By Maria Diamond
Princess Mercy Suess is the founder and president of Frau Suss Children Empowerment Foundation (FSCEF). Professionally, she’s the project and quality assurance manager at Pathfinders International Limited, as well as business development professional. An NCAA certified aviation security inspector, she has been in the aviation industry for about 20 years, combining the job with her charity work.
Between the ages of 3-6, Mercy watched her mother nurture less privileged children and supported their parents in their community. These experiences and exposure spurred her to pick up from where her mother stopped to empower less privileged children. To her, it’s all about showing them love, care, and empowering them to achieve their goals.
In this interview with Maria Diamond, she spoke on the plight of abandoned and less privileged children in Nigeria, and the long-term implications of not empowering them.
You worked in the aviation industry for 20 years, could you share your experience in the sector?
My experience in the aviation industry before I resigned in 2019 was quite informative and educational, though with all kinds of challenges that revolved around character building, crisis resolutions, peace building and reconciliation. I started as a millage agent with Lufthansa German airline in 1999; I was absorbed into companies as a permanent staff to supervise the baggage service department for 7-years. That’s one of the most challenging sections of the industry, as you have to deal with a lot of sensitive issues. Then, I was moved to supervise the passenger service department.
Later on, I got promoted to Operations Department where I was fully responsible for ensuring the aircraft was properly loaded according to safety regulations. I concluded my service with the airline in March 2019, when I took up a one-year contract project management in Aviation Security Internal Quality Control (AVSEC IQC) as Project and Quality Assurance Manager at Pathfinders International Limited, a leading aviation security companies in Nigeria. My job was to ensure the company adhered to Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) regulations, client standard procedures, as well as ensuring we were up to date as regards permits and certifications of over 700-staff across Africa. The project actually elapsed on March 31, 2020.
At what point did you begin to pay attention to less privileged children?
As a little girl back in the village where I was born, I witnessed how my loved ones struggled to survive. I saw how my mother would go out of her way, despite our own poor financial situation, to help those in need. Growing up, helping the less privileged was a culture that was modelled for me by my mother and elder sister, who were constantly fighting the cause of the needy and helpless in the community; I believe my passion stems from my family.
At age six, my elder sister took me from my mum to Lagos and I saw again the struggles all around me. We lived in a city of social stratification, such that displayed the extremely rich class, the average, the poor and very poor. Sometimes, my heart cried out for the needy, especially kids and I tried to help them in my own little ways, which included going to school with an extra launch that I could share. Also, having to stand up for a smart child, who comes to school in torn uniforms with no shoes because the parents are too poor to afford a new one. So, it has been my life to care for the less privileged.
You set up Frau Suss Children Empowerment Foundation (FSCEF), which categories of children do you cater for? What exactly are the modalities?
We work with children living in orphanage homes, children living with low income or no income parents, and children living in rural areas. The idea is to build a solid foundation of integrity, selfless service, and patriotism in them. It’s common for this category of children to feel lost, whilst labeling themselves as not good enough, with a perception that they have nothing to offer the world. All these are negative self-talk and presumed life perspectives they pick up due to their situation and experience as they interact with the society at large.
This mindset of worthless labels, due to lack, immensely affects the kind of citizens they grow up to become; it hinders them from fully attaining their potential. So, at FSCEF, we are bridging the gap by creating opportunities and platforms that help the less privileged children deal with these issues before they are even aware of them. For those, who are already influenced by this negative mind feeds, FSCEF redirects their mindset through our various programmes, which include monthly feeding programme, excursion, free children seminars, a day with Fraususs, scholarship, educational support and others.
Having been on this for some time now, do you think the government has invested enough in empowerment programmes, especially for the less privileged?
Considering where we are as a nation, I strongly advise that the government channel resources into empowerment programmes for citizens, especially children and youths. A country can only thrive if the young people are constantly and properly empowered. The future of this country depends on the magnitude of investment put into the young citizens through empowerment programmes. Once you empower the citizens, it’s natural for the nation to automatically advance economically. However, this is beyond the government alone; well to do Nigerians should also put their resources towards the course of helping the less privileged in the society.
As a foundation, what are the focal areas of operation?
FSCEF focuses on the upkeep, education, and exposure of less privileged children. We are located in Lagos where we work more with children in orphanage homes and family support centers. FSCEF also has a family relief center in Mafoluku, Lagos; we are also in Akwa-Ibom State where we run our rural child empowerment programmes. The project involves working with the existing primary schools to activate social activities in the schools, improve on the school’s facilities, plan and execute programmes that will give the children exposure and great opportunities to take their shot at life.
One of such programmes is the Madam Celina Football Championship for primary schools in Oruk-Anam Local Council of Akwa Ibom State; the idea is to introduce the rural children to the international world. It was inaugurated in 2017 and was to be played this year, but for the disruption of the world system by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced us to halt for now.
You recently gave palliatives to children in Mafoluku community in Lagos, what motivated you to do that? Why Mafoloku?
As a child, I had lived in Mafoluku; we were not rich, we were just an average family. So, I understand the struggle of families living in this community. When I eventually got the means to better the community, I couldn’t help but hear the silent cry for help in various situations. This was why in 2017, we started the family support center in Mafoluku called FSCEF Mafoluku Family Relief Center.
