In 2011, Raquel Jacobs, founded Beyond the Classroom Foundation, an NGO focused on improving education for the less privileged pupils in Public Primary Schools. Since then, she has been working directly with children and youths in marginalized communities in Lagos focusing on education and empowerment for girls. She is a public speak, trainer and Co-founder of Club31 Woman. She is a Global Shaper, a Carrington Fellow and a LEAP Africa SIP Fellow. In the last four years, she has volunteered with numerous organizations including the World Economic Forum on Africa, Uturn Africa and AIESEC.She is currently working on a digital literacy project for children in public primary schools with Microsoft, Tech Camp Pretoria and Afrika Leadership Development Institute. She attends Guiding Light Assembly, Ikoyi, Lagos Nigeria and fellowships at IGNITE Fellowship.Enjoy!
I was born in Lagos but I am originally from Kaduna state in Nigeria. My parents were amazing, but we lost them a little earlier than expected. My dad died when I was 16 and my mum when I was 19. Life took a different turn after my dad passed on. I immediately became an adult and had to look after 3 boys because my mum was sick almost all the time. I finished secondary school at 16 but couldn’t go to a University immediately for different reasons.
As a teenage girl from Northern Nigeria, losing my parents at that age was bad for me. My family’s first move was to split my brothers and possibly marry me off to a rich man who could take care of my siblings. At 16, I ran away from home and lived with my uncle who tried to rape me. I left his house and found a place to live with prostitutes and drug dealers in Obalende in Lagos. For some time I lived under a bridge because I was tired of the life I had to face everyday. I lived and slept in cyber cafes because that gave me access to a computer and could sleep without interruption. There was no one to help me but I didn’t lose my faith. I have a solid Christian Foundation and this really helped me stay focus.
Even though the pressure to conform was constantly ringing in my head, I knew all the things I see now are only temporary.
I started my first business at N200 (Naira) I got from one of the girls on the street. I made local “Sobo” drink to sell. I cannot write and say the journey was smooth because I faced a lot of challenges financially; my respect for parents went up because I suddenly knew what it was to feed, take care and be example to boys. Living out there was not good for me mentally and spiritually but I trusted God. I kept on waiting and praying that He help me.
My younger brothers all dropped out of all school and everything seemed impossible. I carried my Bible with me the whole time I was living from place to place.
A few times, I yelled at God for allowing me go through the things I was going through. But even through those periods, I felt His hand on me the whole time.
I remember praying many times for God to rescue me from that situation.
Today, my two brothers and I are University graduates. This has been the most challenging experience of my life. I tell myself, if I could do this, I can do anything in this life. There were times, my brothers and I would cry and pray to God to send help because we had no food to eat and I will remind them that we still have a house and some people don’t.
In my first year in the University, I felt the need to mentor and educate young girls about the things that I went through and still going through and I started the Girl Talk Initiative for teenage girls. I ran that project for a while and along side mentoring girls we also ran another project that provided over 1500 free sanitary pads to girls in slums who cannot afford it and taught them basic menstrual and personal hygiene.
My team and I did this for a year until one day on my way to school, I saw a young boy I saw walking to school with torn uniform and shoes. Seeing him that morning, drew my attention to the public school system. I followed him to his school and saw the appalling state of the public school and later found out that the school is not only in a bad state but has a lot of uninspired children and children who are demotivated to learn. Beyond the Classroom Foundation started a few months after this encounter. BTC is now a registered non-for profit organization focused on improving teaching and learning of less privileged pupils in public schools.
My life hasn’t been easy but I am grateful. I will continue to inspire young people to dream and help them achieve it in the best possible way that I can. I have noticed how simply showing love to someone lights up their day.
It doesn’t matter what life throws at you, “you have to embrace your struggles, because God often speaks to you through them.”
With Love, RJ.