Did you know that the African woman is industrious, articulate, kind, loving and able to understand her environment being able to appreciate others? She is a strong woman and once she makes up her mind that she is going to do something, she does it very well. ~ Chief (Mrs) Opral Benson
Fashion and Beauty has become a huge industry in Nigeria, before now, these terrains were looked upon as a soft landing for school dropouts and “never-do-wells” but the story is different today with efforts from people like Nigeria’s fashion Icon, senior citizen and honorary Consular General of Nigeria to Liberia Chief (Mrs) Opral Benson.
She spoke to Woman of Substance in 2010 about her work, beauty institute and how marriage changed the course of her life!
Find the excerpts of the interview below.
WOS: OF INTEREST TO ME IS YOUR ROLE HERE AT THE CONSULATE OF THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA
OPRAL: The Consulate was set up to bring closer together the Nigerian and Liberian business communities, Liberia has got many business opportunities and we would like to have people from this country to take advantage of these opportunities. Our mission is simply to bring these two countries closely together. Liberia like any other country has lots of opportunities in mining, oil business, agriculture and some are interested in cultural activities and all of these we can get to partner and this is why we are having an open door for Nigerians to ask questions and see how they can relate to us in these circumstances.
WOS : LETS COME BACK TO NIGERIA, HOW DID YOUR ROMANCE WITH HER START?
OPRAL: The romance started by marriage. I got married to a Nigerian over 50 years ago, a gentleman and I met in Liberia in 1961 at the conference of English-Speaking countries in Africa and we were introduced to each other and the relationship started in 1961 we got married in 1962 and the rest is history.
WOS : OF THE CAREER PATHS AND BUSINESSES YOU HAVE TRAVERSED, WHICH ONE EXACTLY DESCRIBES YOU?
OPRAL: I have worked with various NGOs, I have worked with some companies in Nigeria but most of my ventures have been in the NGO area and the one that clearly describe me is the beauty school. I used to be a staff of the University of Lagos, I worked there for 10years I worked with various individuals who are now very important personalities throughout Nigeria and outside the country so I know Nigeria very well so I decided to leave the academic field as we call it and come into the beauty field because I’m interested in Fashion, in how you look and feel about yourself and that’s how I started the Opral Benson Beauty Training institute and this is our 28th year of existence and we have graduated many students who are now self-employed in so many parts of the country.
WOS: WHAT WAS THE VISION OF THE TRAINING INSTITUTE?
OPRAL: The vision was and is to empower young people and make them self-reliant and understand that they have chosen a profession which they like and which they chose themselves. Look around you and you will notice that the beauty institute has grown very fast in the last few years; it is now a much respected industry. We have done manufacturing, we have done servicing and we have done teaching, this explains why I always say we have been in this industry for a long time.
WOS: YOUR BEAUTY SCHOOL STANDS OUT, WHAT EFFORTS WENT INTO IT?
OPRAL: The challenge really was convincing individuals that the beauty industry was not and is still now for drop outs but for people who are interested in a profession and that when you are through with your course or training, you can be self-employed and earn a very honest living. It really was not easy getting people to understand that it is a profession that could stand on its own and the practitioners can stand at par with other professionals in other fields.
WOS: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE AFRICAN WOMAN?
OPRAL: She is industrious, articulate, kind, loving and able to understand her environment being able to appreciate others. She is a strong woman and once she makes up her mind that she is going to do something, she does it very well.
WOS: DO THESE QUALITIES DESCRIBE YOUR FRIEND AND PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA?
OPRAL: President Ellen Joohnson Sirleaf is a very strong woman going by the job she does in her capacity as President and she has made African women very proud.
WOS: WHAT HAS CHANGED IN LAGOS IN THE LAST 50YRS?
OPRAL: Obviously I can speak about that for someone who has been here for 5oyears, individuals have changed, the environment has changed, and Lagos has many more qualified people because of the various institutions on the ground. At this point in time we have a very good governor and he is making Lagos a very beautiful city and I believe his interest in the youths have opened up opportunities for them to get trained, Lagos has its challenges like every other states but I will tell you that the positives far outweighs the negatives.
WOS: WHY DID THE OBA OF LAGOS SINGLE YOU OUT TO HONOR YOU?
WOS: HAVE WOMEN MOVED WITH THE PACE THAT YOU HAVE DESCRIBED?
OPRAL: I strongly believe women have moved and I want to boldly say that women have got themselves to the top echelon in terms of productivity, they no longer sit back and wait to be told what to do, the challenges are still there but they have moved tremendously in the positive line.
WOS: MENTORING IS A BIG ISSUE NOW, HOW DO WE SAVE THE YOUTHS?
OPRAL: If we look at the choices most young people make today, some are right and some are wrong and that is how it has been from time, the way to get back on track Is to support people like us who have been able to start some sort of progrmme for young people to help them discover themselves and place value on their dreams and passions and in mentoring them we have to let them understand that you can live the good life if you do what you have to do in terms of acquiring the appropriate skills or education to take you where you are going and most importantly they need to know that hard work truly pays.
WOS: WHAT WOULD YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED FOR?
OPRAL: Simply that I left my footprints in the sands of time for instance with my beauty school I have people walk up to me wherever I go that either a friend, daughter or family member has passed through the institute and I feel joy when I hear that.