Adanna Ifeoma Enwezor is a mental health advocate, Executive Director of Photizo Life foundation and Founder of African Hair summit and the Afro Hair Culture and Beauty Festival. As an African Voice Ambassador with University of Leeds in United Kingdom, she worked closely with young children in schools, educating them about the African Continent with a focus on issues pertaining to development. Adanna has a Bsc Sociology from University of Abuja, Nigeria and an MA Global Development and Africa from the University of Leeds. She is hopeful about the future of Africa and implores you to join your hope with hers through her initiatives to build that future.
The challenge we are seeing these days with mental health, depression, suicide etc is concerning. As a mental health advocate, what’s your take on what’s behind the surge in mental health problems?
There is a low level of awareness about mental health issues and a culture of people who experience mental health problems not opening up and seeking help. It is best that we address mental health early by initiating discussions and creating unique awareness campaigns to prevent the problems we are seeing.
How do the beginnings of mental health problems typically manifest that people might tend to ignore and what’s your advice on what to do when one observes these signs?
The most common signs are changes in behavior or thoughts, confusion, forgetfulness, anger, fright, mood swings, anxiety, in short, things that may be out of character. Hallucination is another symptom seen in 2% of our population and increasing by the day. Hallucination can be visionary- seeing things that are not real or auditory- hearing things that don’t exist. If someone experiences any of the above or anything that seems unusual, they should seek help from qualified professionals promptly.
There’s another issue close to your heart- sensitizing African women about the harmful effects of toxic hair products. What have you seen changing since embarking on this agenda?
It hasn’t been the easiest journey; however, there has been incredible progress. As a result of our campaigns, more women are now beginning to embrace their natural hair and the use of natural hair products. Many women attend our African hair summits and buy natural hair products from vendors from all over the world. We are truly excited about the impact of our work and what it is doing for the natural hair and beauty industry.
One of your goals is to influence 10 million women (and men) across Africa to embrace their natural hair. What strategies are you using considering how common weaves and wigs are?
There is no harm in using hair extensions; however, we would be delighted to have more women proudly rocking their natural hair. This is our identity, our culture. This is who we are. We use various strategies including social media, events and other subtle campaigns informing the masses on the benefits of natural hair, the advantages of natural hair products, the health benefits and business opportunities in the industry. Healthwise, it is safer to go natural than apply artificial products. We have goodwill ambassadors who also share the same views and several government organizations and private sector companies working with us to increase the impact of our work.
Your broader vision though is as you say “ICE”- To Inspire, Celebrate, Empower African women and admonish your fellow women not to live a false life. What is the false life and how are you setting the example on this?
I believe in being real. Be you. Love yourself! Love others. Unfortunately there is a lot of unhealthy competition which is affecting the unity we ought to share as women. We must learn to support and encourage each other. We may not be the same but the most important thing is that you fulfil your purpose here on earth.
If you were identifying a young woman to groom into a woman leader what specific traits would you look for?
I would look for someone who is a good listener and learner, who has self discipline, goals and self confidence.
Obviously you haven’t done what you’ve done all by yourself. How do you tell when you need help and how do you persuade others to support you?
Nothing really comes easy. It’s about being committed and consistent in what we do and being realistic in our plans. We are still working on getting more organizations and individuals to buy into the projects and help fund them.
What for you has stood the test of time?
God. He remains consistent.