Born into a middle-class family, Seyi Oluyole, 29, is a native of Ondo State. Along the curve of life, Ms Oluyole’s family lost their financial fortune when she was only 10 and had to learn to live without food or guaranteed shelter.
She told SheHUB.tv in a recent interview:
“I was so hungry at some of the churches we slept in, such that I’d pluck random fruits just so I could eat. This led to me having typhoid,” Ms Oluyole said.
As an adult, when Seyi got married, she faced emotional and mental abuse from her then-partner. She documented her ordeal in the book Inside Life: I Bend, I Don’t Break. However, Seyi’s story transcends that of struggle; it’s that of grace and paying forward. As her family gradually clawed out of poverty, Seyi attended DOSEG International for her secondary school. She further studied English and Literary at Covenant University and obtained a Master’s from Bellevue University, Omaha, Nebraska. Through the years, Seyi Oluyole dreams of ensuring girls have access to quality education through formal and sustainable learning, leadership skills, tech skills and arts education.
Making her vision a reality, Seyi became the Founder and Executive Director at Dream Nurture Initiative (DNI) and Dream Catchers Academy (DCA). The DCA academy was founded in 2014 and has been working in collaboration with the DNI in response to the increasing number of out-of-school children in Nigeria, which is currently estimated to be over 20 million people. Through the project, she has provided educational sponsorships and support to over 10,000 school-aged children and relief items for over 20,000 teenage girls and families.
A choreographer and humanitarian, Seyi also provided sustainability skills for children through Arts and dance. She trained many of her girls to dance, and they constantly participated in various dance competitions and activities. In Oct. 2023, Seyi and her girls danced with Nigeria‘s Afrobeat singer Davido for his song “FEEL”.
For Seyi’s impact in using dance for social change and development, she received the ‘The Lord Achievers’ Special Recognition award in 2022 and the ‘Qdance Company’ recognition award in honour of her contribution to the development of dance in Nigeria. She also recently received the Future Awards Africa Prize for Dance in 2023.
Days after the award, she had a chat with SheHUB.tv’s Nigeria reporter, Simbiat Bakare. In the interview, she shared details of her childhood, her work at the Dream Catchers Academy, a review of her book– Inside Life: I Bend, I Don’t Break, and how it felt when Davido danced with her girls.
Inside scoop of Seyi’s chat with SheHUB.tv
- You are a public figure, and there has been a snippet of your family’s financial struggles when you were a child. Could you give us a bit more insight into those days? What’s your most memorable experience?
My most memorable experience was being so hungry at some of the churches we slept such that I’d pluck random fruits just so I could eat. This led to me having typhoid – and that was so stressful- imagine having typhoid and being homeless.
- You have built an inspiring organisation with the Dream Catchers Academy. What drove your decision to adopt the first girl that you did?
At Itamaga Ikorodu, I always saw this young girl sitting by the road during school hours. I took an interest in her and stopped by one day to introduce myself. After that day, whenever she saw me – she’d shout “Aunty Seyi” and run to me. After meeting her mum, I put her in a private school. She was five at the time. However, I noticed she wasn’t doing well in school because she wasn’t getting support from home. She lived in a tiny one-room with her family of seven. She was also saddled with the responsibility of caring for her youngest brother. There were cases of abuse in her home. I understood she needed a safe home and stable place to grow, so I took her in.
- The Dream Catchers girls recently danced with Davido. Could you share with us how the collaboration happened? How was the experience for the girls, and what’s your most memorable experience?
When the FEEL challenge came out earlier in the year – I taught my girls the dance, and for some reason, they liked the song. That was all they wanted to dance to, so we’d do multiple videos of the song, and people loved it all the time. We were very excited when Davido’s team said he’d love to dance with us and in our uniform. It felt like a dream for such a long time until we actually got to meet Davido. The girls were star-struck when they saw him and eventually loosened up after the dance. He was amazing. The girls and I are very happy about this opportunity. It will be on our list of ‘most memorable experiences’. Although my most memorable experience was Rihanna reposting our video in 2018.
- How did you build the dance talent of the girls, especially those who could have challenges in dancing at first?
Practice! Practice! Practice! Although, not all my girls dance. Some are involved in other skills – but for those interested, it’s a game of patience, discipline and practice.
- Being a parent could be challenging; you recently shared about one of your brilliant girls who often hid it. How do you manage being a parent to your girls?
There’s no formula for being a parent, and all children are different. I try my best to understand their personalities and interests – and I use this in my relationship with them. I’m not perfect, and we learn from each other.
- “I am the child abused, the daughter misunderstood, the wife abused”- an excerpt from your book “Inside Life.” Those are powerful words. How you are healing from your trauma?
Healing is not a destination but a journey. I remember in 2019 when I had just run for my life and from my husband at the time – the amount of pain, betrayal and anguish I felt – I never thought I’d recover. I never thought it was possible to heal, but I was determined to be a positive model for my girls and other women, so I kept pushing. I have my down days; I have my triggers. Sometimes, it’s overwhelming; you just want to stay in that dark cloud – and often, I let myself. Most times, I pick myself up!
- What is the legacy you want to leave in the world?
I want to be remembered as the woman who changed the game of dance and arts for young people from marginalised communities. The woman who created opportunities and experiences for young people who never imagined they’d have a better life. I also want to be remembered for my light. I am not perfect, yet I share my light with the world.
- In what ways can people contribute to catering for your girls?
People can support us by visiting and celebrating their birthdays with us. By sponsoring a child and recommending us for corporate social responsibilities. You can also donate to the below details: Dream Nurture Foundation, 0122685406. Wema Bank or Dream Nurture Foundation, 0163827666, Union Bank.
Simbiat Bakare is a journalist from Lagos, Nigeria.