Raquel Kasham Daniel: Redefining Learning
Words By – Josephine Agbonkhese
Educator and social entrepreneur, Raquel Kasham Daniel, is the Founder, Bambini Africa, a social enterprise dedicated to developing educational and entertaining resources that foster reading, inspire learning, and ignite the creativity of children.
She has mobilised over 5,000 volunteers in Nigeria to implement projects targeted at children in marginalised communities, focusing on education, sexual and reproductive health for girls, and alleviating extreme poverty through her non-profit, Beyond the Classroom Foundation.
Raquel has received numerous awards including the 2023 Lord’s Achievers Award by the Lord Dry Gin; the 2021 Women’s Achievers Award by the United States Government Exchanges Alumni Association; the 2021 Women of Change Award by the Nile University of Nigeria, and the 2021 African Luther King Heroes Award.
She is, amongst others, an alumna of the LEAP Africa Social Innovator Program; the Global Shaper Community of the World Economic Forum; a Royal Commonwealth Associate Fellow; and a two-time Personal Mentor of the Queen’s Young Leaders Program 2018.
Raquel, who holds a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Lagos, talks about her work, childhood, dreams and style in this interview with Allure.
You have received numerous awards and recognitions for your work in the education of marginalised children. Take us down memory-lane on how it all started?
When I was nine, my dad shared that no one in our family went past high school. His dream for me almost faded; he died when I was 16, and my mum passed when I was 19. My journey wasn’t easy; at 16, I was almost married off, but I ran away from home and lived on the street for almost two years. But I clung to my dad’s vision and became the first university graduate in my family. Education changed my life, inspiring me to help other children. Motivated by the profound impact education had on my own life, and witnessing firsthand how education had changed my trajectory, I felt a deep sense of responsibility to extend that opportunity to others.
All the accolades and recognition I have received since then are not just symbols of personal success, but reminders of the mission I embraced. I wanted to ensure that no child would be denied the opportunity to receive an education, as it had been the key that unlocked a world of possibilities for me.
How has your experience been working with children in internally displaced persons camps in the North and in what ways are you specifically serving their needs?
Working with children in internally displaced persons, IDP, camps in Northern Nigeria has been both challenging and incredibly rewarding. These children have endured unimaginable hardships and witnessed the devastating effects of conflict. My main focus is to provide them with access to education, which is a vital tool for their future. Thus, Beyond the Classroom Foundation has, in the last five years, impacted over 30,000 children, providing free storybooks and free educational supplies. With over 150 children back to school at the IDP camps in Abuja, we also support adolescent girls to stay in school through the provision of free menstrual hygiene education and sanitary pads.
Working with these children has taught me the true meaning of strength and resilience. Despite the challenges they face, their spirits remain unbroken. By addressing their educational, psychosocial, and basic needs, I hope to empower them with the tools they need to rebuild their lives and work towards a brighter future.
Your work with adolescent girls on menstrual hygiene has been highly applauded; what sparked your interest in that area?
My interest in working on menstrual hygiene with adolescent girls stems from my personal experience of living on the streets. During that challenging time, I faced the harsh reality of not having access to sanitary pads, which had a significant impact on my well-being and dignity. This experience ignited a deep empathy within me, driving me to take action and support girls in poor, underserved, marginalized, and conflict-affected communities. I believe that every girl deserves to manage her menstrual health with dignity, and I am committed to providing them with the necessary resources, knowledge, and support to ensure their well-being.
How effective has your attempts at educating these girls been and what modes have you employed over the years?
Over the years, our efforts to educate these girls about menstrual hygiene have been quite effective. We have employed various modes to reach out to them and make a lasting impact. One of the most powerful approaches I have found is sharing my personal story with them, showcasing where I came from and where I am now. By sharing my journey, I can create awareness, inspire them, and demonstrate that it is possible to overcome challenges. Additionally, we provide free pads, ensuring that they have access to proper menstrual hygiene products, which further reinforces the importance of managing their periods with dignity.
Over 50,000 sanitary pads are said to have been distributed by your organisation even though we know pads are pricey. How do you fund this?
Our organisation relies on a combination of funding sources to support the distribution of sanitary pads. We actively seek partnerships with local and international NGOs, corporate sponsors, and individual donors who share our vision, and are passionate about supporting menstrual hygiene initiatives. Additionally, we organise fundraising events, engage in grant applications, and leverage social media platforms to raise awareness and garner financial support for our cause.
Last Sunday, May 28, was Global Menstrual Health Hygiene Day. From your observation, what interventions are urgently needed to improve menstrual health management in Nigeria?
To improve menstrual health management in Nigeria, urgent interventions are needed, including comprehensive menstrual education in schools, increased access to affordable and sustainable menstrual products, improved sanitation facilities with proper disposal systems, and destigmatisation of menstruation through community awareness campaigns.
…and what has been your experience working on menstrual health?
