By Sesan Awobiye
One of the major non-government organisations making efforts to tackle the menace of hunger across the world is the House of Praise and Prayer ministry, HOPAP, a Canada-based charity organisation founded by Pastor Tinuola Babafemi, a Nigerian.
Through her NGO, Pastor Tinuola, who has affected many lives in Canada by providing free food banks to the thousands of less privileged in Ontario, Canada, has, however, deemed it fit to extend the same nature of service to humanity through her NGO to Nigeria by intending to feed over 5000 Nigerians daily. Pastor Tinuola said her mission is to make sure that no one is hungry in the world.
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has statistically proven that over 811 million people still go to bed hungry each night.
The report stated that after steadily declining for a decade, world hunger is on the rise, affecting 9.9 percent of people globally.
From 2019 to 2020, the number of undernourished people grew by as many as 161 million. This crisis is driven largely by conflict, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the case of Nigeria, the state of insecurity, among other factors, is responsible for the high rate of hunger in the land.
In this regard, FAO has emphasised the need for bold action against hunger before things get out of hand. According to them, about 660 million people may still face hunger in 2030 due to the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on global security.
“Unless bold actions are taken to accelerate progress, especially actions to address major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition and the inequalities affecting the access of millions to food, hunger will not be eradicated by 2030.”
Pastor Tinuola Babafemi,Founder Hopap
In a bid to put an end to hunger in the world, a humanitarian, an entrepreneur, and a crusader of Christ, Pastor Tinuola Babafemi, through her NGO, House of Praise and Prayer (HOPAP), is on a mission to end hunger with her project, “PROJECT FEED 5000,” which is centred on reaching out to as many as possible, especially the less privileged, with her food bank, making sure that no household goes hungry.
With these moves, HOPAP is on its way to supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, with goal three of Zero Hunger.
She speaks with Sesan Awobiye about how she struggled to survive outside of Nigeria, why she founded HOPAP, the impact she has made, and her future plans.
Can we meet you?
My name is Tinuola Babafemi. I am a Nigerian/Canadian. My parents are from Ilesha, but we grew up in Ibadan. I did most of my secondary school and some parts of my education in some parts of Ibadan before I moved on to Canada.
I have an NGO called House of Praise and Prayer (HOPAP). We started this charitable ministry on the 15th of December 2015, and this year, by the grace of God, we will be celebrating our 7th year anniversary.
We are an Ontario corporation and work across Ontario, Canada. The WHOOPAP. Our charity organisation is aimed at eradicating hunger in the world by 2032. “There shouldn’t be anybody hungry in the world by 2032.”
Your background and how it has influenced your project?
I was brought up in a Christian home. My father was an elder of The Apostolic Church. My mother was a deaconess. They were very devoted to their religion. My parents loved Christ and they brought us up in the same manner. I particularly followed their footsteps. I loved going to church. Anything of God, anything of the Christian religion, that is where the interest in having a House of Praise and Prayer, HOPAP, came from. It is the background I was born into.
Why did you choose to come to Nigeria?
Ontario, Canada, was our first point of call, and we are going all over Ontario, and now we are coming to Nigeria in October, and that is why I am here in preparation for that. Because obviously, I am a Nigerian, a proud Nigerian, love my country. We are more hungry in Nigeria than in Canada. You understand what I mean. In Canada, there are social services and government support.
In the past, I have been homeless, hungry, and went to a food bank. They gave me groceries. I had nowhere to cook them, so I had to give them out. From that experience, I know that people are hungry, but they have nowhere to cook whatever you give them. So for those people, you should give them cooked food and not uncooked food. So when people come to register, we will find out their situation so we know how to deal with them accordingly.
Would you say that it was your experience that prompted you to open this organization?
Yes. Because I have decided that if God can take me through that pain, I don’t want anybody to go hungry.
Can you tell us more about your experiences?
When we migrated to Canada, I was with my children. I have two children. It was very difficult for me to keep a job. I don’t know what went wrong, so if I couldn’t keep a job, I couldn’t earn a living, and from there I was broke. I resorted to going to a food bank to get food, and most of the time they don’t have cooked meals. They don’t have facilities, and they gave me what they had.
They gave me groceries, and there was nowhere to cook the groceries, so I decided that it would also be good to have a kitchen and a pantry. We are going to have both.
How did you come out of the painful experience?
Yes, I decided to get a loan and set up my own business. When I set up my own business, as you know, it takes a few years or a few months, depending on how aggressive or how much experience I have in the business to survive.
I lived in my grocery store for six months. I found a place for my two children to live together. My daughter was in university. She was living in the university facility, so I moved my son to stay with her. I was living in my grocery store. I chose my business over my accommodation because I was determined not to be hungry and to beg anyone again.
I created my own business and I lived inside my grocery store. I went to register with a local gym in the morning. I would go to the gym, take my shower, and just use their equipment for two minutes. I would do my make-up and stay in front of my business selling my products, and it worked, so that was how I came out of the situation.
