Yemisi Egunjobi is a writer, publisher and Fulbright Fellow. In this interview by OLAMIDE ENIOLA, she reveals her experience as a female entrepreneur in writing and publishing and her contribution to public enlightenment about COVID-19. Excerpts:
CAN you give brief background information about yourself?
I am the chairperson of Joycefitround (JFR) Publishers. I have 32 years of publishing experience – 18 years in Macmillan Nigeria Publishers, 10 years in Evans Brothers Nigeria Publishers, and four years as an entrepreneur. Aside from having taken oversight of over 5000 ideas to published forms as an employee, I have personally authored and co-authored over 60 published titles, many of which are recommended books in nursery and primary schools in many states of Nigeria. I am a three-time graduate of the University of Ibadan – B.A Language Arts; Post-Graduate Degree in Education (PGDE), Master in Communication Arts (MCA). I am a Fulbright Fellow of Hubert Horatio Humphrey Fellowship with interest in Children’s Education, Book Production and Leadership Communication at the University of Washington. I also studied Writing for Children at the University of Washington Extension, United States of America. I am an accomplished writer of children’s books. I write in English as well as in Yoruba, and a few times in French, producing the books to international standards. I write under three different names, two of which are pen names. Writing for children is my passion and ministry. I am a godly family woman, mother of adult children, and favoured grandmother.
As a writer and publisher, what has been your contribution to the global discourse on COVID-19?
Yeah, it’s been an opportunity to do what I know to do best – write and publish! We have produced a chart specifically for children. You need to see it. I have also written and produced a book for children on the virus – We Can Keep Safe – the text has detachable worksheets. The text is a reference material and so can be used by anybody but especially children. The worksheets are specifically targeted at children aged 5 and 8. As usual, the book is produced to a global standard.
What prompted you to make a storybook with worksheets?
Well, it’s not the first time I have done that. We have a number of storybooks that have activity books. Oh, I forgot to say, I started my work career being a clerical officer, and then as a university graduate, a teacher of English Language and Literature before starting off my publishing career. In fact, the history of my writing stories began when I was teaching.
Teachers as professionals or as parents and guardians must remind themselves constantly that storybooks are not just for comprehension of the particular lines therein but must provide engagement for the reader. It cannot achieve this if it is not appropriately put together to entertain and educate. Aside from also being a vehicle for enhancing readers’ vocabulary, storybooks are therapeutic. They provide bibliotherapy – a platform for healing. Education on coronavirus is a risk communication, and for the age targeted, every ‘edutainment’ required must be employed. This is the reason for having the book with detachable worksheets.
I wish we had all the time and space to explore the world of writing and literature! Nonetheless, can you highlight other ways you have been able to influence the Nigerian Society?
Well, Influence is all about using your platform to serve or change humanity wherever you are or let me put it in your word – society. Whatever you do or you don’t do makes an impact and so influences someone, and the multiplier effect comes on the society.
I used my platform as a teacher, writer, editor, publisher and a woman when I worked for other organizations, and now for myself to decide what is good as educational material for a target audience, and what can influence positively what people read. Of course, participating in training and talk programmes are my other strength, and I use them effectively. At the home and religious fronts, I do my best.
Now that you mentioned home front, as a wife, mother, and grandmother, how easy has it been coping with these roles?
I believe easy or difficult is a state of the mind. We all can do all things according to the will, grace and power in Christ Jesus. Having said that, whoever wants to build a house must first sit and calculate the cost. Recently, I contributed a chapter to a book, She Evolves, where I talked about managing different family relationships as a career woman. Of course, I admitted to some wrongdoings but the bottom line is women must create enough time for worthy relationships as well as seek the best support system where needed to help yield the desired results. I gave my best to my husband before he passed on in spite of my career history. He attested to the fact that he would marry me again if there was another life! My children still appreciate me till today in spite of the stern discipline I meted out to them in their growing years. Some of my grandchildren and I were together during the lockdown and one of them looked at me and said, ‘Best grandma!’ I was amused because whenever they were very naughty, I punished them. Nonetheless, we would read together, play and run around the compound whenever I was not busy with my office work.
Money is important. It makes a great impact but it’s not the greatest thing on its own. Family ties are equally important. Thus, balance is the key. We all must find the balance!
Accept my sympathy on the demise of your husband! Now, before and after his demise, how will you describe life?
Well, Jesus is Lord in every situation. Of course, I miss him but my schedule before and now has not changed significantly. In the book, She Evolves, I gave some hints on the perceptions of widowhood. Also, a few weeks ago, I saw this inscription, ‘Broken crayons still colour’. It made a deep impression on me. It captured my current situation. I have since started a writing project around that.
Let’s get back to the pandemic. What role can women play in combating it?
Women are embedded in wisdom, thoughtfulness, pragmatism and resilience. Thus, women have always played a vital role in family and national issues. The coronavirus pandemic requires education and care to combat it. Women are at the frontline of these two requirements whether at work or at home. 70 per cent or more of health and social workers are women. They are at work to give their service. Yet, some of them have school-age children at home as a result of the pandemic, and they must find a way to contain as well as educate them.
Some other women are not professional health care givers. They work from home for their various organisations. Yet some of their children do online schooling. They must combine the two services. This category confessed that working from home is as good as sleeping at work because there is just no break time. I experienced that by proxy at lockdown, and I attest to the weariness the combination causes. Also, when any member of the family gets sick, from the virus or any disease, women naturally become caregivers.
For some others, the pandemic makes one or both spouses lose their jobs. That’s tragic! However, usually, it’s the woman that’s left in the middle of the sea to swim against the tide!
When country leaders appreciate and come together to clap for frontline health workers, I appeal to them in my heart to thumb up for every woman all over the world too. Financial grants should also be granted to women groups to relieve them of the burden they bear.
Many businesses are folding up due to the pandemic. What is your experience and how have you been able to cope?
I logged on to a webinar recently and the consultant instructed us to read this, OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE! You are likely to read it the way I first read it but the consultant read it as ‘Opportunity is now here! I was amazed. I also had a discussion with a sister who opened my eye to a lay person who did a publishing project and made millions of Naira from it with little or no expertise in publishing. I decided no more gloom. No more frustration. My daughter has always advised I do things differently. Now I have since kept to my own coinage of the pandemic, ‘Every business must migrate or relocate to keep abreast of the new normal!’
What is your advice to fellow women?
Simple: Calm down. Count the cost. Be more intentional with your decisions. Acquire more skills. Have your own money. Respect yourself. Love yourself above all. Keep abreast of the new normal. Remain your best self.
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