Raquel Daniel is an educator, author and social entrepreneur who works in marginalized communities in Nigeria focusing on education, sexual and reproductive health and community mobilization. Through Beyond the Classroom Foundation, she works closely with remote villages and the internally displaced communities providing free menstrual health education with free sanitary pads to those who can’t afford it.
She is also author of three books and a co-founder of a volunteer platform called Nzuriaiki. She takes us on an emotional journey down her growth path sharing how she broke out of lack and is now leading campaigns to improve the lives of women and girls in the country.
At the beginning of my career, my vision for the future was to build free schools in remote communities with trained and well-paid teachers who have the resources they need to do their jobs. This is because I want children who can’t afford to go to school to have a chance at basic education. I grew up being a very optimistic person but I never saw myself working as a development practitioner. I studied Education in school specifically because I wanted to be a teacher and a school owner. Working with children in public schools and enrolling displaced children back to school doesn’t seem far from what I always wanted to do and I believe it only gives me the opportunity to do more and still achieve my vision of building schools in remote communities later on.
My Driving Force
My late father was and still is a huge driving force for me. Growing up, anytime I was scared or unsure of something, he would say to me “if there’s anyone I believe can do this, it is you”. He never played down on my abilities or treated me like I was less than my brothers. That gave me a lot of confidence in myself. So when I started off my career and even while in university, I constantly heard his voice reassuring me that if I could break the cycle in our family and go past high school, something no one has ever done, that I would break our family free from poverty. My late father made me see the need to do things no one has ever done in my family, thereby paving the way for others behind me, has always been the driving force in my career.
The first time I sat in a classroom in the University of Lagos as a student is one milestone that has really stuck with me. I recall crying at the back of the class because I knew deep down that I had started a journey that would change the trajectory of my life and my family’s.
Another memorable milestone was the day I first stepped outside the shores of this country. It was a road trip to Ghana and when we passed the Benin Republic border, I took a deep breath and said out loud “this is the first of my many trips abroad by land and by air”.
A final one I would share is my graduation from University of Lagos. I wept for hours because my dad wasn’t there to see his baby girl finally bag a degree and thus, breaking that cycle in our family. These three and so many have stayed with me. I hope to one day share it with my children.
I’ve picked many lessons along the way and some, my mentors taught me. The first that comes to mind is learning that it is absolutely okay to start small even if I have big dreams. Sometimes, we are too focused on the big dream and turn down every opportunity to start small. It could be an opportunity to volunteer or intern at a company or take up a lower position and grow our way up.
The second is that relationships are key. I have heard this a lot from my mentors but it is more important than most people give it credit. What I have learned with relationships is that one can actually close doors nicely without shutting them. We might get into disagreements with others in our career journeys but we shouldn’t be quick to write them off.
On Women Empowerment
Each time I get the opportunity to speak to young women and girls, I always tell them; do not be afraid to step out, and take the lead.
As someone who grew up in a family where I wasn’t treated like a ‘girl’, I found it strange getting to boarding school and being told by a teacher that I talked too much and that my “sharp mouth” wasn’t “girly”. I saw a lot of girls who were outspoken, just like me and wanted to be made deputy class prefects because the boys are usually the class prefects and they did nothing.
At that age, I knew it was a clear show of a culture of dominance which needed to be broken. I recall speaking out in my second year of Junior High School, asking that the position be contested openly instead of nominated. The school leadership looked into it and it was changed. The term after, I contested for the position of class prefect and won. I believe strongly that women can be exceptional leaders if given the opportunity. Which is why I am passionate about creating a level playing ground for women, because when we do, it activates the creativity and power in us.
Creating Equal Opportunities
Through my work, I always create opportunities for women and girls to participate, allowing them to showcase their potential and also lead. For example, in the internally displaced person’s communities and remote villages where we work, we ensure the women leaders are involved in the stakeholders’ conversations we have with their leaders. It is funny because we are usually told the women do not need to join these meetings. I might not have the power to create EQUAL opportunities for women to thrive because honestly, that is the vision. But I do my best to include women and allow them to activate their powers.
Since my early years, people have always noticed that I bring life to many ideas. It was so amazing that when anyone had a sketchy idea, they had conversations with me and almost immediately, it became a full-fleshed profitable idea. However, I never activated the commercial part of this gift in me. As a matter of fact, I spent hours validating and creating ideas with people and did not get paid until someone brought to my notice how unique my gift is. So right now, helping you to bring life to your ideas is now a business for me, and I believe it is actually The Spark for me. Although this gift came with a lot of challenges and seeming hate from colleagues, I always reminded myself of a statement my dad always said casually that, “God created a table in the presence of your enemies. So it’s your table in their presence, but it’s your choice if you want to eat at your table or not”.
Everyone is born with a spark. That spark is the one thing that makes us unique and stands us out from the crowd. To every girl and woman aspiring to find her spark, I would say, remember that regardless of your background, ethnicity or race, your spark will shine bright if you can find it and live it. When you do find it, don’t hide it due to fear or any insecurity, use it and allow yourself to be a blessing to this world.
Raquel Daniel is an educator, author and social entrepreneur who works in marginalized communities in Nigeria focusing on education, sexual and reproductive health and community mobilization. Through Beyond the Classroom Foundation, she works closely with remote villages and internally displaced communities providing free menstrual health education with free sanitary pads to those who can’t afford it. Through her platform, Nzuriaiki, she has been able to build a system that makes volunteering opportunities easy and accessible to young people.