After Ibadan, where do you intend to go?
We are starting in Ibadan because I grew up in Ibadan. Our first point of call is Ibadan, because I am from Ibadan, and I have local contacts in Ibadan. It is a good point to start. I have friends and family who can support me and help me get through what I needed to. So Ibadan is a good place to start. I mean, Oyo State, then we go to Lagos State.
Like, how many people do you plan to reach out to?
There are many people that need help. It is not one person’s job. It is not my own job alone. Together, we can end hunger in Nigeria.
So when you start it and people see how effective it is, they will support you. It is normal. I started it alone. My ministry started alone in Canada, and one morning, I discovered that we were running out of food. I sent out a ministry support letter to every contact on my e-mail, and my letter got to a particular man that I didn’t even know, and I think he had a friend in the government, so he sent the letter to the local government, and later I got an email that read: “Pastor Tinuola Babafemi, we heard about your project, ‘PROJECT FEED 5000’. We are curious about it. How can we help you? How can we partner with you? We have read and heard a lot about you.”
That was how government started giving out grant support. We will serve over 100,000 families in the year 2021. So when you start, people see your commitment, and you are really doing what you say you want to do, you are making an impact. It becomes everybody’s work. That is what I believe.
How much has HOPAP impacted society so far?
So far, we have impacted society positively because we put smiles on people’s faces. When people walk into our food bank, they feel happy and surprised, especially when they realise we are Nigerian. It really makes me feel fulfilled when I see people of different races and ideologies benefiting from our food bank.
Do you have a book to record all this?
“Yes, my book is a testimony of what God did for me.” I put them together in a book to tell the world what I have been through and how God saw me through and how much God has been kind to me.
What niche do you want to create in society?
I want to make sure that nobody is hungry in Nigeria. Do you know the meaning of hunger? For people to be hungry? Do you know how bad hunger is for people who do not have something to eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? I want to make sure nobody is hungry again in Nigeria. That is my dream and it will come to pass. Amen.
Listening to your life experiences, one will say that you were able to come out of it because you were residing abroad, and life abroad, as many think, is better and easier. Can you please tell us how it was and how you think young people here in Nigeria can come out of it?
That is the mistake most people make. There is nowhere that is fair. Life over there is not even fair. It’s determination. There are people with Canadian passports that are hungry, people with British passports that are hungry, people that are poor. Being British, being a foreigner, or being a Canadian doesn’t make you rich; it doesn’t make you successful in life. So it is an individual’s determination. There are hungry people in Canada. If there were no hungry people, there would be nothing like a food bank. The difference is that there is help, there is somewhere to run to. So when you are in a difficult situation where everything is bad, be determined. Don’t give up. The first thing is, don’t give up. When you give up, you cannot plan, you cannot think of the next thing.
No matter how bad it is, you can still come out. Things were very difficult. I was losing my job. I decided to set up a business. I didn’t have any money, so I took out a loan. You said Canada is easier than Nigeria. I actually got my loan from Nigeria. In Canada, they would tell you, you have no credit history, you don’t have this, you don’t have that, it is very difficult. I had to get a loan from family and friends. The loan was from Nigeria. Part of the groceries I started with, a friend shipped into Canada. Nigerian groceries, such as garri, beans, and so on. So it is a determination. Whenever you are in trouble, write everything down. You have to remember that being broke is not the end. You have to see yourself getting up again, and you have to keep moving. That is my own belief.
At this stage of your life, would you say that you have found fulfillment?
Yes, I am very happy with what I am doing. I believe I am fulfilled.
How do your children see you, please?
Sometimes, your children don’t say much about you until the opportunity presents itself. A few days ago, I was celebrating my 50th birthday, and they invited my children to give testimonies about what they knew about me or how they felt about me. Wow! It was mind-blowing what they said, and I felt so happy. My son was very proud of my achievements. I didn’t know that they were observing that when I said something, I would do it, so they have positive testimonies to give. My daughter said there was no mother that could have brought her up, because she believes I am understanding. They said all sorts of nice things, so they have good testimonies to give.
What are your plans for achievement?
To see to the end of hunger in Nigeria, to make sure that nobody goes hungry.
You said earlier that you reside in Canada even during your hard times. Why did you leave Nigeria for Canada?
Migration. We migrated for better education for my children.
How much help have you received from the Canadian government in order to make progress?
Without any support from the government, there is no programme that can survive. Yes, individuals may help, but the government carries most of the responsibilities. But before the government supports your vision, they have to see what you are doing. The same thing happens in Canada. Like I said earlier, we first started as a ministry, and when we ran out of resources, we wrote ministry support letters. We were lucky enough to see one person, out of the many letters we sent out, help us get the letter to the right place, and they reached us by themselves because they saw the difference we were making in the community. So I believe it is the same in Nigeria. When they see what you are doing and you reach out, they will support you. It will not be just individuals supporting you. You cannot compare Canada with Nigeria in terms of getting this support.
