Creating Communities of Wellbeing in Nigeria and Beyond

by Sadiat Onike-Azeez

Sadiat Onike-Azeez is an exemplary Global Mobilizer who speaks publicly on women’s issues in Nigeria and worldwide and shares Tostan’s transformative breakthrough methodology as a leader of several groups of religious leaders in Nigeria through the Nasrul-lahi-li Fathi Society of Nigeria (NASFAT), a Muslim prayer group with more than one million members worldwide. Her husband, Imam Onike Morufu Abdul-Azeez, is the Chief Missioner of NASFAT, and together they have created a new network of religious leaders to promote the wellbeing of women and girls. Their participation in trainings at the Tostan Training Center was made possible through a partnership with The Carter Center, based in the USA.

Here, Sadiat reflects on how the Tostan trainings have influenced her own movement building for women and girls in Nigeria.

Sadiat Onike speaking on the right to be free from all forms of violence, at the NASFAT Annual Women’s week in Lagos, Nigeria — October 2018

I am a lucky four-time participant in Tostan’s trainings at the Tostan Training Center (TTC)! Here’s what I’ve learned:

“Wellbeing” is a contented state of being happy, healthy and prosperous. A community of well-being is not a community where all needs are met; it is rather a community with a defined set of goals. With action plans, these goals can be met and then redefined for the future. The entire community is involved in this development and happy about it. Through a participatory approach at the TTC, Tostan shares about the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), which is geared toward supporting communities to define and work toward this group vision of a community of wellbeing. Everyone is involved in order to achieve a desired set of values for all. Tostan supports the community to identify for itself its strengths as well as its challenges, in order to work toward solving them.

Since my first participation in a Tostan training in 2015, I have led three other groups from my religious group, NASFAT. We are a religious-based organisation headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria, with one million members spread across 300 branches worldwide. These trainings have helped broaden our horizons to fully appreciate the alignment between human rights and Islam. This is important because there is a misconception that human rights are western and therefore have no correlation with Islam. The trainings have brought to light that Islam is human rights and human rights are Islam. This is due to the fact that Allah in His infinite mercy has protected the rights of his creatures in the Qur’an. Men, women, children, animals, and plants have been given their due rights and protection in life by the Creator as evidenced in the Qur’an.

Sadiat (right hand side in white) and fellow NASFAT members on the way to visit a partner community as part of the Tostan training seminar — 2018

Now, after my most recent training in August, I can speak from experience when I say that when participants go through the Tostan training, they feel awakened to start making positive changes in their communities. It has happened in Nigeria! It makes you see yourself as an agent of change not just within your small community, but the world as a whole. One person alone can influence positive changes in the world. The Tostan training inspired me and the NASFAT groups I lead to embark on projects such as a widows’ empowerment program. This program offers training, skills acquisition, and small entrepreneurial grants for Nigerian widows who are often poor and stigmatized because they are mistakenly believed to have caused their husband’s death. We are also starting other projects in a different part of Nigeria to promote girls’ education, reduce child labor, discourage female genital cutting, and empower and reintegrate former female prison detainees into society. All these activities are in a bid to ensure a community of wellbeing and dignity for all in Nigeria and beyond.

Fellow seminar participants carry human rights messages back to their work with women in Nigeria — 2018

At the Tostan Training Center, Tostan offers 10-day seminars in both English and French, as well as adapted seminars for special groups. Participants come from around the world to learn about the organization’s unique, human rights-based approach to community-led development, and share in the expertise of trainers who have extensive experience implementing the Tostan program in rural Africa. Thanks to visionary partnership with funders, Tostan is able to offer scholarships to participants from small organizations with limited resources, generally from developing countries. For more information and to apply for a seminar place, see the Tostan website.

Sadiat (center) receiving her training certificate at the TTC, with Tostan trainers Birima (left) and Dame (right), Tostan Founder Molly Melching (center left), and Laura from The Carter Center (center right) — August 2018