Barrier Breaker of the Month of March 2020
The Barrier Breaker of the month of March is….
Miss Esther Michael Chidinma Emeh. She is a gospel singer, a Communications and Marketing Strategist, a Social Entrepreneur and the Brand Manager for United Bank of Africa Sierra Leone. She also founded an organisation called Music for Girls Initiatives Africa, that uses Arts to Empower and strengthen girls just to give them a voice. She is originally from Nigeria, lived in the Gambia (that’s where we met) but she currently resides in Sierra Leone, West Africa.
Jois: Wow, Esther, you wear so many hats. That’s the strength and power of a woman. Oh my God!
Jois: That’s awesome. Well Done!
Esther: Thank You
Jois: How did the idea of the Music for Girls’ Initiative Africa come about?
Esther: I studied music and started teaching at a music school here (Sierra Leone). I was teaching younger girls. I met a particular girl who had a good voice and felt I could teach more girls to sing, but I didn’t do anything about the idea or the desire to teach girls or have a girl group until 2014 when Sierra Leone had the outbreak of Ebola and we had lots of girls stay at home. I mean everyone was home, no school, just a few offices were running. In that year between 2014 and 2015 we recorded the highest teenage pregnancy.
Esther: Yes! So I started thinking again. I wanted to do something with girls. Initially it was not about helping them see their power or anything like that. It was about how I could actively get them involved. Many times when you have a vision it’s not very clear.
Jois: Yeaaa that’s true
Esther: I discovered that the visions that you get or that God gives you emanates from something within you, something you might have experienced or have seen.
Esther: I remembered when I was growing up, I was very shy, very timid, very unfair to myself. I didn’t feel anything much but I just knew I had a talent to sing. Even that I was not too sure but along the way I knew that music was the only thing I could do. I could only sing; so I had a conversation with my creator and we made some deals.
Jois: Lol. Yeah
Esther: I got to singing and that was how I built my confidence.
Esther: Since I could not do anything but sing, I started the initiative by engaging girls who were in and out of school. What really pushed me or inspired me to, was the rate at which girls were getting pregnant and the continuous cycle of poverty. I mean imagine having over 2,000 teenage girls all pregnant; who is going to take care of all those children. The standard of living is so poor and so low too. That’s what inspired me to form initiatives for girls and for the past four to five years now, our goal has not changed. Our goal remains true to help girls find their purpose and live a purpose driven life.
Jois: Oh that’s good! My follow-up question is, why just girls and not girls and boys?
Esther: Statistics will tell you that we have more girls as compared to boys, more females are being born than males. Statistics have shown that when there is an unrest in any environment, women and children are most vulnerable; Statics also show you that the amount of girls or women that have been abused on a daily basis; the subjective patrilocal system that has run through generation to generations, continues to suppress the voice and stress the capabilities of women that they start to doubt themselves, who they are, their ability to be more than just a wife or a mother; This is why I chose girls really for me.
Jois: The reason why I asked that question is because I feel that there is a lot of girls/women empowerment which is good. I am for girls/women empowerment but I feel like guys have been left out because now we are training the girls, getting them ready for the future and whatever positions they might be holding. Most have been trained to be great wives but then most guys are not trained to be great husbands and now there are broken homes because some of these men do not even know how to go about it and because they can’t, some of them result to different kinds of abuse. And now girls/women have become so much empowered. That’s why I was asking. Why just girls?
Esther: Oh yea! I get it I also think we need better fathers.
Esther: We need more responsible men
Jois: That’s true.
Esther: Again not all of us are called to everything, some of us are called to specific areas of focus and I have to just focus on that.
Jois: You’re right
Esther: Again you will agree with me that women are better at shaping the minds of people more than men, I mean we’ve heard stories of women who made men become who they are today and it’s always seen over and over again repeatedly. I think women are more accountable.
Jois: Right that’s true
Esther: With what they do they are more careful. It’s just the way they are fashioned. It’s an interesting thing; it’s the way they are wired to care more and to be more concerned. I think if women understand and are conscious of the power they posses they will be able to influence things in a very positive way. You hear people say very often, for example in creole (Sierra Leonean Language) they say ‘ouman na en get married os’ it’s not entirely true but it is true; because if a woman decides that she wants to have a home with peace there will be peace in that home.
