Often times, it takes one person to make a move that will have a domino effect, causing multiple reactions. When it is a positive step, this one step is capable of changing lives and leaving unforgettable impact. Tolulope took one step that we can never forget. Tolulope gave us hope when all else had failed us.
Born to Mr. B.A Sangosanya and Mrs. T.B Akinola both of whom are indigenes of Ijebu-ode, Ogun state, Nigeria on the 18th of December, 1982, Tolulope is the first child of her parents and the founder of the Love on the Streets Charity Foundation (LOTS)
Growing up, Tolulope attended 6 primary schools as she moved from family to family a lot before she obtained her primary school certificate from Bodija International School (BIS), Ibadan. She attended Lagos State Model College, Igbonla Epe for her secondary school education and then proceeded to Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State formerly known as Ogun State University (OSU), where she obtained a degree in Mass Communication.
Tolulope’s journey might seem like a smooth one, but it was no wear near smooth. Hers was a journey filled with obstacles and challenges she had to overcome. Tolulope Sangosanya suffered dyslexia as a child, which affected her self-esteem, making her believe she won’t amount to anything great in life. She was timid, lacked courage and was very dull academically. Tolu couldn’t read until she was 10. She failed so bad often in primary school that she wasn’t sure she was going to do well in secondary school let alone university. She couldn’t pronounce the word “The” at age 9. Her 80 year old grandfather taught her to read English and Yoruba for 2hours daily for 2years. Little did Tolu know that God was preparing me for what she does now.
Another obstacle Tolulope had to overcome was her lineage ties with Ifas. Her father’s Ifa priest as well as several pastors said Tolu was possessed and demonic. The Ifa priest said she was a queen in the spiritual realm and her members wanted me back which meant she would have to die physically. Tolulope lived in constant fear of dying for over 5 years until an era came when she woke up and said to herself, “I will not die twice. I will not be dead while living”.
Tolulope didn’t go to school to be a social worker or a philanthropist. She thought she was going to have several businesses from fashion to photography and she had tried most of the businesses while in the university. In 2006, the year that Tolu decided to start living, she fed over 300 children on her birthday and felt fulfillment like never before. She made the decision to feed street kids on her birthday each year. What that fear of death did for Tolu was to give her a wake up call to the fact that life is short and with every minute, she’s running out of time. Tolu felt the need to make each day of her life count. Her sense of urgency was heightened when her roommate in university died at 22. Tolulope thought, if Awujola (who to her was a better person) could die, then who was she?
After Tolulope started Project LOTS, things began to turn around in her life. The Ifa priest came to say she wasn’t dying anymore. There’s a sign on her body indicating that the price for her death had been paid. Tolu realized the depth of God’s love for her and stopped seeing herself as a waste of God’s breath of life. The fear of death was God’s ‘wake-up’ call for her and ever since then, Tolu hasn’t gone back to sleep.
Since 2006, she had single handedly, through grace of God moved the dream and vision from being a dream into a reality. In 2008, Tolulope gained a new title, Angel of Dustbin Estate. Tolulope says she knew she was ‘home’ when she got to Dustbin Estate. Tolu remembers ‘stealing’ her younger sister’s toy to give to another cousin whom she thought didn’t have. Even as a child, she was trying to redistribute ‘wealth’ and it hadn’t occurred to her that it would be her life’s mission.
In 2007 after feeding 1000kids at Oko Baba on her 25th birthday, a spirit told her that she would be going to Ajegunle next. She didn’t know her way there so she called called Praise Fowowe who linked her up with Christopher who then took her to the place we now call Dustbin Estate. When she met Christopher, she told him to take her to the dirtiest place he’s ever seen. Till date, she doesn’t know why dirt was what came to mind, but she believes there is a spirit in every man that speaks and she’s blessed to be in tune with hers.
The Dustbin Estate is a collection of shanties on refuse dump where a very poor set of people live in Ajegunle. The people live on a large heap of rubbish which poses a myriad of health hazards to both adults and the children, not forgetting the attendant environmental issues. During the rainy season, situation is worsened as the entire ‘estate’ is soaked in flood but people still go about their normal duties in this deplorable state. Tolulope has dedicated time to changing things for the lives is the estate and making a refuge within refuse.
In giving an account of her progress as of 2010 in an interview with Bella Naija, Tolulope said:
When we first came on December 18, 2008, we got across to over 1,000 people; on February 14, 2009 we had a Valentine’s Day party for the kids and were able to reach a hundred children.
On May 27, 2009, we had a party for them at the UNILAG multipurpose hall which was tagged “They Are Stars” in conjunction with Magic Moment and it was with other NGOs, but most of them were orphanages. There were 12 orphanages plus LOTS Charity Foundation.
In December 2009, we took sixty one kids from here to the Silverbird Galleria, Shoprite and the Chinese Restaurant on Ajose Adeogun, Victoria Island, so that their minds could be nourished and they could see how other Nigerians live and begin to dream of bigger things about their future.
Some people said to me, ‘why would you want to go and hire an air-conditioned bus to convey these kids?’ I said to myself: ‘If they were your children, what would you give? Would you give second-hand treatment to them or first class?’ We need to get rid of this greed and selfishness and think of other people.”
After, the February 14, 2009 event, LOTS Charity Foundation started a literacy class for the Dustbin Estate kids with only 25 children. This number later doubled and increased. In 2009, a hundred and twenty (120) children enjoyed the literacy programme. Some of the kids have stopped attending while new members have joined, putting the current number at 77. Impromptu gifts and donations from churches, friends and family come in handy. Banky W celebrated his birthday there this year.
Fountain Church, VGC, Women’s Fellowship were there recently with clothes, toys and stuff for the kids. Pan African University came in 2009 and was able to reach about 200 kids that day. Since inception, an estimated 2000 children have felt the impact of the NGO’s efforts. Next month 5,000 kids will be fed in Lagos; 1500 each simultaneously in three places- Makoko, The Beggars Colony in Oko-Baba and here (Dustbin Estate), then 500 children will be fed on the street-those begging and hawking.”
Tolulope has felt like giving up several times. She felt like giving up when some kids stole books at the library to sell, books she had bought when she was very ‘poor’ and ‘hungry’. She felt like giving up when she was looking for food for 150 families one December and at the same time dealing with the news that her mom had cancer. She felt like giving up when her personal account was dormant for 4years, but through all this, she kept going.
Tolulope’s persistence paid off. In 2010, she won the Future Award for Best Use of Advocacy on her philanthropic work with children. One of her students, Batis can now read and knowing this gave her boundless joy. Another of her students, Balogun Rufai’s name was fourth on the FUTA Merit list.
Tolulope continues to live out her purpose, giving back to the society and being the change she desires. If there’s anything to learn from Tolu, it is that we cannot truly love, until we begin to give of ourselves.
© 2017, Ona Akinde. All rights reserved.