However, the street-to-street palliative was initiated when the Coronavirus pandemic set-in and we started receiving calls for relief. It was overwhelming for me, especially when one of the mothers in the community got my number and called. In tears, she told me how she could not feed after childbirth; feeding became a more threatening life situation than the COVID-19 itself. At that point, the fear for my safety and that of my family, which had kept me within the four walls of my home during the lockdown, was not strong enough to keep me away from the cry for help from these women. I started sending out pleads to friends and everyone I know to support the FSCEF COVID-19 door-to-door and street-to-street food drop-off programme. And so far, we have carried out four editions of the food drop-off in the same community and the 5th is coming soon.
What’s your take on the rising cases of child rape in Nigeria and how can it be addressed?
This is a very sad issue for me personally; I have not been able to comprehend it and I probably never would. However, as a foundation, we approach issues with a solution-oriented mindset. This is why we saw the need to create awareness and educate both the parents and children on early detection and prevention of potential rape situations.
We would have organised seminars to thoroughly address the issue, but with the social gathering lockdown directive towards curbing the COVID-19 pandemic, we could only do a door-to-door sensitisation of parents, caregivers and the children too on the issue of rape; we did that in communities we visited recently. We have realised that more often than not, relatives and close friends or neighbours are the enemies perpetrating the act of rape. I believe they are perverts, mentally sick and inhumane. So, the government should send offenders to life imprisonment; that’s where they belong, not with the society.
However, to put an end to this rape storm that our country is now faced with, all hands must be on deck and all eyes must be on the watch out for every under age child around. This issue is beyond the government. The idea is to make it impossible for these demons in human clothing to never violate another child again. So, everyone should now voluntarily save our country from these inhumane perpetrators by paying absolute attention to not just your children, but also every child around you.
Having reached out to a number of orphanage homes in Nigeria, what is the common and major challenge in these homes?
During my visit to orphanage homes, I have observed the changes in children in times of plenty and in times of lack. And so, food is a major challenge because a hungry child can never concentrate on anything else. But there’s always the issue of financial constraints that makes it impossible for the homes to provide for the orphans and feed them well.
The homes are constantly trying to manage the funds to sort numerous overhead costs of running the home, which includes unforeseen expenses popping up here and there. Hence, the minimal budget on food expenses, which of course has a direct effect on the children in the homes. You can easily see this in the appearance of the children. They look healthy and happy when there is enough, and when there’s nothing, you see them appear sad and malnourished. Children can’t pretend about these things; if you pay attention during your visits, you can always tell.
How many communities has FSCEF reached out to so far?
We’ve been able to reach out to four orphanage homes and four family relief centers located in various communities in Lagos, while our rural child mission is in Oruk-Anam LGA of Akwa-Ibom State. However, the vision is not in quantity but in the quality of service we are rendering; the impact it makes in the life of these children.
Some of these activities you mentioned involve money, how do you fund the FSCEF?
In the beginning, it was my personal funds, and then friends started contributing from the first edition of A Day with Frau Suess. A few companies and organisations have supported over the years, but as we expand our scope, we are constantly in need of sponsors.
What are the major challenges of the foundation in carrying out these interventions?
The major challenge of the foundation is funding; having to raise funds for projects has proven to be quite difficult. Sponsors are not easy to come by. We have a few sponsors actively helping out though, but not sufficient for all our projects, which is why we solicit fund from government, individuals and private organisations
Are there milestones you feel you would have attained in your career if you were a man?
Not really, I have never experienced the issue of inequality when it comes to my professional life. I have always believed that if you render services that are in demand professionally, you will always be highly sought after irrespective of your gender. I have always had support from men and women, as well as organisations led by them.
COVID-19 has disrupted out lives and the economy is also affected, what’s the way forward?
Let’s face it, long before this COVID-19 era, Nigeria’s economy has been staggering. But the massive recession we found ourselves in due to the COVID-19 should be a wake up call for not just the government, but also every the citizens. As a nation, we have to wake up and look more into being self-sufficient. This COVID-19 pandemic has come to announce to us that we cannot continue depending on help from international organisations; we have to wake up, look inwards and actualise our visions.
With your recent encounter with people in the community, do you think they really understand the gravity of this pandemic?
From our first visit, we saw a whole lot of ignorance, which prompted us to educate the people on the severity of the pandemic, as well as distributed PPEs alongside the food drop off project. Since then, they have turned a new leaf. We have executed four editions of this project in the community and have witnessed a dramatic improvement in the adherence to NCDC precautionary directives and guidelines on tackling the pandemic such as the use of nose masks, maintaining physical distancing and proper method of washing the hands. However, I believe there’s still a need for constant sensitisation of communities.
Tell us about a significant incident in your field of work that would always stay with you?
I was drawn to tears during one of my visits to motherless babies home when a child that was found hanging on a tree, in a nylon bag, with the umbilical cord still intact, was brought to the home. The intention of the mother or whoever disposed of the child was to throw him into the nearby river, but God saved his life. This experience broke me, but built my resolve to muster my resources to help the less privileged.
Where do you see FSCEF 10-year from now?
Ten years is quite a short time from now, but I see FSCEF expanding her scope to cover the whole of Lagos and Akwa Ibom State with her major projects, including setting up family support centers.