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Zuriel Oduwole, the youngest person ever interviewed by FORBES

Monday December 09 2013    |     Views: 2967    |     Comments: 0   |     Print    Bookmark and Share





She’s just ten years old, yet she taking huge strides in changing the world. Zuriel Oduwole made history by being the youngest person ever interviewed for a feature in the globally prestigious and influential business magazine, FORBES Magazine, in its August 2013 Africa edition. Her journey began when she set out to interview Presidents Rawlings & Kufuor of Ghana in January 2012 for a school project. Since then, she has spoken to important people all over the world, including the presidents of Kenya, Mauritius, South Sudan, Nigeria, Liberia, Cape Verde, Malawi and Tanzania.
Her first appearance in Nigeria was in March 2013, when she launched her Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up program in partnership with the Lagos Business School and US Consulate in Lagos.

Daily, Zuriel’s impact grows stronger. Girls Rising, the multi-award winning documentary
 about the Girls of Africa and other parts of the world, co-produced by CNN Films, has just featured Zuriel on their site, as at August 8. Zuriel was also recently invited to participate in a special
program being developed by senior producers at ABC News, to be broadcast with Diane Sawyer, featuring the Pakistani girl Malala and other girls around the world doing incredible things in support of educating the Girl Child. Currently, there are requests from the Scandinavian Government for Zuriel to be a spokesperson for their development efforts in Africa, especially in the areas of gender and women issues, in enunciating their contributions to Africa's development in the last 25 years.
 
In light of her rising prominence, Wow secured an exclusive interview with Zuriel Oduwole, the little giant who is making Nigeria proud in her laudable quest to create a better future for the African girl child.

 

 

What drives Zuriel? What is her motivation?

Well, I am inspired and motivated by the girl child and the struggles she faces in her life. I was sad to see many reports on the news about what children in many developing countries have to do, like work making blocks, or digging, or sometimes just not going to school and staying at home to clean the house and look after the young siblings. Sometimes it means they get married early too because they do not have many options on things to do since they are not educated. They inspired me to try and do something, so I launched the “Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up Project” in Lagos in March in partnership with the Lagos Business School and the US Consulate in Nigeria. Right now I am in Malawi to launch the East Africa aspect of the project. I am doing it in partnership with Ethiopian Airlines (who have been very supportive) and with the support of the US Embassy in Lilongwe, Malawi.


Being so young, how does Zuriel even get access to these important people?

I get asked this a lot. When I was nine years old, my school in Los Angeles asked us to do a documentary about a successful revolution. It was a project meant for 11 - 13 year olds in my school, but I entered it anyway, because I thought it was a good way and an opportunity to show the rest of the world especially my class and school that sometimes Africa can solve Africa’s problems. As you know, on the news, there are many negative reports about Africa such as the wars, famine, corruption and things like that. They don’t really talk about what Africans are doing to change these things so I knew right there it was my opportunity to do something small and show the world that Africans are not all silly people waiting to be helped all the time.
 
So I wrote to former President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana about my project, and that I wanted to interview him for a project on a successful revolution. It took a long time for them to write back because I think they didn’t believe me at first, being nine and wanting to interview him for a documentary. After about 3 months, his office said yes, but that I had to come to Ghana. I convinced my parents that they should allow me go. And so I went to Ghana and interviewed President Rawlings.
 
Just to make my work balanced, because they grade us on how fair and balanced our work is, I also wrote to President John Kufuor’s office. I didn’t get a reply, so when I was in Ghana, I went to his office and they contacted him in Kumasi where he was on holidays. He said since I had come this far, he would be happy to sit and allow me interview him. So I went to Kumasi and interviewed him there.
 
So, I just write, and tell my mission and why I want to do the mission, and they seem to like what I say. I am so grateful for that, and thankful to God for that gift. We are all special and gifted in many ways.
 