Esther: If she decides to say ‘you know what I’m tired of this marriage I just want out’ there will be lots of trouble in that home. We have the power to blow cold and hot at the same time. It’s a blessing; I think we are divinely shaped and designed and I don’t want anyone to change it. Most times, we are very gullible. Any man can come and lie to you right there and before you realize it, its all over. We need to protect the weaker vessels I mean we are not weaker vessels but the truth is I cannot fight a man fist to fist, I will struggle, because men are wired to be more muscular, to be more stronger; because they are supposed to be protectors of us.
Jois: Yea. But internally we are more stronger than they are emotionally.
Esther: Emotionally that’s what I am saying; I will be honest with you I don’t know how that is determined that we are more emotionally stronger than men. I am yet to see how that is measured because the truth is as human beings we have very similar capabilities. It depends on how you put them to play. The strengths that you also have depends on how much you believe that you have those strengths and abilities and that’s how you relay them or put them into play. So I mean those who want to focus on boys should focus on boys. I think we should not leave them behind definitely I agree with you but I mean this is my own calling.
Jois: Everybody has their own lane.
Esther: Again you have to be careful because some people run all these things because they think there is money to be earned and they are so wrong because if you are not driven by passion you are going to give up along the way.
Jois: That’s true
Esther: What’s important is that I have a goal and a vision that has been planted in my heart and I will not stop until every girl that I come across is reminded of how powerful she is and is equipped to reach her full potential.
Jois: You said earlier that women are stronger, powerful especially in any situation that they find themselves, they are much stronger in those areas. At home, in the society, etc they are more responsible. I feel that women that have sons should take care of that son like someone who is going to be a future husband or a future leader somewhere. Train that child because you have a vision for those children not just because they are boys or young men therefore, I am going to leave you to go and do anything you want. NO! Let them wash dishes , let them wash their clothes, don’t give it to their sisters or give it to someone else to do. They are not eggs that you have to be carrying them carefully; train them as well because they are going to be someone else’s husband. Just as you the woman want a great husband, so you should also train your sons to be better husbands or better leaders I think that is very important.
Jois: That is so true. So with the case(s) of pregnant girls how do you get to advise them to stay away from sex or get prevention? When most girls are young, especially as a teenager, you are all fired up and want a guy. Some people have this belief ‘if I don’t have a man I don’t have anything’ how do you encourage those people?
Esther: Lol. That’s very funny! You know it’s very interesting; When I was younger in my time, we were never driven by wanting to have a boyfriend.
Jois: Lol. That’s because of the kind of parents that we had oooo. Because if our parents catch you, you are dead. Lol.
Esther: Lol. Yeah. That played a huge role, and guess what? I also understand that kids don’t learn from what you say they learn from what you do.
Jois: That’s true.
Esther: So how I teach is how I live my life basically. They see me. People see you and they know you. They say I want to be like Aunty Esther; Aunty Esther is hard working, Aunty Esther is pushful; Aunty Esther is kind you know. Just my life. I tell people your life is a message, not what you say. Because as much as you may say, People also look at what you do.
Jois: Homes are an example too. If you don’t set a very good example at home they are not going to be a good example out there to anybody.
Esther: Exactly! For my girls some I know are probably sexually active. I tell them what to do. We have health clinics dedicated to women here (in Sierra Leone) we send them there for check-ups. Even if your daughter is not sexually active, there are so many diseases out there. God is the one protecting us from them but we also have to do our own bit. For girls who are sexually active we have sexual reproductive health lectures and teachings. Those who are not yet, we tell them to have a focus, a goal, a dream and drive it. Just keep your mind occupied with your future and the greatness that you embody. Again many times we think there is time. I can’t believe I am in my thirties already. I can clearly remember when I was ten for Christ sake.
Jois: Lol. Yes
Esther: Twenty years down the line. It’s unbelievable it’s already gone past 21 years.
Jois: You don’t want to live in regret
Esther: No! Totally not but I am just saying that time moves so fast and for whatever you do there are repercussions. So I encourage them to study hard. Get all you can get now that you are young, this is the best time to do all the stress because by the time you get to 35, 40, 45 you get tired and with what you make for a living in this continent Africa, it’s so hard to get good food, to eat healthy, it is so expensive. We are just basically hanging on a rope by the mercies and grace of God that’s why people go to church more than they go to work.
Jois: Because they are depending on God
Esther: I mean we should depend on God yes but we should use wisdom in doing some of these things. We cannot be praying, praying, praying, God give me this.
