Mrs Diane Olatutu Odelola is an educationist and President, Mondiale Pour L’Education Pre-Scolaire (OMEP), Oyo State chapter, an international non-governmental organisation concerned with the development of the total child. She speaks on the activities of the organisation and her family in this interview by TOLUWANI OLAMITOKE.
What does your background look like?
My mum, Mrs. Doreen Odugbesan is from the Caribbean, Barbados precisely, while my dad was from Ijebu-Ode in Ogun State. We had a stable upbringing and my parents were very understanding of each other. The natural language in our home was English because my mother couldn’t speak Yoruba language. As a result of this, I’m not a fluent speaker of the Yoruba language.
Which of the two cultures were you exposed to?
I was exposed to both. I’ve been to the Caribbean and lived there and know their cuisine. I’m very conversant with their food and my husband actually enjoys them.
What do you love most about the Caribbean culture?
Their simplicity and the vivaciousness. Caribbeans are colourful, loving, lively and full of fun.
How was your mum able to cope with life here?
I really admire mum. We call her ‘Mama.’ I don’t know if I was to be in her shoes I would have been brave enough to be able to leave my family and follow a man half way across the world to a place I’ve learnt of but not seen. She left the Caribbean for Africa and Nigeria precisely. I believe she adjusted well, though there were things she found strange.
What were the things she learnt to do?
She learnt to wear the Nigerian attire, but her headgear is still being tied for her.
What did her dishes look like?
She cooks Nigerian dishes but with the Caribbean flair.
How do you mean?
If she is going to cook efo (vegetable), she would cut onions, pepper, but she would not use ground pepper. She would also put a lot of smoked fish. She wouldn’t add meat or ponmo (cow skin) and make the vegetable dry, that is with no sauce.
What foods do we share in common?
Caribbeans also have gari among other things which they sometimes make into ‘ Cassava Pone’. This is cassava and ground coconut mixed together and baked in the oven. It comes out like a pudding. Coconuts are made into several delicacies.
In what ways did your mother especially prepare you for marriage?
She’s very hospitable. I watched her. She doesn’t talk a lot in terms of giving instruction, and so you are forced to model her- you imbibe her lifestyle. She’s a strong and hardworking woman. She founded this school in 1976 and I later joined her.
What did you admire most about your parents’ relationship?
My parents were friends. Dad really doted on mum. He was always a gentleman. Even with me — he loved buying me shoes. He actually chose my wedding shoes and materials.
What was the initial impression your parents had of your husband?
We practically grew up together. They knew him from his youth.
What attracted you to your spouse?
We were already through with university studies, we were both working in different places and had also had our own Damascus experiences with God (become born-again). We were both convinced after praying that God meant us for each other, so we went along with Him.
What has been your marital experience?
To tell you the truth, my relationship with my husband and our marriage is a journey, time of discovery for each other. We see marriage as a team work and have been very supportive of each other and each other’s dream.
How old is your marriage?
From your experience, what will you say is making your marriage work?
Friendship is what makes our marriage work — your desire for the other to enjoy his or her life and succeed.
Can you please introduce your spouse?
He’s Tunji Odelola from Osun State. He’s a pharmacist by profession but also a logistician. He works in Logistic and Supply Chain Management.
In contemporary times, many marriages hit the rock even before they have even really started, do you think getting married is worth the while?
Somebody said that marriage is the only institution that gives a certificate before you take the course. People really have to understand what they are getting into, they really have to understand the institution before going into it or making commitment to their partner. For me, we built a friendship first before talking about any other thing. Our relationship was firstly platonic and we discussed about our goals and life generally.
As an educationist, whose responsibility is it to teach a child sex education?
Ideally it should be the parents. They are children’s first teachers. Unfortunately, many are uncomfortable with this issue and don’t know what to say and how to tell the children. They also need to be informed and educated, but one of the problems today is that these parents are not there for their children because they are distracted with their responsibilities due to their quest to make ends meet. These children are left in the hands of their househelps and drivers who sometimes abuse them and warn or threaten them not to tell anyone. Teachers in school should be next. They should know or recognise the symptoms if a child has been abused.
Rape and sexual harassment have been on the increase in recent times; some people attribute this to indecent dressing, what is your take on this?
As a Christian, I would not dress in a provocative way, but just because a person is dressed in a provocative way doesn’t give anybody the right to rape her. A person who does so is a criminal. The right of an individual, either male or female, should be protected by the law. Rape is a deliberate action and anyone who does it should be made to face the full wrath of the law.
Of what relevance is OMEP to the Nigerian society?
OMEP is an international non-governmental and non-profit organisation concerned with all aspects of early childhood education. It was established in Europe in 1948 after the devastation of the Second World War and geared towards the welfare of vulnerable children that were left as orphans, homeless and destitute after the war. Nigeria attended the World Assembly and Conference in 1983 and was accepted as a bona fide member country in 1985 through the joint efforts of Late Mama Ibiyemi Bright and Mama Bilewu (Kaduna). OMEP was inaugurated in Ibadan in 1986 by Mrs Christie Ade-Ajayi and was embraced warmly by members of the university community.
Can you shed light on your vision?
OMEP’s aim is to share information concerning early childhood education worldwide and initiate action to benefit young children in all countries. It seeks to assist in raising the total child by educating society about the fact that the ages of 0-8 are the most important and formative years of a child’s life which can either make or mar the child. Nigeria was able to connect with the world vision of OMEP because of our desire to improve the life of the Nigerian child. This awareness has been gaining ground rapidly as presently, various universities such as University of Lagos, University of Ibadan and also Obafemi Awolowo University, Kwara State University and Tai Solarin University, all provide degrees in Early Childhood Education and not simply courses.
What do your activities entail?
We hold regular annual workshops and seminars for early childhood educators and caregivers who work directly with the children and share current issues in ECE with them which they need to know on how to care for children between the ages of 0 and 8. In Nigeria, we assumed before now that natural maternal instincts were sufficient to care for children but current research in both medicine and education reveals that it’s more than this. We hold a children’s rally every year on the Wednesday before Children’s Day (May 27), we choose different themes for each year. We are presently gathering items for victims of terrorism at the camps for Internally Displaced Persons in the northern part of the country. We are also involved in universal projects such as “The Wash Project” in which children all over the world are taught about the importance of water and the importance of washing hands.
What new things do you plan to introduce during your tenure?
I want to continue with the goals of the last executive and do what can be considered sustainable which will impact the lives of children through their teachers. So we are focusing on publications – making reference and resource materials available to teachers which they can use to teach their pupils in the classroom. Textbooks are applicable but we also need more creative curriculum and activities that are developmentally appropriate and which will bring in the richness of our culture.
What does your weekend look like?
Since I work hard during the week, I spend my weekend quietly. I’m usually at home.
Do you consider yourself sociable?
I think so, but I’m not a socialite.