‘I want Germans to see us as educated people, not scammers, prostitutes’
Mrs. Mary Bamigbe Bruder, a Nigerian based in Berlin, Germany and president of Bruderhilfe (Brotherly Help) Social Development Initiative Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Germany, with a mandate to transform lives and communities around Nigeria, is quietly traversing the nation bringing succour to the neglected and ‘wretched of the earth.’ ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA spoke with the mother of two, who is determined to rewrite the sordid narratives of Nigerians living in Germany and other parts of Europe, on her life’s trajectory
With about 30 years in Germany, where she has been exposed to the best that life has to offer, Mrs. Mary Bamigbe Bruder, is the most unlikely person to be seen with the underpriviledged, exposing herself and even those around her to the dangers and mudslinging that come with such a territory, but for her avowed passion to add value to peoples’ lives and her world. Raised in Ilaje, Bariga area of Lagos State, one of the backwaters and vices infested communities in the state, she rose from the ashes of deprivation to attend Gbagada Girls Secondary School and University of Lagos, Akoka, a neighbouring community, where she bagged a Bachelor degree in Political Science.
Shortly after her graduation, she decided she has had enough of her father’s land and departed for Berlin, Germany, in 1989, to start afresh. While at it, she went through all sorts, including abuse and physical torture, but she was not deterred as she stayed on course and today she has risen from the ashes to become a successful businesswoman and a philanthropist extraordinary.
She is actually a household name in Berlin and most parts of Germany and Europe as no one encounters her without having a good impression of her, this writer inconclusive. Bruder is actively involved with the Nigerian Organisation in Diaspora (NIDO) Germany and is currently the treasurer of the body, where she has made valuable contributions. Her humanity and devotion to the welfare of people that come in contact with her even when it is not convenient and safe to do so is inspiring.
Extending a helping hand is second nature to her
Extending a helping hand to people that come across her, is almost second to nature to her, she says as she opens a window to her world: ‘‘I have been in Germany now for about 30 years and I am into business, shipping, logistics and procurement. I am the managing director of PPSS International GmbH, a shipping, procurement and logistics company in Berlin, Germany.
‘‘My business has been very successful, all my years in Germany have been devoted to charity work,’’ she says, stressing that: ‘‘I was not actually ready to make it an official preoccupation by registering an NGO I created for that purpose because I was not emotionally ready to go into it full time. The road to formalising her charity work, she discloses started about two years ago when she took steps to put a structure and a name to it.
‘‘But I started in June 2017 as I then decided that I was ready emotionally, and financially to register it. It was then that I decided to register it in Nigeria.’’
Inspiration for setting up the NGO
‘‘What inspired me was my life story and that of my family as we all came out of charity. A family charity of some sort,’’ she says as she goes on to narrate her dramatic life story, which today she speaks openly about unashamedly in order to inspire children and youths that have become part of her world. Her parents, siblings and herself where pepped up in life by the singular act of devotion to family creed by her father’s elder brother who threw a life line to the father when he brought him to Lagos and started him off.
She picks up the narration: ‘‘He brought him to Lagos and empowered him to start a business. He also gave him a plot of land in Ilaje, Bariga. Not only giving him a plot of land but he helped him to design a three – bedroom flat. So from childhood, we lived in Ilaje, Bariga, a poor neighourhood.
‘‘Because of that singular act we were able to live well and get education even though my parents were uneducated, all my siblings are graduates. But then I didn’t quite appreciate what my uncle did for us but growing up I began to appreciate what he did and also questioned myself if I could be able to replicate such an act.’’
Having drank from the milk of kindness of her uncle, it wasn’t difficult for her to also give back as she tells you that: ‘‘All my life in Germany, I have always been of help to Nigerians and other nationals. My office is like a refuge for them, I love my country, I love to help people and I love to promote my country. ‘‘Anybody that is looking for accommodation, work, welfare or whatever it is, my office is opened to them. Even those that are in distress and at the point of committing suicide, I come to their aid and once they see me they open up to me and I counsel them.
‘‘Immediately, I take them home, clothe them, give them food and a place to stay. The females live with me in my apartment while the males live in my office. All of them are success stories today and most of them are German citizens now. ‘‘I tell them my story for them to know that I started from zero level just like most of them and getting to the place I am today is only by the grace of God.
‘‘I know that I have a divine calling or mandate to help people because when someone in need comes to me I don’t have peace of mind until I am able to render assistance to such a person. I don’t know how I am able to do that but that is just me because I will never have peace until I am able to solve your problem. ‘‘This is my kind of life and now I decided to take it further by formalising it. It is this that gave birth to the NGO that I am now running.
Suffered from bad relationship and abuse
Life for her, has not been all sunshine, as she confesses to have suffered all sorts of pains, including abuse and bad relationship: ‘‘I have also suffered bad relationship, abuse and so many negative things, but God helped me out of them. So I can talk about life and I believe that I have a lot of experiences to share with people.
Areas of influence
The basic focus of her NGO is in the areas of education, health, empowerment and water aid. She has traversed different communities within Nigeria, setting up outreaches in such places as Ilaje, Bariga, Badagry, Agege and Ajegunle in Mile 12 area of Lagos where she runs a community centre in a property owned by her and she plans to adopt the community as a model community.
Also, her imprints are in Ife, Osun State and Abeokuta, Ogun State, among others. Just recently she added Borno State to her unending list of beneficiaries when she donated over 100 wheelchairs to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps through the state emergency agency in collaboration with the Nigerian embassy in Germany. She also has a volunteer group, which is made of youths under her watch in different communities. This crop of volunteers forms the vanguard for her outreaches to different communities in the country. Part of her commitment is to expose Nigerians to educational opportunities Germany. To this end, she has offered scholarship to two indigents Nigerian students who are studying in German universities, with plan being concluded for the third student to join the duo anytime soon.
