Recent 2022 statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, indicates that 811 million people still go to bed hungry each night.
The report said 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 and the 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 rate of hunger in the land.
In this regard, FAO 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,” it says.
One of the major non-government organizations making efforts to tackle the menace of hunger across the world is the House of Praise and Prayer ministry, HOPAP, a Canada-based charity organization founded by Pastor Tinuola Babafemi, a Nigerian.
Pastor Babafemi, whose NGO has positively affected many lives in Canada by providing free food banks to thousands of less privileged in Ontario, Canada, has, however, deemed it fits to extend the same service to Nigerians with a goal of feeding over 5000 Nigerians daily.
With this move, HOPAP is on its way to supporting the UN’s SDG goal three of Zero Hunger.
In this interview, Pastor Babafemi told Sesan Awobiye how she struggled to survive outside Nigeria, why she started HOPAP, and the impacts she has made and her plans towards the future.
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, while my mother was a deaconess.
They were very devoted in their religion. My parents loved Christ and they brought us up in the same manner. I particularly followed their footsteps. I loved to go to church, anything of God, anything of Christian religion. That is where the interest of having a House of Praise and Prayer, HOPAP, came from. It is the background I was born into.
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 part of my education in some parts of Ibadan, before I moved on to Canada.
I have a NGO called House of Praise and Prayer, (HOPAP). We started this charitable ministry on December 15, 2015 and this year by the grace of God we will be celebrating our 7th anniversary. We’re in Ontario corporation and working across Ontario, Canada.
HOPAP Charity Organisation is aimed at eradicating hunger in the world by 2032. There shouldn’t be anybody hungry in the world by 2032.
Why did you choose to come to Nigeria?
The reason I’m here in preparation to bringing the ministry to Nigeria because I am a Nigerian, a proud Nigerian and I love my country. We are more hungry in Nigeria than in Canada. Here in Canada, there are social services, and there is government support.
In the past, I have been homeless, I have been hungry and I went to food bank. They gave me groceries and because I had nowhere to cook, I had to give them out. From that experience, I know that people are hungry, but they had nowhere to cook whatever you give them. 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 could take me through that pain, I don’t want anybody to be hungry.
Can you tell us more about your experience?
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 can’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 is also 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 few years or a few months, depending on how aggressive or the experience I have in the business to survive.
I lived in my grocery store for six months. I got a place for my two children where they lived together. My daughter was in the 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 anybody again.
I created my own business and I lived inside my grocery store. I also went to register with a local gym so in the morning I would go to the gym, take my showers, and just use their equipment for two minutes. I would do my make-up and stay in the front of my businesses selling my products, and it worked. So that was how I came out of the situation.
Where is your point of call in Nigeria?
Our first point of call is Ibadan, because I am from there and I have local contacts in Ibadan. It is a good point to start. I have friends and families that can support; to put me through what I needed to do. 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?
As many people that need the help. It is not one person’s job. It is not my own job alone but together we can end hunger in Nigeria. So when you start it and people see how effective it is, they will support you.
My ministry started alone in Canada and one morning, I discovered that we were running out of food, I sent out ministry support letter to every contacts on my e-mail and my letter got to a particular man that I didn’t even know.
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 reads: “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 the government started giving out grant support. We serve over 100,000 families in year 2021.
So when you start and people see your commitment that you are really doing what you say you want to do and making impact, it becomes everybody’s work. That’s what I believe.
How much has HOPAP impacted the society so far?
So far,we have impacted the society positively,because we put smiles on peoples’ faces. When people walk into our food bank,they feel happy and surprised especially when they realise we are Nigerians. It really makes me feel fulfilled when I see people of different race and ideology benefiting from our food bank
I heard you have a book. What’s it about?
Yes. My book tells testimony of what God did for me. I put them together in a book to tell the world what I have been through, how God saw me through and how much God has been kind to me.
