Delta Governor, Sen. (Dr) Ifeanyi Okowa, on Thursday said his administration’s passion for girl-child empowerment was predicated on the need to break away from issues of gender discrimination, poverty and low self-esteem among young women.

He stated this at the graduation of beneficiaries of the 2021/2022 Girls’ Entrepreneurship and Skills Training Programme (Project GEST) at the Events Centre, Asaba.

The governor said that empowerment of the Girl-child was essentially to uplift the economic and social status of traditionally under-privileged girls in society, noting that empowerment of the girl-child from ages 18 to 30 had become a major public policy issue.

“Six months ago, the second cycle of trainees under the Girls’ Entrepreneurship and Skills Training Programme (GEST) commenced.

“It gives me great pleasure today to witness their inauguration into the world of business and entrepreneurship.

“It is instructive that this event is taking place 48 hours after the 2022 International Women’s Day, with the theme `Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow’.

“The focus is on how to “Break the Bias” that women face every day in the global marketplace and thereby accelerate gender parity, equality, inclusion, and diversity.

“This is in tandem with the philosophy of GEST, which is to tackle the issues of gender discrimination, poverty, early/forced marriage, identity crisis, social and parental pressure, poor life skills (communication, decision making, goal setting) and low self-esteem, among young women.

“Today, as we resource and unleash 814 young women into the business world, we can beat our chests that this administration is recording significant milestones in breaking the bias against women in business,” he said.

Okowa urged the “GESTpreneurs’’ to break free from the mindset of mediocrity, advising that to excel in the marketplace, they must make quality products and excellent service delivery their unique selling points.

He stressed that self-belief and self-confidence were essential prerequisites for success in business, and that no prospective client would deal with a businessperson that was unsure of herself or her product.

“From your carriage, presentation, and appearance, you should always exude confidence, and instill same in your prospective customer.

“The truth about business is that people believe in you first before they believe in your product; in other words, they buy into your personality first before they consider what you want them to buy,” he stated.

He commended the Project GEST team for its commitment to the programme, saying “I am pleased with their zeal, passion, and dedication to duty.

“More gratifying is their commitment to best practices. Even though 900 trainees were enlisted into this second cycle, 814 ladies are graduating today; 70 of them had their training extended while sixteen failed.

“The strict adherence to and enforcement of standards by the project managers will foster discipline, discourage nepotism, and sustain credibility of the programme.

“I urge you to maintain the tempo and to strive to break new frontiers in our quest to empower the girl-child.”

Wife of the Governor, Dame Edith Okowa said the beneficiaries were successful because of the grace of God upon their lives and urged them to remain resilient and ensure absolute integrity in carrying out their enterprise.

Special Guest of Honour and Chief Executive Officer, House-of-Tara, Mrs Tara Fela-Durotoye, said the beneficiaries were true champions for enduring through tough times the training to emerge victorious in their chosen careers.

She urged the beneficiaries to build their businesses to last by leaving a lasting impression in the minds of their customers.

Earlier In her welcome address, Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Girl-Child Empowerment, Mrs Marilyn Okowa-Daramola, had said that the second cycle known as the “Magnificent 900” scaled through the process maintained focus and crossed the finish line.

She stated that the Project GEST had continued to change the story of so many young girls in Delta by making them well trained entrepreneurs with necessary tools to confront current economic challenges.

“Your Excellency, this is the second cycle of the Project GEST beneficiaries known as the “Magnificent 900.”

“Out of the 900 selected candidates, I present to you 814 passionate, powerful, dedicated, and ambitious women from across our great state, who stuck through the process, maintained their focus, and are here today crossing the finish line.

“While the duration of training for 70 of the beneficiaries is currently being extended to further assess their knowledge in their chosen skill, 16, however, failed and will not be graduating.

“Yes, we can say that the girls “Came, They Saw, They Conquered.” Yes, I am proud of all of you, but most importantly, I am sure that you too are all proud of what you have accomplished.

“I am sure that you can all envision the direct impact that the training that you have all received will have on your families and most importantly, on your respective communities.

“With your graduation today, a lot of families have been empowered and now have well-trained entrepreneurs; and will sleep tonight knowing that their mothers, sisters, wives, and even daughters, have the necessary skills and tools to confront the economic challenges of the future.

“This year, I am proud to announce that this program has become more sustainable because many of our beneficiaries from the pilot phase of the program decided to pay it forward and become trainers themselves,” she stated.

Four exceptional awards – Dame Edith Okowa Award for most outstanding trainee was presented to Aghogho Siakpere; Hon. Pat Ajudua Award for Exemplary Leadership Skills went to Eva Ochonogor; while Eke Victory Nwanne was presented with the Hon. Evelyn Oboro Award for the most resilient trainee and the Tara Fela-Durotoye Award for most enterprising trainee went to Odogwu Elizabeth Nkem.

The ceremony also featured presentation of starter-packs to the graduands and it was attended by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Chief Ndudi Elumelu, members of the state legislature and other top government functionaries.

The graduands from the second cycle were trained in 10 skills areas namely Photography, Videography, ICT (Website Development & Graphics Design), Baking/ Confectioneries, Leather works, Professional Cleaning Services, Disc Jockey, Fashion Design, Hairdressing and Make-up.