Engaging and Mentoring Nigerian Youth in the Fight Against Sickle Cell Anemia


For Onor-Obassi Egim Tawo, a 2020 Mandela Washington Fellowship alumnus, her enthusiasm for mentoring youth began in her community church. Surprised by the lack of youth involvement in church activities, she took on leadership roles in her church’s teenage and youth ministries. These leadership positions were the stepping stones that fostered her commitment to youth development and mentorship.

In 2018, Onor-Obassi began her nonprofit, the Okares Sickle Cell Foundation. The foundation’s vision is to achieve a sickle cell–free Nigeria through community enlightenment and provide care to people living with the disease. One of the organization’s main objectives is to create a public genotype consciousness, through enlightenment campaigns in secondary schools, colleges, tertiary institutions, and rural areas.

Onor-Obassi suffers from sickle cell anemia herself, but she has not let this health challenge slow down her success. She is a lawyer, an author, an entrepreneur, and the CEO of her nonprofit. Additionally, she envisioned the start of her nonprofit as another opportunity to get young people involved with volunteering in their communities while helping them build practical skills for their career development.

“I have a lot of young people volunteering with project management, advocacy and counseling services, digital marketing and human resource management,” she says.

The foundation runs a campaign called “Know your Genotype,” which offers free genotype tests to community members. The first iteration of this campaign is a memory that has remained with Onor-Obassi. She recalls, “I was amazed at the level of organization, engagement and passion with which my volunteers handled their respective duties. Even though I was there in person, there was nothing left for me to do. I actually left the work in their capable hands, went to work and returned to them at the close of work to meet the end of the campaign.”

For Onor-Obassi, an inspiring youth leader is someone who understands and is passionate about their vision for an organization. For those seeking to start their own youth organization, she advises that you have to create the change you want to see and work collaboratively with like-minded individuals. She explains, “There is only so little you can do by yourself regardless of how much you know.” 

“The story of Okares Sickle Cell Foundation is not complete without the influence of the YALI Network,” Onor-Obassi says. The YALI Network online course “Effective Communications for Healthy Outcomes” sowed the seeds of the nonprofit. She adds that her YALI coursework taught her how to blog and motivated her to write her book “Rate Your Pain.” 

With all of these accomplishments, Onor-Obassi is set on tackling more goals. Some of her goals include: establishing offices of the Okares Sickle Cell Foundation in at least 10 states in Nigeria within the next 10 years, obtaining a master’s degree, and getting more involved in youth development opportunities. With her demonstrated dedication to youth development, her community, and the fight against sickle cell anemia, there is no doubt that she will accomplish these goals and many more.

Are you interested in learning how you can be a mentor to youth? Visit our YALI4Youth page for more tools and resources.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the Network or the U.S. government.



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