Who are the people Zuriel has interviewed?
I have managed to interview a few people who are leaders in many areas, such as business leaders, political leaders, sports leaders and civil rights leaders. Some of these include the current Presidents of Kenya, Mauritius, South Sudan, Nigeria, Liberia, Cape Verde, Malawi, Tanzania, and former Presidents Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor. I have also interviewed business man Aliko Dangote, civil right leader Jesse Jackson, and both Venus and Serena Williams. At the African Union, I have interviewed the Commissioner for Social Services and Health, and the Commissioner for Rural Development. I like to say that sometimes, I get asked what it was like to interview these people, and I got asked many similar questions. What is actually cool to ask is why am I doing these interviews.
 

So what does Zuriel aim to primarily achieve with her interviews with these famous people?

I do these interviews for many reasons, but the main two reasons are to bring about more attention to the need for educating the African girl child, and to re-brand Africa. I read somewhere three years ago that if you educate a man, you educate a family, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation. I don’t know if it is true or not, but I want to find out, by pushing for the education of the girl child.  The second reason is that Africa as you know has many negative comments on major news networks like BBC, CNN, ABC and NBC. But there are positive things about Africa. So I ask some of the leaders in front of my camera what they are doing to change their countries, and how they are solving their problems. I want the world to see this version of the news, instead of all the negative ones about Africa.
 

How does Zuriel balance her schooling with this passion of hers?


I am able to balance my school work because when my parents saw that I was serious about many things that would mean staying up or working for many hours (such as robotics class, music class and mandarin class, basketball junior league, track and writing), they put me in a home school program. That way, I can work ahead in my school curriculum, and then have time to travel to attend my other special projects, such as now here in Malawi, or play seriously in my basketball league. I play centre for my local league, and we just won the overall division two weeks ago, before I travelled, which was really neat!

 

Who are her role models?


First, definitely my parents, simply because they are cool and they allow us do what we are interested in. Maybe except get a dog. Dad says it’s work, and we are not ready for that yet (SMILES). They also teach us about sacrifice because they make them. One of them stopped working so they can focus on my extra curricular activities. They also taught me and my younger siblings about opportunity cost, which is choosing something that would have more benefit later, rather than things that would expire now, with less benefit. It means also we have to make sacrifices sometimes for things we like to do, like not getting an Xbox or some things we really like, and saving to travel with me, so I can do my interviews.


Who is that one person she wishes to ultimately interview and why?

President Nelson Mandela. Most definitely. I want to ask him how it was when he was denied the right to be free, and how he managed to forgive all those who locked him up, and how he thinks the world has changed since he left office as President of South Africa. If I have a second option, it would be President Barack Obama. I would ask him which he feels more of: being from the US or from Kenya. I would also ask him how he can help Africa develop past where it is now.

 


Does she hope to pursue a career along these lines, or is she cut  out for something else entirely?

Well, I want to be an athlete in a few years time to run track and develop my basketball skills to a higher level. Then, I’d like to do some acting. But when I get much older, I’d like to be the President of the United States of America. Usually when I say this, some people say, ‘why don’t you want to be the president of an African country like Nigeria where part of your African roots are from?’ I always tell them that if I am president of Nigeria, I might be able to affect Nigeria and maybe one or two other African countries, but if I am the President of the United States, I would be able to affect the United States first, and then many other countries in the world, especially in Africa where I want the image to change and the girls to go to school.


Is Zuriel aware of any impact her story has?

No, I am not aware of any impact. My class is still waiting for me to tell them more things about Africa. And I am still focusing on trying to change the image of Africa and show the world that if an African girl child like me (I spend many months in a year in Africa you know) can do some positive things, then there are many other African girls that can do even more things.


 What would Zuriel say to other young girls wishing to make a change in their communities and the world at large?

First is to find out what you like to do. Then ask how can I do it so that it would benefit more people and then affect more people positively. Then focus on doing it, and don’t believe it if anyone says you can’t do it, or that it is hard. When I was going to write to President Rawlings for my first ever interview, someone said he won’t do it because he doesn’t do interviews, but he did it. I was also told by his office that I should allow a maximum of 15 minutes and not ask many questions because he was travelling overseas on the day of the interview. But he spent 1 hour and 18 minutes with me. So, don’t believe anything that tries to limit your dream.




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