Working on menstrual health has been a deeply rewarding and transformative experience for me. It has allowed me to witness, firsthand, the profound impact that access to proper menstrual hygiene resources and education can have on the lives of girls and women. From empowering girls with knowledge and breaking the silence around menstruation, to providing them with essential products, I have seen how addressing menstrual health needs can restore dignity, boost confidence, and contribute to gender equality and overall well-being.
What led up to the publication of your first book?
The publication of my first book, FLOW: A Girl’s Guide to Menstruation, was inspired by my passion for menstrual health, and the knowledge imparted to me by my late dad. His teachings about menstruation ignited a desire within me to share accurate information, empower girls, and normalise conversations around this natural process through the medium of a book.
So far, I have authored a total of 15 books.
What inspires what you write about each time?
The primary inspiration for what I write about each time is the well-being, education, and empowerment of children. I am motivated to address their needs, provide valuable knowledge, and foster positive growth and development in their lives.
Tell us about Bambini Africa…
Bambini Africa started two years ago. It is a dedicated organisation that focuses on creating culturally-relevant educational and entertaining resources to foster reading, inspire learning, and ignite creativity in children. Through initiatives like Bambini Books, Bambini Games, and Bambini TV, we aim to promote the rich African culture and history while providing engaging content for children. Bambini Books offers captivating stories and educational materials, while Bambini Games provide interactive learning experiences; in fact, recently, we launched five extraordinary board games: GO FLOW, GO CLEAN, GO LEAD, GO SAFE, and GO GREEN. The aim is to make education enjoyable and accessible to all children, regardless of their access to technology.
We also have Bambini TV which brings entertaining and informative shows that celebrate African heritage.
Do you also publish other authors under Bambini Africa or solely your books?
Currently, Bambini Africa focuses solely on publishing my books and creating educational resources for children. However, we may consider publishing other authors in the future; although this direction is uncertain at the moment.
Your books are targeted at educating marginalised children. Do they have to pay for these books or they are distributed for free to them?
My books are targeted at children in general; not just marginalised children. However, through my nonprofit organisation, Beyond the Classroom Foundation, I recognised a need among children who couldn’t afford my books. To address this, we seek support from organisations and individuals who generously sponsor the distribution of books to those who cannot afford them. In this way, we ensure that children who are unable to pay for the books still have access to them, while those who can afford them can purchase them.
Take us through a typical day in the life of Raquel Daniel…
I don’t have a typical day. Every day is new and unique. Most of my mornings usually begin with preparing breakfast for my family and getting my daughter ready for her day. After that, I dive into work, managing emails, attending virtual meetings, and working on projects. Throughout the day, I juggle tasks while also taking breaks to engage with my children and supporting my husband the best I can. Evenings are for family dinners, winding down, and enjoying moments of relaxation.
Do you have time to read other authors? Whose work do you like to read?
I love the works of Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, Shel Silverstein, Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, Ted Dekker, Max Lucado, Frank Peretti, and many others.
What scene would you say has moved you the most in the course of your work with children in marginalised communities?
That was when we enrolled 50 children in school for the first time in 2011. Witnessing their excitement and joyful dance reminded me of why I started this work and reinforced the significance of providing education to those who have been deprived of it.
What has been your biggest challenge as a social entrepreneur?
As a social entrepreneur, my biggest challenge has been the ongoing struggle to secure sustainable funding and resources to support my initiatives. Running a nonprofit organisation requires consistent financial support, and finding long-term funding sources can be daunting.
Tell us about your childhood and your favourite growing-up moments…
Some of my favourite growing-up moments include spending the long holidays at my grandparents’ house in Kaduna State and playing hide-and-seek with my siblings, away from the hustle of the big city. Gathering around the dinner table for lively conversations also holds a special place in my heart. These memories are filled with laughter, warmth, and the joy of simple pleasures that have shaped who I am today.
Your most special moment so far now as a grown-up…
The most special moment as a grown-up was when I graduated from the University of Lagos, becoming the first person in my family to earn a university degree. It was a moment of immense pride and accomplishment, symbolising the fulfillment of my dreams and the breaking of generational barriers in my family.
How do you relax?
One of my favourite ways to unwind is by immersing myself in a good book. I also relax by watching movies.
What is your personal style statement?
I embrace vibrant colours and bold prints, often incorporating a fusion of traditional and contemporary elements into my outfits. I enjoy experimenting with different styles with unique accessories that express my simplistic personality.
Which style icon do you take inspiration from?
I actually draw inspiration from various individuals who captivate me with their unique and diverse styles. This allows me to experiment, mix and match, and create a style that reflects my personality and preferences.
What’s that wardrobe staple you can’t do without?
The comfort, durability, and timeless appeal of jeans make them an essential piece in my wardrobe that I rely on for both style and practicality.
What project are you currently working on and what constitutes your biggest plan for the future?
Currently, my primary focus and project are Bambini Africa. As for my biggest plan for the future, it is to expand the reach and impact of the organisation. I envision scaling up our efforts to reach even more children, particularly those in marginalised communities, and provide them with access to quality educational resources. I aim to establish partnerships, secure sustainable funding, and leverage technology to broaden our reach and create a lasting positive impact on the lives of children across Africa.