Jois: And no action
Jois: That is actually one of the reasons for my page Barrier Breakers Corner because I keep seeing people praying and praying. I was just telling one of my friends recently that if the number of people that go to church, would just do what most of the good preachers have been saying/preaching we should all be millionaires. Because other people pay so much money to hear some of these preachers speak and they go and act on those things but some people will go to church, hear the word that will come for that day and will not even act on that word. If only we will just act and not sit down and be praying and praying waiting for God. God is probably waiting on us.
Esther: Jois do you now that for every section in the bible there is a different message?
Esther: Now when we talk about listening to the word of God and acting upon it, it depends on the angle. The Bible says, seek ye first the Kingdom of God. Jesus says if a man believes with his heart and confesses with his mouth, he is a child of God who has received power to dominate and have dominion and who can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. What other message do you want to hear again? Really! When everything has been said, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, whosoever believes in Him will have everlasting life.
Esther: So as soon as you believe you have Christ, you have eternal life. Who is Jesus? What personalities did he have? One that stands out is His Love, He gave Love, He was giving, He was selfless.
Esther: How many children of God or people who go to church, really have love for one and other?
Esther: I don’t think it is going to church and shouting that opens the door. The Bible also says there is time for everything, season for everything. In this world we are living now we are not living in the days of the Bible. We cannot live in the days of Jesus when you are in the days of Trump. You get what I am saying? That is why the God factor is needed for wisdom.
Jois: Yea. For wisdom
Esther: For wisdom; we see that Solomon asked for wisdom and was the richest man but many Christians ask God for money. I say God give me wisdom like you gave Solomon
Jois: That’s the same prayer I pray
Esther: When you have wisdom you have all the answers and then, you just wait for the season for all those answers to manifest.
Esther: Not by sitting down praying and clapping your hands; let my enemies die, as far as I am concerned they do not exist.
Jois: Exactly when you pray for your enemies to die, in whose presence will the table be set.
Esther: When you understand that the only enemy that exist is yourself you will stop praying that prayer.
Esther: Coming back to my work as a social entrepreneur I have gone through a lot of phases in my life to get here and God has helped me to learn so much. I just feel like the wisdom that I have gathered over the years, I want to pour out to other people. Because what makes you legendary or what makes you someone who really truly lived is the amount of wealth of knowledge you leave behind and the impact you are able to make in the lives of others. Anyone who goes to the grave with his knowledge fails entirely. My goal is to see how in my own big or small way make the world a better place. Touching one life at a time. If I touch one girl, she touches another girl, that girl touches another girl and it continues, before you know it we have touched a million girls.
Jois: Yeah, That’s true.
Esther: So it’s not how fast, it’s how well. I just believe that love is the greatest factor and in whatever we do let us try as much as possible to be like Jesus and love people genuinely and help them to become the best version of themselves. Like Oprah will say; ‘We all as human beings desire to reach our fullest realest truest expression of ourselves’, and I want to help other young girls and even young boys and even people who I come across, realize the truest greatest expressions of themselves.
Jois: That is awesome. There is a part in the Bible that says: The eyes of our heart will be enlightened and I was saying this about David, how did David know to just use a stone to kill Goliath. He had been killing lions and bears, tearing them apart with his hands. How come when he came to Goliath he didn’t use his hands, but he used just a stone? Because the eyes of his heart was enlightened. And if people will just seek the face of God and ask that the eyes of their heart be enlightened, There are so many things they can do, there are so many changes that will take place that they themselves will not know how it came about. Instead of them praying and praying and not even doing anything about it.
Jois: So how do you get girls to speak out when they have cases of being abused or raped or pregnant? How do you get them to speak?
Esther: Over time I have understood that when you show somebody some amount of love, concern and care, what you build is trust. So I make them understand that I am concerned about their lives and I am involved and they trust you because they know you care. That’s how I get them to open up or speak up. I am not even the only one running the organisation. I have coordinators’ and every girl has a particular coordinator she feels comfortable with but we all use the same methodology.
Jois: Oh that’s good
Esther: We show them enough love and care. Girls come to our safe space every Saturday. Over thirty girls come. Why do they keep coming? There is something and that’s what they don’t get in school. They don’t teach them how to be better responsible people in society. All they teach them is Math and English which they sometimes fail.
Jois: Can they even talk to those teachers? Some of the teachers will even be shouting on them saying ‘I am going to tell your mum what you told me’. The trust is not even there to tell their teacher(s) anything.
Esther: Yeah. So we build a relationship with love, concern, care and trust.
