In this interview by UCJ UI correspondent, Prisca Aniemeke, John Dare Okafor, co-founder of Boys Without Borders, talks about the organization which was created to stand in advocacy, sensitization and orientation of the boy child.
Can we meet you?
My name is John ‘Dare Okafor. A 300-L student of Counseling and Human Developmental Studies, University of Ibadan. I’m the third child among four siblings. I’m the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Indy Press Organization, UI. I’m also privileged to be the founder of Boys Without Borders, Nigeria.
Can you tell us about Boys Without Borders?
Boys Without Borders is an organization created to stand in advocacy, orientation and sensitization of the boy child. All our activities at Boys Without Borders is centered primarily on the boy child. We recognize that the boy child has a need that should be met. We recognize those needs and our mission is to make sure that these needs are met through our advocacy, orientation and sensitization. That’s why our motto is, ‘Raising Functional Men’. We believe that for functional men to be raised, the boy would have to be taken care of. It’s easier to fix a boy than to fix a man. We focus on every part of his boyhood that will enable him become a functional man in the society, someone relevant in the society. This is basically what we are about at Boys Without Borders.
You just said the organization is centered primarily on the boy child. Is there any other area, maybe minor, that the organization focuses on?
No, there are no other areas our organization focuses on. Everything we do at Boys Without Borders is centered on the boy child.
Boys Without Borders is not the kind of ‘organization’ you hear about often. How did you come up with the idea of it?
Yes, that’s true. You hardly get to hear about our ‘kind’ of organization. Boys Without Borders started from a conversation with a close friend of mine, Solomon Idowu. He is currently the co-founder of Boys Without Borders. A conversation that ensued around 2019 about an unequal representation when it comes to gender inequality; the fact that there has been so much light shone on the girl child to the point that it has led the boy child into obscurity. That has already created an imbalance in the society where we have a whole lot of opportunities and representation of the girl child.
Remember in Secondary School, you find representatives from NGOs come to speak in schools. Remember them saying something like all the boys should go inside and the girls should wait behind because they want to speak to them about menstruation or how to take care of their bodies. But what about the boy child? That was the big question.
That question sparked the conversation between my friend, Solomon, and I. So, around 2020 during the pandemic when we were all at home, there was this uproar on social media where a lady called Uwa was raped and murdered. There was a lot of anger online. People were talking about how boys and men have been the main perpetrators of these gruesome acts and the fact that nothing is being done about it. So, Solomon called him me and reminded me about the conversation we had had the previous year where we talked about that and what he told me was, “John, I think this is the right time for us to do something about this”. But I told I wasn’t ready because I had so much, I was doing at that time. He told me to think about it and the next day, as early as 6:30am, I gave him a call and told him that I was ready to go all the way into this. Then we started from finding a name for the organization, sharing our visions first with close friends and talking about the big task ahead of us. This was how Boys Without Borders came to be.
This means Boys Without Borders is still a young organization. Would you say that the organization already has a solid foundation?
Yes, I will say Boys Without Borders has a solid foundation to go on even without the founders being present. What we are focused upon now is continuity and expansion. That is, how Boys Without Borders can go from where we currently are to where we want to be in few years to come. So yes, Boys Without Borders has a solid foundation.
How can one become a member of Boys Without Borders? What is the membership process?
You become a member of Boys Without Borders by applying when the recruitment form comes out. Our last recruitment was sometime in July last year. Fortunately, the next recruitment process will be from August 9th to August 15th. The selection process for members is kind of a vigorous one because we’re very concerned about the people we bring in to join us. We’re not just concerned about admitting just anybody. We’re very concerned about commitment and a sense of passion for the boy child. Even though you don’t have passion from the start, from being committed, passion will definitely be birthed.
We see our members as advocates that stand at the frontier representing the boy child. That’s why we are very particular, we don’t just recruit anyone. One good thing about being a member of Boys Without Borders is that there are always projects to look forward to and to work on so, we hardly have inactive members. Once there is a sense of inactivity of members, after series of warnings, they are removed from the organization. There was a particular month we removed close to ten people from the organization because they were not serious and committed. So, commitment and passion are things we look out for at Boys Without Borders.
Can girls apply to be members? Or do you have girls as members?
Sure! We have girls as members at Boys Without Borders. Therefore, girls are allowed to apply. Some of our team leaders in the organization are even girls. Our focus is to reach out to boys, irrespective of the gender carrying the message.
What are the major highlights you have had so far?
