“My advice to other women leaders out there is: don’t look down; otherwise you will be distracted. Keep your head up and focused on your purpose. People need you, and you can be the start of a ripple effect of opportunity creation. Never give up.”
Yvonne Ndaga Endam is known for a lot of different things, to a lot of different people. She is a nurse, teacher, entrepreneur, writer, refugee, mother, CEO, and an inspiration. She runs Endam Home of Hope, which supports forcibly displaced people in Nigeria. Endam Home of Hope was one of the Women-Led Organisation (WLO) winners for the 2022 UNHCR NGO Innovation Award.
As a refugee herself, Yvonne has had to overcome many challenges and is a strong, resilient, and independent woman passionate about sharing her story to inspire others.
When starting her NGO, Yvonne recalled the saying: “Necessity is the mother of Invention.” Her goal was not only to immerse herself in different activities to support her and her son, but also to touch more lives and make a change in our world.
When she first moved to Nigeria, she struggled to breastfeed her son, so she resourcefully invented a product called “Soyamond”. Soyamond is a blended powder of soy, almonds, and other nuts and fruits. Other people came to know the product, and because of its high nutritional value, they encouraged her to sell it to those also in need of supplementary nutrition. She registered her recipe with the Government of Nigeria, and it has now become a popular product in the country.
Yvonne did not stop there. Seeing others struggling, as she did when she first arrived in Nigeria, she continued to help refugees get back on their feet. She hosted several people in her own house. She used the money from her Soyamond product to sponsor them to learn new skills, such as hairdressing or sewing, and encouraged them to become self-reliant.
Her house became so popular that she got referrals from different organisations in the country that had given her contact to new arrivals. It was at this moment that Yvonne decided to create an official organisation through registering it with the government. She called her organisation “Endam Home of Hope” because her goal is to keep hope alive within everyone who comes through her house.
While she continued to welcome people in her own home, Yvonne juggled writing and publishing books, and working at a school as a nurse and a teacher. As she brought in more income to increase the amount of people she could help, she focused her activities on women and girls struggling to make ends meet – particularly those who have been subjected to early marriage, smuggling, or sexual exploitation.
Having been a survivor of gender-based violence in the context of forced displacement herself, Yvonne was determined to not let that trauma define who she is or dictate her future, nor that of the women with whom she works.
In short, Yvonne created a system that has a ripple effect in the community. The lives of women in need of protection that she helps have been forever changed. She welcomes them, trains them for three months, and follows up with them for a period of six months or more. By making sure they are self-reliant and have a stable income, she gives opportunities that create new opportunities in return. Yvonne even employs some of the women as trainees and facilitators of her programmes. Having had started with three people benefitting from her support, Endam Home of Hope today supports 40 people.
“We make sure that we give them the best so that we can employ their services. Each time I get in contact with refugees, I always want to find out their challenges, the experience they are living through, because my experience as a refugee…was not a good one. However, it was with this experience that led me to start Endam Home of Hope.”
When asked what is next for Endam Home of Hope, Yvonne proudly shared that she has already successfully bought the first plot of land with her own resources. She still needs to buy three more to build a proper transit home, so that both her family and new arrivals can have their own space and privacy. She also needs more sewing machines, gas burners, gas bottles, big tables, cutlery, and kitchen utensils to expand the current skills programmes, as well as for new catering empowerment programme.
“International and development funding and decision-making are often so far away from the local needs and experiences of refugees, that international partners many times do not understand how they can make the most difference in the field. I always talk about follow up. Companies should not only sponsor us but come to see their funds being implemented. It is important to have organisations funding refugee-led and women-led projects and coming to Abuja to see the difference their funds have made.”
Yvonne is one of the recipients of the 2022 Innovation Award (USD 15,000) and will use this fund to advance activities that are already ongoing, but she wants her organisation to grow and achieve more ambitious goals. For that, she is looking for partners who can support her, not only through funding but also through equal partnership, capacity strengthening, and technical support. She emphasises the need for more capacity-building initiatives being available for local actors on issues related to protection and gender-based violence.
“If we could have a reliable source for our funding or for our salaries, I think we could concentrate more on identifying needs and taking action. Not having stable salaries means that our employees must take on other jobs to make ends meet.”
Regardless of what the future holds, Yvonne underscores that she will continue to extend her hand to others and serve and support refugees and internally displaced people in Nigeria, as well as vulnerable members of host communities, for as long as she lives:
Despite all the odds, I keep pushing ahead. I have learned to always be positive. Amid challenges and barriers we face every day as refugees, I am always able to see the potential of others to bring positive changes into life, and I use my skills to harness this potential.