Jois: Like you said if you are going after the money, example, some teachers will be like ‘they are not paying me for this oh, why am I doing it? But when you have that passion and love, you will go all out because money is no longer your drive.
Esther: Yeah. So that’s it.
Jois: So girls that are bold enough to say what’s going on do you have a protection for them when they speak out.
Esther: We work with other organisations. What we do is to prevent it; we don’t handle all that work. When we have cases we hand them to those who can handle that. Because as an organisation it’s important that you don’t stretch yourself thin, you have to have a goal and an objective and focus on that. Along the way we’ve had girls who are teenage mums and there are some cases you want to pursue but family steps in. We try not to be too involved in that; we take it to those whose specialty is to handle such cases but what we do is empower their minds, build them up and help them in such a way that they don’t make the same mistakes but even if they do, we are still there for them.
Jois: Awwwww, that’s awesome.
Esther: But issues like that we take it up with the right bodies and authorities and we leave them to handle it and of course, the police as well.
Jois: From what we’ve been talking about, I see that Music for Girls is not just about music but you also mentor, hold events, etc.
Esther: Oh No, No. Music is a very powerful tool in which you can use in disseminating information, changing the mind set of people, rebranding, etc. Music is language without borders.
Esther: I told you that I use to be very shy and have low self-esteem and singing was my way out and I just thought if it worked for me it can work for every girl too. We don’t just do music, we do drama ,creative arts, everything that engages their mind in a very structured and intriguing way, it’s what we use in reaching them and empowering them. Some girls love stories, some girls love to dance some girls love to sing.
Jois: That’s actually therapeutic.
Esther: Oh yeah it is. As we do this we help them to tell their stories and we help them to understand the issues other girls face. Because not all the girls that come to us have been abused, No. Not all of them are. We also have girls that are privileged but we treat them alike and give them the same power and mental capacity.
Jois: Have you seen any differences or results?
Esther: Yeah, Of course. We are working on telling the stories of some of our girls , their before and after. And it’s not a heresy, it’s something you need to come and experience yourself. Come to our safe place and just ask our girls what they hope to be, what their dreams are? Or who they see themselves as? You just come and ask them. You will be amazed. I have some partners who came from the States interviewing the girls and they were in tears because there is so much poverty around that you will not expect anyone to dream beyond just rice and cassava leaves. But these girls have big dreams and they believe themselves. That’s a factor for me that they are able to see their dreams and see themselves been capacitated to live those dreams.
Jois: That’s really amazing to see lives being transformed through what you are doing, it’s really amazing.
Jois: So what message do you have for people that desire to break barriers but feel there is no way out? What message do you have for people like that?
Esther: Well when you feel there is no way out that’s when there is a way. I mean I have gone through several stages of my life and I have gone through a lot of challenges and at this stage I am very excited about those challenges I went through because they have been instrumental in making me who I am today. It sounds like a cliché but it is what it is.
Esther: I want you to just know that you are your biggest fear and you are your limit. Nobody can stop you except you and if you have a dream, get set, go. Do not wait for when you have everything that you need No! You take one step at a time and then the picture gets clearer.
Esther: There is no one in this world who will tell me that once they had an idea they understood everything about it. It keeps getting bigger. So if you wait to have a complete total picture of that goal or dream, you will never live it. So wake up, get up, get a book and write all your ideas down and one at time have a plan with a time line and work at each one of them and forgive yourself and fail and fail again and fail again and learn from those prognosis. Get hurt and heal and forgive and love and just be happy with who you are.
Esther: For me gratitude is everything. You might not be where you wanna be today but certainly you are not where you were yesterday and that’s a lot to be thankful for. My Bishop was saying; Bishop Mike Obot; There is a cycle of miracles, what brings that is thanksgiving and gratitude because God is a God of gratitude I’d say. The more you are thankful to Him, the more you appreciate Him, the more He does more for you and your miracles never stop . There is no time to complain my brother, my sister there is no excuse. You have none. Are you alive? Can you breathe? Can you hear me? Well that’s the queue right there that you should start. START ALREADY!
Jois: START ALREADY! Yeah. I keep saying that there are so many people dependent on you that if you do not get up to do that thing, you are delaying their own destiny. People are dependent on you that you know or most times do not even know about.
Esther: Of Course.
Jois: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I am super grateful. Thank You.
Esther: You’re Welcome. Thank you too.
Jois: Kindly click or subscribe on Esther’s You Tube channel @Estar Mykel to listen to and watch some of her amazing songs as well as view some the work she does with Music for Girls Initiative Africa.