The Beyond the Classroom Foundation, an incredible volunteer-driven nonprofit working to improve access to education for children and reproductive health education for girls in marginalized communities in Nigeria, was founded by Raquel Kasham Daniel. When varying time zones presented a challenge to having a face-to-face, online conversation, we chose to write to one another. The result is this inspiring interview where Raquel shares the powerful story behind the creation of the Beyond the Classroom Foundation, her passion for helping children and the one wish she has for parents and guardians when it comes to caring for their children.
TPP: Thank you so much for sharing your story with The Pollination Project, Raquel. Let’s begin by sharing where you are located in the world and how long have you been doing this work?
Raquel: Thank you so much for having me on this platform. I am from Nigeria, currently living in Abuja, the capital city. I have been doing this work for almost 11 years. It started when I was in my second year at the University of Lagos. I’ve been at it since then.
TPP: Tell me, what inspired you to create the Beyond the Classroom Foundation?
Beyond the Classroom Foundation was inspired by my journey growing up. To understand it, I would have to tell you a story. So, I lost my Dad at 16 and was going to be married off by my family because we had no money, but I ran away. I ended up living on the street and in a brothel for about 2 years cleaning the brothel, and practically living from my backpack. I eventually started my business, saved some money and left. At 19, my Mum passed and I almost lost hope of ever going back to school but what kept me going through those years of hardship was something my Dad said about wanting me to get an education beyond high school because no one in my family had done that before. It was a long journey from my Dad’s passing to getting into University but when I got into school, a part of me was drawn to helping other children get an education. So, I started visiting schools, donating socks and school supplies, sanitary pads and mildly used clothes to keep children in school and inspire them to excel and graduate. One year later, the Beyond the Classroom Foundation was born.
TPP: Your determination and heart is tremendously inspiring. What problem are you looking to solve with Beyond the Classroom and who are you hoping to impact?
Raquel: I literally saw how education was transforming my life and I knew that there was no way I would sit back and not help other children, especially girls. So I started removing the barriers that would prevent children from enrolling, staying, excelling and graduating from school. You would find me providing sanitary pads for girls to enable them stay in school or providing free books to children in and out of school to inspire them to either get enrolled or complete their education.
TPP: As you think about your project, is there a particular story that stands out?
Raquel: My current project is the Community Empowerment Against Violence and Abuse. It is focused on educating the children at one of the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Abuja on abuse, molestation, rape and all sorts of abuse they could encounter at home or at school. We have worked with these displaced children for over three years and right after the lockdown when schools were resumed, we visited their camp and noticed a few girls were pregnant. Some confided in us that they were abused during the lockdown. The majority didn’t even know they were abused. The painful part for me is that these girls didn’t resume school last September. I started to think about what they would do differently if they knew more about abuse and how to keep themselves safe or call for help if they are ever molested. Thinking about them and how much we can help them helped me design this project to not only educate them but their parents and teachers as well.
TPP: What are your greatest hopes for your work?
Raquel: Wow! I actually think about this question a lot and I always come to the same answer: to see more children enrolled in, staying, excelling and graduating from school. My life’s greatest joy is seeing the children, despite the hardship in the families, completing their education. It is both my hope and a joy.
TPP: You are having such a powerful impact upon these children, how has this work changed you?
Rachel: In many ways, I would say. I have become more empathetic, kinder and attentive to others. I’ve never prided myself on being a great listener but because of this work, I have to do a lot of listening and that has helped me so much. A funny thing you should hear about how this work has changed me is that I now do thorough math calculations before spending my money. When I see something really nice I like, I imagine how many books and children the money can help and how I might not really need whatever it is I want to buy and sometimes, I don’t buy it. It can be a pain to my family and friends sometimes but most have learned to live with it.
Overall, I love the person I am because of this work and I count it a privilege to be in the position to help others.
TPP: Your work is truly heart-centered, it’s beautiful. What was it like to receive the Pollination Project grant?
Raquel: The project was simply on paper before we got this funding. I recall jumping up and dancing when I got the email. My heart went to the children. I was excited that 200 children would be armed with the information necessary to keep themselves safe from abuse and molestation and able to report should anything ever happen to them. I am excited and grateful.
TPP: How will this funding help you to further your work?
Raquel: This funding will help us to educate and make 200 children safer and smarter. Besides educating the children, parents and teachers on all forms of abuse at home and at school, we are also training 10-15 volunteers who will work with us on this project. Basically, I see more than 200 beneficiaries and the more people we are able to reach, the more we will get the word out there. This funding is timely and greatly appreciated.
TPP: Tell us about an accomplishment within this project that you are proud of.
I am working on a fun, and educational book that the children can take home with them after the project as a resource to always read and refer to. Children love books and most of them love to read, I believe they will love it. I once read that books will go where the author might not, so I am very proud that more than 200 children will be impacted by this project because the book will travel through their schools to other children.
TPP: What you’ve created with the Beyond the Classroom Foundation has the power to change the lives of those you serve and – just as you mentioned with the book – continue to touch more lives than you could ever imagine. Thank you for sharing this work with the world. Is there anything I have not asked you that you would like to share?
Rachel: If there is one thing that I would like to share concerning this project, it would be that parents and guardians need to be present in the lives of their children. They need to talk to them about their body safety, parts of their bodies, abuse, molestation and the likes, very early. Parents have a responsibility to keep their children safe and even though they can’t be with them everywhere, the least they can do is equip them from home with the necessary life skills they need to survive, be confident and stay safe.
To know more more about this project, please, visit their website https://btheclassroom.org/