What are you intending to achieve in the 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 not to have something to eat for breakfast, lunch and 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 experience, one will say that you were able to come out of it because you were residing in abroad. Can you please, tell us how it was and how you think young people here in Nigeria can come out of such situation?
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 and British passports that are hungry and poor. Being a British, being a foreigner, or being a Canadian doesn’t make you rich, it doesn’t make you make it in life. So it is individual’s determination.
If there are no hungry people in Canada, will there be anything like food bank? The difference is that there is help and somewhere to run to.
So when you are in a difficult situation where everything is bad, be determined and don’t give up. The first thing is don’t give up because when you do, you cannot plan and 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. When I decided to set up a business, I didn’t have money. I had to take up a loan. You said Canada is easier than Nigeria, I actually got my loan from Nigeria!
In Canada, they would say you have no credit history, you don’t have this, you don’t have that. It’s very difficult! I had to get loan from family and friends; the loan was from Nigeria.
Part of the groceries I started with, a friend shipped it into Canada from Nigeria; food groceries like garri, beans and so on. So it’s determination. Whenever you are in trouble, 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?
Sometimes, your children don’t say much about you until the opportunity presents itself. Few days ago, I was celebrating my 50th birthday and they invited my children to give testimonies about what they know about me, or what they feel 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, so they had positive testimonies to give. My daughter said there was no mother that could have brought her up, because she believed I am understanding. They said all sorts of nice things.
You said earlier that you reside in Canada even during your hard times. Why did you leave Nigeria to Canada?
Migration. We migrated for better education for my children.
How much support are you enjoying from the Canada government to have gained grounds?
Without any support from the government there is no programme that can survive. Yes, individuals may help, but government carries most of the responsibilities. But before 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 letters we sent out, to help us get the letter to the right place and they reached out to us by themselves because they saw the difference we are 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 supports. Have you considered some of the stress you may have to undergo in Nigeria to get support?
I won’t go through any stress. The Nigerian government is very sensible. They are educated and they know what they are doing when they see something that works. I am positive, I have no problem. When we reach out to them, they will support us.
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 these things keep happening and Nigerians youths still have joyful disposition. They make use of every opportunity to make themselves happy regardless of what is going on. I believe in them, I believe with a little help most Nigerian youths will do better.
What project will you have for them?
When you have a charity organization you will focus on a particular theme, our own NGO is to end hunger. So if any youth is hungry, it still covers them. Food is number one. When they have enough food, they can think right and think of what to do next. You cannot promise accommodation and jobs alone. You have to focus on one thing. When youths are not hungry, there will be less trouble in the community.
What is your message for the youths at this hard times as a mother?
They should stay away from trouble and not to 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 gospels and travel to different countries for ministry works. 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. Our plan is to bring out 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 channeled to the right people, it does not get to people that needs them. Instead, the people they gave the project to either pocket them or reach out to minimal number of people.
How do you tend to bridge that gap of corruption?
Thank you. That’s a very good question!
During COVID-19, I was on the social media and I saw some of items that was meant to be given to people in the communities that got expired in the warehouses.
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 is why I came on ground. I am going to arrange my team myself.
I will come with my team from Canada to supervise and train some Nigerians. They will be in charge of every unit. 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 tell us 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 hold on to our faith and we also have to change from evil ways. The Bible says if my people that are called by my name can humble themselves, and be sober and pray to God, He will heal our land. I believe that one day, things will change in the country.
Do you have other projects or businesses you do that you will like us to hear about?
Yes, please. I am the owner and operator of two locations of Mummy Afro Caribbean Kitchen both in Mississauga and Etobicoke, Ontario Canada. They are both 5 Star Restaurant.
Tell us about 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 that was God saying that don’t I have to overdo; you have dressed enough and changed enough. I like occasions that will bring families together. I get excited seeing my siblings, my friends and celebrating makes me excited. Church makes me excited too. I always look forward to 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 parent’s 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 also serving God in their best interest.
I think you reflect it (parents’ religious background) the more
You may be right, somehow.
Some parents like to see their children take after them while they are still alive
Yes. 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.