This article was published by the Great British Mag content team on 16 March 2022
Lovelyn Chiamaka Obiakor wasn’t even meant to get an education never mind travel to the UK to study, but she beat all odds when she secured the prestigious Eira Francis Davies scholarship, awarded to females from developing countries, to study Public Health and Health Promotion.
As a female her future was mapped out for her from birth in the Abia State of Nigeria by her community’s belief that girls should not be educated. As she explains: “We have this belief in my community that girls should not be sent to school, that it is a waste of money and instead they should be prepared for marriage.”
But Lovelyn aspired for more than marriage and raising a family. She wanted to be educated and, from a young age, to enter the medical profession after her sister died from a fever that could have easily been treated.
“Sometimes I don’t want to remember my childhood, the places I stayed as a domestic help and the horrifying situations.”
Yet her journey to educate herself hasn’t been an easy one as she had to self-fund her studies from the age of 13 by moving from family to family as a live-in domestic helper – an experience that she found “dehumanising.”
“Sometimes I don’t want to remember my childhood or the places that I stayed in as domestic help and the horrifying situations I found myself in,” reflects Lovelyn.
But she went through these hardships because of her drive to make a difference, not just because she lost her sister, but because she could not bear to see young children die from preventable illnesses or women die during labour. She explains that preventable illnesses result in so many deaths in Nigeria because of poor healthcare infrastructure and counterfeit drugs: “My sister was just given paracetamol, but I don’t even know if it was real or counterfeit because we have a lot of issues in Nigeria when it comes to poor healthcare delivery and counterfeit drugs.”
Rather than breaking her spirit and her desire to succeed, her traumatic childhood spurred Lovelyn to join the medical profession so she could save lives. But not having the money to pay for her education wasn’t her only obstacle – she also wanted her parent’s blessing to enable her to study for a university degree in pharmaceutical science.
But Lovelyn’s parents belonged to a community that strongly discouraged girls from education, and so Lovelyn had to sit the entrance exam in secret. As she explains: “I couldn’t tell my parents that I was taking the entrance exam to university because I knew that they would discourage me – especially as my older brother, a male, did not get into the university.”
In the end, she relied not on family for support but on a pastor from her church who gave her money to browse in cyber-cafés to find a scholarship for her university course and she pleaded with a university staff member to help her with her scholarship application. Only after finding out she had been awarded a scholarship to study at Nnamdi Azikiwe University and with the confidence that she had the funds to make her dream a reality did she talk to her parents.
Lovelyn hasn’t looked back since that day and comments that after securing her scholarship she felt “like there was a responsibility on my shoulders to do more” in order to give back to the community that she came from. And that conviction has led her to volunteer as a pharmacist in Nigeria, where she took part in many missions to provide healthcare to remote communities, which, as Lovelyn explains, often involved treacherous journeys. And in one case she had to climb a mountain for eight hours to reach a remote community that needed medical assistance.
On another occasion, Lovelyn’s physical safety was threatened while on a healthcare outreach expedition in a northern part of Nigeria. That very day, an ongoing intertribal conflict between a group of Fulani Herdsmen and local farmers had erupted in violence after the herdsmen allowed their cows to feed on the farmers’ crops which ultimately resulted in these farmers being murdered while Lovelyn was there. Yet, in spite of these difficulties, she is driven by her mission to help people.
For now, Lovelyn is pursuing a Master’s degree at Swansea University, and whilst she enjoys living in the UK, she is eager to return home and put into practice what she is learning because her dream is to save children in her home country, where 40% of all childhood deaths result from children being unimmunised from vaccine-preventable diseases.
This is due to the Nigerian healthcare system’s inadequacies when it comes to providing access to quality, affordable healthcare. Lovelyn hopes that her contribution on her return to Nigeria will help strengthen the health system.
And if that wasn’t an all-consuming ambition, Lovelyn finds the time to mentor women and girls in Nigeria because she wants them to have the support and opportunities that she didn’t have growing up. As she says: “I call them, I listen to their stories, and most of them have big dreams – and their dreams are valid. I see my role as encouraging them to think even bigger and prepare them for the journey ahead.”
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