Managing WOA

About Alice Ukoko

I give myself to the service of others guided by my life experiences.

As I recognise my life experiences in what others are going through my philosophy is that there is no need for them to suffer what I have already suffered.

My life experiences are showcased by the achievements and on-going activities of the Women Of Africa created in 1993 as Women Of Nigeria International (WONI). My hope is that since I have been through these challenges there is no need for others to go through them.

Growing up in the Delta of Nigeria where I was born I experienced the short comings of being an African girl in a culture still developing and traditions in urgent need of modernisation. Where necessary I try to educate the world on African tradition with the hope that Africans can modernise them in time.

To inform and plead for the modernisation of the African ritual Female Circumcision tagged Female Genital Mutilation, I wrote; directed and presented The African Maiden dramatising the lifelong impact of this ritual by so doing, I opened informed discussion on this practice. Being a victim of this ritual, I am able to share with the world an African tradition which is in dire need of modernisation. I am strongly against this ritual being tagged Female Genital Mutilation: a term which portrays Africans as barbarians and thus alienating them from identifying with the ritual with the view of stopping the practice. The African Maiden is created to enable the culture to recognise the damage it does to African girl children throughout their lives. Through this drama which was featured by Channel4 Television in November 2000, Africans saw for the first time the lifelong negative impact of circumcising their daughters. I believe that Africans like others humans are able to modernise harmful traditions and practices.

The African Maiden contributed to the enactment of the British Female Circumcision Act of 2003.

To escape the hopelessness of a life without formal education in Nigeria and to improve my life chances I joined my brother in the UK on October 6, 1970. This was an era when young women of my community left home to join spouses in the UK, I was therefore one of the very few who came to join a relative. Once in the UK, my experiences represent a challenging period of my life. Am I in modern day context a victim of international trafficking?

I recognise the challenges of coming to the UK in pursuit of greener pastures international trafficking being the corrupted modern version of an African practice which enabled a younger member of a family to join settled members overseas. Because of my personal experience and understanding of this African practice in its abuses, I am able to support victims through working with Women Of Africa.

As an abused wife in the UK I could not find an agency that understood the challenges that I faced, although in a very modern and busy London, I lived and suffered in isolation due to cultural understanding of the pain that I suffered. Through Women Of Africa I am able to support African women who suffer isolation and in abusive relationship in the UK. With almost twenty years of supporting African families in the UK I have become aware of the many challenges of multicultural Britain. As a British African, it is a privilege to be able to contribute to the cultural understanding of the many cultures which form our multicultural society.

Although based in the UK where I have continued to enjoy peace; opportunities to be the person that I have the potential to be in life, I work with African women and their families back in Africa. I do not agree that Africans should settle in the Diaspora without attempts to contribute to Africa’s reform and sustainable socio-economic advancement of Africa.

Africans struggle with the formal systems created for people of Britain. There is a presumption of equal access to services but, my experience show that equality of access can only be guaranteed by equal understanding of what help is available and mutual trust between majority culture and the ethnic minority culture.

A significant section of Africans live in isolation, frustration created by the lack of trust of the majority culture and lack of knowledge of what services are available in the UK for the all those who are here legally.

As an abused wife in the UK I lived in isolation and in constant fear, I felt alone even whilst amongst a crowd of people. I felt insignificant and constantly at war with my own people who considered me corrupted by Western culture although within me, I was struggling to survive. I understand the challenges that others after me face. I stand in the cultural gap to make the lives of women in isolation and in similar circumstances better than I had to deal with in my time.

I put myself out to support African women and their children who are in distress and isolated by multicultural Britain. I understand the dynamics of living with abuse and disadvantages.
I understand modern day pressures created by the pull to remit money home to Africa to support extended families. This was not the case in my time but it is part of modern day challenges for Africans living in the Diaspora.

As a lone parent of five children in the UK I understand the challenges of understanding school protocols in order to effective support both the school and my children through formal education. I was always at my children’s schools I was with them throughout their educational pursuit. At a point, a secondary school offered to make arrangement for me to sit in lesson with my son. I believe that parents need to take an active interest in the education of their children for them to provide quality support for the children.

As a lone parent, I was everything to my children so that I was constantly late to some parents’ evening to the distress of my youngest child. He felt that it was either I did not understand the concept of time, or, I did not care enough to be there on time. I pleaded with him constantly. I understand so I draw on my personal experience to support other parents to improve on my performance with my children.
For many years I was a Parent Governor in my children’s secondary school, this enabled me to share with the school’s governor my experiences and expectations of parents. Serving in school disciplinary committee, I argue against permanent school exclusions as being a waste of school resources and tax payers’ money. I worked with a very effective head teacher who agreed that to exclude children is to give up on children in need of effective support through the educational system as in most cases the children come from disadvantage background.

I wish constantly that parents pay more attention to their children’s education to improve the chances of young adults from disadvantaged background progressing into brighter future. But too often, parents see the educational wellbeing of their children as secondary to their own pursuit.

My work with Women Of Africa gives me the opportunity to support young adults on work placement.
The greatest aspect of my work and concern is with the reluctant of a significant population of African parents understanding 21st Century child rearing. Far too many African children are taking into Local Authority care under UK Child Protection Law.

My experience as a lone parent showed me that the Local Authority fails in many cases to differentiate between a parent calling for help and that of an abuse of the child. I am constantly concerned about parents who are reluctant to abandon the harshness of their own past with modern day child rearing technique. In my support of families in need, I find that my one to one sessions is very effective as I explain that to be your child’s friend in many cases would create positive relationship within families and reduce the chances of the children turning to negative peer groups with such devastating outcome.

The Local Authority finds contribution to cultural understanding of ethnic minority families not in support of their policy of taking children away from their parents. I cause offence when I argue that adopting children as a method of children protection is actually an abuse of rights under the Universal Declaration of the rights of the individual to family life. I believe that the Local Authority to provide support to parents who may be going through short term challenges. Adoption of children is not in the interest of the child who will become an adult and the public.

In view of the above, I support families to work positively with local authority so that the children’s best interest is served and public good maintained at all times.

I am aware that Africans are home lovers and as such would not settle in foreign lands. This is why many spent Africans are returned to Africa for burial when they die before returning home.
As more and more Africans leave their motherland prepared to do menial jobs outside Africa and so abandon their home not to study and to return to contribute to the development of Africa but to live from day to day, my work extends to Africa.

Thus, after about 20 years of supporting individuals in the UK with their day to day challenges, I am convinced that to solve the many challenges that Africans face both in Africa and in the Diaspora Africa needs reform.

I am aware that African women are the back bone of Africa’s survival, so to reform there needs to be gender transformation to raise the profile of African women for international recognition. It is my hope that Africa will reform and develop in my life time as a reward for living my life for the sake of others.
I feel like someone bearing the burden of Humanity most of the time, this I know is unhealthy for me but I cannot help it as many depend on me to support them through their challenges. I can never say No!!
I trust to a fault, my philosophy is approach everyone from a position of trust. Although I have very bitter experiences in my dealings with some people, it is not my place to transfer negative experience from one person to another. I trust everyone until I find them not so trust worthy, then I walk away.
I love listening to good music that speaks to my SOUL and enables me to relax and so energise. I love cooking for my family as an expression of my LOVE for them.
I will continue to serve Humanity all the days of my life with a heart full of LOVE for God and His creation.
I hope that by this write up, I have been able to give you a small insight into Alice Ukoko. October 2010

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