Have you considered some of the stress you may have to undergo in Nigeria to get this support?
I won’t go through any stress. The Nigerian government is very sensible. They are educated. They know what they are doing. When they see something that works, they will support it. They will be delighted to join forces with them. I am positive. I have no problems. When we reach out to them, they will support us.
We will reach out to them, they will see what we are doing, they will be convinced and they will support us. I will remind you when we get to the stage. Every government wants good things for their country, but when we are not getting the right and adequate personnel, it will not work. When they see people doing things that have to be done and they are doing it in the right way, they will offer their support.
What would you say about Nigerian youths?
I love the youths in Nigeria. They are very strong, because when we were growing up, it wasn’t as tough as this. And yet these things keep happening, and Nigerian youths still have a joyful disposition.
They make the most of every opportunity to make themselves happy, regardless of what is going on around them. I believe in them. I believe that with a little help, most Nigerian youths will do better.
What projects will you have for them?
When you have a charity organization, you will focus on a particular theme. Our NGO is to end hunger, so if any young person is hungry, it still covers them. They still come to have their lunch and dinner. We are still doing something for them. Food is number one. When they have enough food, they can think clearly and think of what to do next. You cannot promise accommodation or jobs. You have to focus on one thing. When youths are not hungry, there will be less trouble in the community. They are happier, they can think well and they can plan well. I think it is the foundation. We give them the foundation.
What is your message to the youth in this difficult time?
They should stay away from trouble and not give up. to believe in themselves. Being broke is not being poor, and there has to be a breakdown before a breakthrough. Sometimes, when you go down, it means you are still coming up.
Aside from this project, what else do you do?
I want to continue to expand my ministry. I am an evangelical pastor. I like to preach the gospel. I like to travel to different countries for ministry work. That is what I love doing, and I will keep doing that.
How long have you been in this ministry?
It is going to be seven years now.
What is the experience like?
Very interesting. It’s been very interesting. Having a ministry was not my plan. God knows everything. Our plan is to expand the food aspect of the ministry. My mission of coming to Nigeria with my ministry is to support my people. We have seen kindhearted Nigerians trying to reach out like this, but because it is not channelled to the right people, it does not get to the people that need it. Instead, the people they gave the project to either pocket it or reach out to a minimal number of people.
How do you tend to bridge that gap of corruption?
Thank you. That’s a very good question. I was watching on social media during COVID-19. I saw some of the items that were meant to be given to people in the communities that had expired in the warehouse. And I was like, wow! If they had given them to their families, I would have been happy; but then, they didn’t give to their families, and yet they didn’t give to the people it was meant for. That was why I came here. I am going to arrange my team myself. I will come with my team from Canada to supervise and train some of Nigeria’s to join them. They will be in charge of every unit.
I am going to bring my trusted team from Canada to Nigeria. I am not going to rely on or partner with just anybody that I don’t trust. It’s going to be my team and I. Then we can entrust reliable personnel as we go along.
Considering the present situation in Nigeria, The economy, insecurity, and others. What can you u say as a pastor, evangelist, and humanitarian?
We have to keep praying. I know we pray a lot in Nigeria, and that is what is sustaining us. We have to keep praying and holding on to our faith, and we have to change our evil ways. The Bible says that if my people that are called by my name can humble themselves, be sober themselves, and pray to God. He will heal our land. I believe that one day things will change in this country.
Do you have other projects or businesses that you do that you would like us to hear about, please?
Yes, please. I am the Managing Director of Mummy Afro Caribbean Kitchen, We have Teo (2) locations, both in Mississauga and Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada. They are five-star restaurants.
What is your slogan?
Together, we can end hunger in Nigeria.
Tell us your most exciting moment or moments.
When I celebrated my 50th birthday recently, it was very exciting. I had photo shoots for two days. I changed over and over and over again. I ordered a few more attires, but they didn’t come on time, so I couldn’t use them. Maybe God don’t want me to use them. “I like occasions that will bring families together. I get excited about seeing my siblings and my friends, and celebrating makes me excited. Church makes me excited too. I always look forward to the Sunday service where I will see everybody. I get excited on Saturday night because I know I am going to see everybody on Sunday. I get excited about the place I worship. So, the church makes me excited.
From the little you have shared with us, will it be right if I say you are the one that inherited your parents’ Godly lifestyle?
No, I won’t be able to say that because we are six children. I believe some of us love the church. They are doing well and are also serving God in their best interest.
Some parents like to see their children reflect on them while they are still alive.
Can you share their experiences of seeing you reflecting on them? I mean, their features?
My mother is still alive and she still sees that. My father too saw me going to church and doing the things of the Lord.
So, you preach?
Yes, of course, I do.