Segun Babatunde, Bauchi
Ije McDougall (nee Iheme), a United Kingdom-based Nigerian woman, has won the ‘Cheshire Woman of the Year’ 2023 award for touching the lives of the less privileged in Nigeria and the UK.
Speaking with journalists in a WhatsApp video interview, she expressed shock at her nomination pointing out that when she was nominated for the prestigious award, she doubted because “there was no way I could have been nominated, let alone I’ll win the award.”
She said she was nominated along with other white women who are doing great things in their various fields of endeavours.
McDougall, a Human Resource Professional said: “I don’t know who nominated me and for what reason but, I got a letter through the post saying I had been nominated for the ‘Cheshire Woman of the Year’ award. I thought it was a scam, when I got a letter that I was nominated for this award. I felt somebody was trying to pull my legs because ‘Cheshire Woman of the Year’ is too big, there’s no way I would even be acknowledged. So, I just thought, okay, I will go to the event, it would be a nice day, I’ll get to meet other women who are doing great things.
“Before I received the letter, I saw a lady on Facebook celebrating that she had received a nomination for ‘Cheshire Woman of the Year’ and I was so excited for her because she’s a scientist and she creates all these products that help with pain relief and all that. So, I thought, ‘of course, she’s going to win. I can’t think of a better person to win the award.’
“When I eventually received the letter of nomination in the post, I thought, ‘they’re putting me in the same category as that woman, ‘it’s impossible, I don’t stand the chance,’ I thought to myself. But then, I went for the awards and they started to read out the person that has won because there’s only one winner of the ‘Cheshire Woman of the Year Award’ each year.”
McDougall, who was born in Bauchi from an Igbo father from Imo State and a Yoruba woman from Kogi State added: “Let me give you some context about Cheshire. Cheshire is a very big County. Like everywhere, Cheshire has some poor parts, some rich parts but it’s a big County where there are a lot of people doing big things. We even have real housewives of Cheshire, that’s to give you an understanding.
“So, the caliber of women in the room and the kind of work that they do, the kind of things they have achieved, and then there’s me, little Bauchi girl from Nigeria in the same room with these people.
According to her, it was during the award ceremony that she found out that she was nominated for helping a poor, sick and hungry woman and her children, for providing shelter to a homeless family and for many other charity works she’s been doing in the UK and in Nigeria.
“But when they started to read out the nomination, they mentioned two examples; they said my name and I just started crying, but they gave two examples of things that I did.
“When they started reading the examples, it made me really emotional because the main thing that I was nominated for are things I didn’t remember, I had forgotten about some of them. They said that there was a lady I put on Facebook who’s in the hospital and didn’t have food for her and her children and I just got people on Facebook to donate food so we can fill up her cupboards and that’s just me, that’s just what I do because if somebody is hungry, you feed them.
“They gave another example that I found some housing and furniture for a homeless family. This is something that again, I didn’t do myself, I asked people for help and people gathered to help. So, I didn’t think I should be getting the credit. They said those were the main things that I was doing within the community that got their attention.
“Then, they decided to look into me further and they started to see they Khairos Initiative that I set up, the work I do there. They started to see my personal story, things I’ve had to cope with, things I’ve fought against, then they started to look at my career and all that.
” I’m a HR Professional within the civil service but I started as a messenger. When I first moved to the UK, I thought I’d just come and go into a job but that was not my story, I struggled to get a job. So, I started as a cleaner, at this point, I had no confidence. Even though I had my degree and all that, I still had no confidence. So, I started from the very bottom as a messenger and I sort of climbed up the ladder and got all the qualifications. These were all the things that they looked into and how they decided that I should be given the award. Nobody is more shocked than me about this award.”
Speaking on what the award means to her, she said it was a compensation for all she had gone through while growing up and her early years in the UK and also a call for her to do more.
“Where I live in the UK, is not like London, I live very near Liverpool but I don’t live in Liverpool. So, where I live, is not very racially diverse, you don’t see many black people there which means, the few of us black people here are very visible, we can hide. Wherever you go, you’re likely to be the only black person there for a while, it’s not very diverse, so we’re visible.
” It then means that for this award, I’m visible for the right reasons, it means that people are seeing me whether I like it or not but they see me for the right reasons. This award also means that all those struggles, all the times I’ve been doubting myself, all the times I’ve been wondering if I’m doing the right thing, all the times that I was down and out but refusing to give up, the award has made all these worth it.
“The award means I should continue, it means it’s not the end of the journey and that I should continue. It means I now have a platform that I can use to do even more work.”