wa o, you cannot pay your fees yet you are taking care of someone else’s child. That was me. I recall another instance, I had this friend, whose room was opposite mine. I had paid school fees and it was few days to examination. She approached me, and said, Funmi, there is trouble, exams are here and I am yet to pay school fees. I had money, at least enough to feed myself for the remaining days in school. Well, it so happened that that same amount was also enough to pay her school fees. Of course, we paid the fees and had to live on garri all through the examination. We did it with joy. That was the type of life that I lived when I was in school. So after school, you could have imagined what I felt like when I had more than enough to help others.
So what really attracts you to helping people?
It is a passion. I love my job as an Engineer, a female Engineer at that, but I am beginning to take so much joy in the passion for helping for others, especially when you see people appreciate what you have done, old people, young people, people you never knew before, whose life you turn around by giving so little.
Does this have to do with your growing up?
[Countenance changes] Hmmmmm. I was raised by a single mother. We were raised by our mother. We lost our father at a tender age and our mother was a teacher. So you can only imagine what it felt like raising three children. I had to drop out of medical school because we could not afford the money to buy books and other things we needed. I lost two years in the process. Taking that decision was not easy for me and my mother. The day I informed my mother, I cried and cried. She also wept. But I made up my mind that I would do my best and ensure that even as a professional Engineer, I was successful. I also decided, deep within me that as long as live I will help others and ensure that no child has to go through what I went through because of their poor background.
With all the Courses you had taken in Medicine and Surgery, how was the transition to now read Engineering.
Hmmmm. You can ask that question again. It was never easy. But God gave me a guardian angel who saw me through. My knowledge of Mathematical Engineering was down since I was no longer taking courses in Mathematics as a Medical student, but he directed me to lecturers who helped me. I ended up coming out with a 2:1 in Mechanical Engineering. My guardian angel then ended up as my husband. Believe me, he was God sent and I cannot but tell you, if not for him, I wonder how I would have ended up. He has been my pillar of support in everything. He has been there for me every step of the way. In everything I do I see him as the God-sent hand, lifting me up and guiding me.
So how much have you expended on Funmilayo Ayinke Humanity Foundation since inception?
It is difficult for me to estimate. But I think it will be close to half a billion Naira. You can see how we operate. We don’t limit ourselves to once- in -a -year activities or school period activities. A lady needed baby things, she contacted me, I verified the need and send 150k to her, she sent the proof of receipt to our Whatsapp group page, everyone’s happy, life goes on. Others have special needs, they raise them and we take care of the needs. These are apart from school fees; things you need in school. Don’t forget, the people I am talking about here are children of single parents or widows who cannot afford to make ends meet. The tears of joy in their faces, the way they express themselves inspire me to do more. Only last December we were able to touch the lives of widows again in Abeokuta, Ogun State. We gave many grinding machines, other things to empower them and for some who needed cash, we also provided cash. We ended up giving everyone cash, one way or the other, bags of rice were also shared We touched over four thousand lives. Many still continued to come after what we did at the palace of Olowu of Owu in Ogun State and we have been helping them. We will continue to.
We started out never really caring about how many people we touched their lives, believe me we have done so much for many.
Have you been challenged by people about having political ambitions and maybe this is why you are doing all these?
Yea, I had a situation last December in which some women came to me that I should go and contest, and that they are ready, or bring someone out they will support. I laughed it off. That has never crossed my mind. I am not from Ogun and the large chunk of beneficiaries, the widows are from Ogun so there is no way I can set out to woo them for votes. I am just doing what God has put in my heart.
Given this large bill, how do you finance the giving you have been doing?
It’s God’s doing. Don’t forget I am an Engineer apart from being an academic, so nearly everything that comes in from our jobs are channeled into the philanthropic activities.
How does it feel, a female Mechanical Engineer, in man’s world. Do they discriminate against the female Engineers as we hear in some other professions?
No, not at all. They rather encourage us, they see us as their little sisters, the men in Engineering are so helpful. They are willing to help at any point in time. That’s why you see women aspiring to positions of leadership in COREN and others. They want the women to step out and lead while they stay at the background. The Engineering men are quite supportive. They are always there for us. I can boldly say that.