One of our major highlights was first the creation of a content guideline comprising of various topics as regards the boy child. This was created by our Content Development Team at Boys Borders. They were able to create a content guideline that spanned over hundred pages comprising of various topics on the boy child. It wasn’t an easy feat for our Content Development Team gathering these resources from various sources pertaining the boy child, because what they were getting mostly was for the girl child. But successfully, we were able to curate over hundred pages dwelling on the boy child.
Another of our major highlights was the inception of Project Boys Talk About It. It was a project we embarked upon in the month of October last year. Project Boys Talk About It is basically about boys and men sharing their sexual abuse stories with us anonymously. Last year, we partnered with Asido Foundation to render them psychological help and support. Project Boys Talk About It 1.0 was a major highlight and it’s a project that will be held annually. This year, we’ll be having Project Boys Talk About It 2.0 very soon.
The celebration of the International Day of the Boy Child on May 16th this year is also worthy of note. We successfully had a week-long celebration lined up with series of events in celebration of the boy child. From our visitations to radio stations, to our online public symposium, to our community outreach and also our visitation to a particular school, Loyola College, Ibadan, to speak to boys. So, these are our major highlights so far, amidst other activities that have been happening underground at Boys Without Borders Nigeria.
You said that the boys and men shared their stories anonymously. How then was Asido Foundation able to help them?
We partnered with Asido Foundation to help provide mental health support for our respondents primarily through their helplines.
What are the challenges you have faced so far?
One of the challenges we have encountered is funding. It’s one thing to have projects on ground, it’s another thing to have funds to pursue these projects. However, we’re trying to find more partnerships and sponsorships for our organization. We’re also trying all we can do by ourselves to solve the problem of funding.
Another problem is in the administration of volunteers. It’s one thing to lead people and another to lead people who are volunteers. Most of our members are volunteers, they are not being paid and they’re giving their services, time and resources towards the cause of the boy child. If it was an organization where salaries are being paid, it’ll be easier to demand for accountability and assign responsibilities. But when in terms of volunteering, there are technicalities. At Boys Without Borders we are always careful when it comes to administration because when there is no proper administration, there will be a problem of functionality within the organization. So, it was a challenge for us finding a balance between demanding for accountability and giving out responsibilities to our volunteers at the initial stage.
Also, the school calendar has been a challenge. All our members at Boys Without Borders are Uites. So, the school calendar determines some of our activities. For example, during the exam period, we had to suspend some of our major activities. We recognize that our members are first students before volunteers and they have a primary responsibility to their academics.
What are your aspirations for the organization?
My aspiration for Boys Without Borders is simply to see it grow beyond the founders. When I talk of we, I’m talking about Solomon Idowu and I. I want it to get to the point that when people hear of Boys Without Borders, we’re not the ones that come first to their minds. What comes first should be the activities that we do, the social impact we have made, the number of boys we have reached out to and the effectiveness of our advocacy for the boy child.
Are your responsibilities as the founder time consuming?
Definitely, they have been time consuming. However, in Boys Without Borders, there are proper structures in place whereby all activities are not carried out by me. The organization is structured around teams and each of these teams have their team leaders and assistants. These leaders are the ones primarily responsible for the administration of their teams. Still, there are decisions that come to my table and I have to decide on. Although it has been challenging to some extent, it has been exciting as well.
How do you handle these responsibilities with school work?
It’s simply being futuristic about plans at Boys Without Borders. We plan ahead of time. When we have projects to embark upon, discussions happen months, weeks before the time. This helps us to have a direction of where we are going and what we are to do at a particular time. It also makes us aware of the allotted time we have to give to Boys Without Borders and to our academics. This has helped so much with balancing activities at Boys Without Borders and school work.
Have you ever thought that the organization has a problem with publicity and not many people know about it?
No, I wouldn’t say we have a problem with publicity. Once we are consistent with our activities and with passing across our message, with time, the people that don’t know about us will get to know about us and the people who already know about us will help spread the good news of the things we do at Boys Without Borders. So, it all has to do with consistency and growth, it’s not about our publicity. We will keep doing what we’re doing and with that I believe more people will become aware of our work at Boys Without Borders.
Is there any other thing you will like to add?
The boy child is first recognized as human before being recognized as a boy. Every human has a need, therefore, the boy child also has a need. His needs (physically, psychologically and mental) shouldn’t be deemed as insignificant. It should be recognized while actions are being carried out to meet them.
Thank you very much for your time.
Thank you for having me.