I am a success story from Ilaje, Bariga
Speaking with her, you get a sense of unalloyed devotion to her community, Ilaje, Bariga, which she is helping to transform into a better and improved enclave. She sees your background as not being a hindrance to you becoming a success in life, using herself as a preachment to her community because by her admission, she is a success story from the deprived community ‘‘I am a success story from Ilaje, Bariga and I tell them that they don’t have any choice not to do well in life. Your background is not an excuse. I don’t your children to continue like this, let stop now and plan for our future generations.
‘‘We love this community, this is my community, my Ilaje, Bariga, I am so proud that I am a success story from this community and I want other youths and children to also be a success story from their communities. ‘‘We want to empower youths, we want to enlighten them, we want to discuss with them one on one, and we want them to see that better things are in stock for them. ‘‘Because I am coming from that background I can relate with them and talk authoritatively to them. They can understand and relate to my story because some of the people knew me in the area when I was growing up. ‘
‘We want to empower the women, organise them into smaller groups, offer them loans for their businesses. I am working with the office of the vice president (Yemi Osinbajo) on this. I am targeting the Tradermoni.
Visiting Ilaje, Bariga was emotional for me
Going back to her beloved Ilaje, Bariga, was not an easy decision for her as it took the intervention of her siblings and others to get her to engage with her people in the backwaters community that is infamous for its high rate of vices. Looking back, she confesses that it was the most emotionally unnerving moment for her: ‘‘In fact, since I started my NGO visiting Ilaje, Bariga, was the most emotionally troubling for me. Everybody knows me and I told them that I couldn’t come to this area all this while because of it notoriety and the fact that they were not organsied.’’
It is energy sapping
Coming this far, she says has been energy sapping as she never imagined that it was going to be this consuming: ‘‘But it sapped a lot of my energy, it is actually now that I know what NGO really is because before I thought it was child’s play. In fact, sometimes when I get back am so tired and even fall sick.
As a true humanist and philanthropist that she is, her NGO’s a c – tivities, which in the last two y e a r s that she started has run into millions of naira, are self-funded and sustained by her. ‘‘I am not funded by anybody, no media and all what not. My idea of an NGO is to see what you can do first before you call on others.
‘‘I want to work, I want to show that this is what I can do. So that when you give me money I will not put it in my pocket. I work with volunteers, youths, after I train them I bring them in. So it is not just me alone. ‘‘I don’t want red tape and because I am using my private funds I am able to make a lot of impact in the lives of the people and communities that we work with.
We are building a crop of responsible Nigerians ‘‘Educating them, changing people’s mentality; it is not all about giving. We want to breed Nigerians that will not only think about themselves but others too. Until people realise that people are really suffering in this country this may not happen. So, we want Nigerians that will grow up with a sense of responsibility and helping others.
You don’t have to be a millionaire to help others
“If you are rich and have criminals all around you will not have peace. But when everyone is catered for, then the society will be safe. That is the kind of NGO that we are creating. I want to show Nigerians that you don’t have to be a millionaire before you can render help, I just want people to see that one single individual can bring about change. I am not a millionaire, but I just want to do it so that people can see us and join us.’’
Making a model community out of Ajegunle As part of her long term plan, she has adopted Ajegunle community, where she presently owns a community centre. She discloses that she plans to attract a German organisation to install solar power in the centre and the entire community.
Besides, ‘‘I want a community carved out of the place, I am really working on the children now since they have confidence in us that we care for them. ‘‘I really want to build a model community there that the government and other organisations can emulate or replicate elsewhere. We have adopted the community because we want to transform it. We want to educate the children and empower the women.’’
When I go to a community and see people exhibiting selfish tendencies, just one family carting away everything meant for the people or the leader of the community insisting that the materials should be brought to him. That is very disappointing, I experienced that in Ilaje, Bariga and one other place where only one person wanted to take everything for himself.
Some of the community leaders have been cooperative while others are not, feeling threatened that we are coming to expose their communities and their shortfalls. This too is very disappointing because I expect them to come to us and embrace what we are doing because of its positive influence on their people and communities. But we would not allow such attitude and behaviour to discourage us because the people are really cooperative and most times they will even tell us that their leaders would not come and that we should just go ahead with our activities.
I want more Nigerians to access German education
I want to see more Nigerians access German education because nationals from other African countries are taking advantage of it and benefiting from it because they understand how the system works but Nigerians don’t.
I want to change the narrative of Nigerians in Germany
I want an organsied Nigerian community in Germany. I want to change the story of Nigerians in Germany, I want the Germans to see our next generation of Nigerians as people of great potential, educated and exposed and not scammers or prostitutes. I am collating all Nigerian experts and scholars in different fields in Germany who are well respected by the German government and working for the government. I want to create a link between them and Nigerian government because these are people that can use their influence and wealth of experience to assist Nigeria. I have discussed this with the Nigerian ambassador in Germany and the vice president too and they are both very excited about it. So, I am working assiduously to execute this project.
I know most of these people and they respect me because they know that I have passion for education and for Nigeria. But the problem that some of them are running away from is the protocol in accessing the Nigerian government and they don’t want that because here they have free access to the German government and are well respected by the government and consulted. I have discussed with most of them to let them know that their country, Nigeria, needs them. They listen to me when I discuss some of these issues with them and are willing to really buy into the project and be part of it.
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