By CHARLES KUMOLU
UK-based Dr. Chichi Menakaya, reflects on how being the daughter of a former Minister of Health, Dr. Tim Menakaya and a magistrate, the late Mrs. Ann Menakaya challenged her to be the best. She is the Founder and Creative Designer of Okwuís_Frocentric, a luxury African inspired fashion line with 100 percent of its profits used to empower survivors of domestic violence via their sister non-profit organisation, Okwuí Mask Scheme in the United Kingdom and Nigeria. In the United Kingdom, she motivates survivors who are mainly refugees by rebuilding their confidence and journey with her ” Kickstart With Okwuí.” In Nigeria, her ” Foster A Woman Award” is a business empowerment scheme targeted at grassroots survivors to help them achieve financial freedom. As part of her empowerment scheme in Africa, Menakaya involves small businesses in every part of the production chain of the fashion brand.
Self, career path:
On a beautiful day in June, my mother, a Chief Magistrate, the late Mrs. Ann Menakaya was blessed with a daughter. She called me Chinyelu Uchechukwu, meaning God has given me a child and it is God’s will. She told me that I was sent to her by God. I cannot talk about myself without talking about her since she set the stage to the path that today has become my life. My father is Dr Tim Menakaya, a former Minister of Health. His achievements and my mummy’s foundation meant I was given a bar so high from birth to scale. Both my parents told us as children that we must achieve more than they had achieved. I attended the College of Medicine University of Ibadan. I currently work as a Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon in London.
Dr. Chichi Menakaya,
Strength of a lion
My mother told me I had the strength of a lion and I can achieve anything I set my mind on. That is the message I want to give to every girl and woman in Africa. We are strong, determined, bold, unshakeable and unbreakable. We must combat this grievous crime that wants to destroy our existence. I am so proud to be an African woman especially a Nigerian Woman. When I think of the African woman, I think of the great women who gave birth to me and brought me up. I was raised by a strong woman. That is my African woman and that is the woman I want every girl child and woman to become.
My million ideas
As long as I can remember, there was this voice in the background that told me that I can be whoever I want to be. That voice told me that the sky was too low to be my limit and that tough times never last but tough people do. That was my mother’s voice and till date, that voice guides my path. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I think of what mummy would do, I keep going. Moreover, she raised three children on her own and she set the stage for my passions. She is like a fire that ignites my passion. I used to sit down and discuss my million ideas and she would create a path to achieving them with me. These days I don’t hear her voice, her words still guide me.
Domestic crime at 10
I have a passion for human rights and gender equality and as far back as my days in Ibadan, I believed every individual deserves only to be loved in all relationships. My passion to see an end to a grievous crime I first experienced at age 10 when we lost a family friend to domestic violence and my experience over the years meeting different survivors, led to the founding of Okwuí Mask Scheme. It is a non-profit organisation that rebuilds survivors through motivational events, starter packs, and financial empowerment schemes.
Starve to wear clothes
I have always loved fashion and my friends would joke on how I will starve to wear clothes. I would joke and ask them to blame my mother. I could remember that her fashion sense always set the world talking and in my eyes as a child she was eponymous to fashion. Working with grassroots survivors of domestic violence and seeing their skills in addition to losing my mother in 2016, led me into designing fashion wears in order to raise funds to empower more survivors.
Watching my mum
I started designing when I was 12 while watching my mum, a legal luminary, recreate her clothes made by top Nigerian designers before she wore them. I would sit on her Singer machine and create doll dresses. Drawing was my passion at that time. Over the years, I have always sat with designers and dressmakers to create pieces that I wear. Okwuí Mask Scheme originated from my best friend Carole Obiora-Achebe’s remarks at the university. She told me I always loved to make people happy by advising them on their relationship problems. At that time we started small informal sessions with friends around our bed. In 2015, in the UK, a colleague asked why I couldn’t help others like I had helped her through dealing with demons of domestic violence. That was what set that stage. Having worked with so many educated and financially free survivors, I began to worry about grassroots women in Nigeria who survive this crime.We later launched a scheme called Foster A Woman Award. When we found that most of these women were skill-based artisans, we decided to bring some of their products to the global market. I reinvented my designing to now design for the public and get survivors to embrace small businesses by being part of our supply chain.
Become the best
Okwuís Frocentric Fashion Label is actually a child of sorts of Okwuí Mask Scheme. Okwuí is my mother’s name. Okwuchukwu means the word of God. We believe that victims are too afraid to seek help and wear a mask so no one can see their pain. In my opinion, these people are not victims but survivors and we want them to bring the word out of the mask since all they asked for was to be loved. They deserve only the best. Our charity is about rebuilding and helping people become the best they were born to achieve. Anything people set their mind on, we help them achieve it.
Surgeon and passions
We have so much time every day. My mother told me that I have to plan to succeed and no man is an island. I have a great team that ensures that time pressures do not affect me since we all share the same passion. One needs a winning team to make things work. Additionally, these passions are easy to combine since the skills I have as a surgeon are translated to my passion of designing and human rights. As a surgeon, I have a passion to save and rebuild patients. Designing is similar, I want to create something beautiful that colours not just my life but the life of whoever wears the design and more importantly provides funds to empower survivors and give them a voice.
When I lost my mother
I started an organisation, Annomo Health when I lost my mum because I realised how daunting health issues can be for families at extremely difficult times. I had hoped for a consultant to get me a second opinion while I concentrated on looking after my mother. Annomo Health is a premium healthcare concierge that connects patients to top medical specialist across the globe. This organisation was founded to help patients concentrate on getting better while we worry about ensuring they have the best care that is available within their budgets. We currently work with top specialists in the United Kingdom, USA, UAE, and India.
Our “Kickstart with Okwui” programme was founded when a female nurse in the UK told me she was unable to afford tissue paper because of financial crisis resulting from domestic violence. It got me thinking of survivors who are refugees across the UK who flee with only the clothes on them. Our kickstart packs which provide motivational signposts and toiletries have been supplied to refugees for both male and female survivors all over the UK. Till date, over 500 packs have been distributed. We have also received donations to make these packs a reality.
We also run ” Amour Meritee” – motivational afternoons geared at starting the journey of rebuilding for survivors.
This event attracts doctors, lawyers, psychologist and survivors to start the journey of rebuilding. During this event, survivors unburden their minds in the presence of other survivors and are exposed to professional help too. We hope to take this to the refuges in 2019. Our fashion line “Okwuís_Frocentric” creates empowering pieces that make any individual walk tall. The profits go towards building new businesses. So far we have supported local craftsmen and women, started kiosks shops for some women and trained young women in make-up. Although we have achieved some things, a lot still needs to be done.
I love success stories
Growing up as a child, I was raised by my mother, who from the age of 12 raised my two siblings and me on her own. In her own little way as a lawyer, she offered support to women in South Eastern Nigeria experiencing marital problems. Her experience motivated me to tow this path. One of my role models is my mother. If I can be half the woman she was, I would be happy. I also admire Oprah Winfrey, she came from nothing and made a huge success. I love success stories. What motivates you? The quest to stop this grievous crime which only happens because an individual asked to be loved, motivated me into what I am doing. I am urging women to run, crawl, jog, skip to their dreams. Start today because you only have one life and your best is now.