An African proverb says: “a blind person knows his environment more than a visitor with eyes.” Those words are true. When I went to Nina’s home for the interview, she came unescorted by anyone to the gate, and led me to the hall, and offered me a seat.
What is more, I realised she uses a smart phone and chats on WhatsApp, uses the computer and types faster than most of us. She also cooks by herself, and does virtually everything that everybody does. Above all, she is a writer and an entrepreneur who produces natural coconut oil. But, the reality is that, she wasn’t born blind. Find out her ordeal and journey as she speaks with the B&FT.
Nina Efedi Okoroafor, was born in Accra to Nigerian parents, but has her maternal grandmother being Ghanaian. She is a product of Okuapeman Senior High School in the Eastern Region. Then, she continued at the University of Ghana where she graduated with a degree in Social Works, Sociology and Religion.
Nina lived a normal life just like any other child. She used to go to school, played with her colleagues, read and wrote just like everyone, until things began changing at age eight.
“When I was about 8 years old, I noticed something unusual with my eyes. I realised that my left eye was a bit unfocused but the right one could see normally. My mother took me to the hospital and I was given lens to wear and some medication to treat it. But as time passed by, I realised the right one was also developing the same problem.
So, in 2005, we went back to the hospital and were advised that surgeries must be done on both eyes. They conducted the surgery but my eyes didn’t get any better. Then in 2006, I started experiencing severe headaches. One day, while rushing to school, I bumped into an electric pole on the way. Then, my mother realised things were getting out of hand and decided to take me to the hospital again.
The doctor suggested I took a CT scan to find out what the problem could be. I remember that day we, because it was the day Ghana experienced an eclipse of the sun, which I saw. The scan results showed that I had a big brain tumour which, the doctor said, if not removed, could lead to paralysis or death,” Nina narrated.
Eventually, two major surgeries were done on her and it took a whole year for her to recuperate. Hopes were high she would get better after the surgery, but to her disappointment, it rather got worst and subsequently led her to blindness.
It was a big blow to her family, especially for her mother who could not just accept the fact that her daughter is blind. Her school teachers suggested to her mother to take her to the school of the blind in order to continue her education.
Nina was just 13 years at the time, and her mother heeded to the advice of the teachers and enrolled at the Akropong School for the Blind. There, she learned to use the braille and was able to write the BECE in 2010. After passing the BECE, she got admission to the Okuapeman Senior High School in Akropong, Eastern Region, where she studied Geography, History and French. She moved on to the University of Ghana and studied Social Work, Sociology and Religion after missing out on law school.
Nina was not interested in working in any corporate environment after school. So, she decided to set up her own business and even employ others, something many considered a daunting and nearly impossible a task.
The birth of Purvin Coconut Oil
Nina, as smart as she is, looked around her to see what she could do, then she remembered her grandmother is an expert in making quality coconut oil. So, she did further reading and information gathering about coconuts and found ways she could improve on what her grandmother taught her. Then, she registered her business as Purvin Enterprise, a name she deduced from pure virgin, as her oil is purely natural and contain no additives and preservatives.
Asked how her products are different from others on the market, Nina said: “Purvin Coconut Oil is what we call extra virgin coconut oil. It is unadulterated and does not go through any chemical processing. It is purely natural and the oil that comes out as the finished product is very clear. It doesn’t have that pungent smell like the various coconut oil we see in the market.
Purvin Coconut Oil retains the natural coconut flavour because of the process with which it is prepared. It can be used as cosmetics for the skin, for cooking and oil pulling (as a mouthwash).”
At this point, I am sure one question that keeps lingering in the minds of many is how she is able to know if what she is producing meets the quality she wants. Well, I asked. And she told me she uses her other senses, such as the sense of smell, taste and feeling to do her own checks. In addition, she has people she engages in the value chain who also help.
It is obvious that Nina will face some challenges. Not only because she is visually impaired, but the economic environment is not helping her.
“The cost of operations for this business is really crippling me. I don’t have my own machines to operate so I have to hire. Each week, I spend about GH¢150 to grind the coconuts. I have to also hire a machine for squeezing the milk out of the coconut, and on top of that, hire personnel and pay them for their services. All these increase my cost of doing business.”
Again, she does not have the financial capacity to produce on a large scale. Because of this problem, she is not even able to post her products on social media because she fears she cannot meet demand when orders come in. At the moment, she is only able to produce just four of the 4.5litre-gallons a week.
“The market is there for my product but I don’t have the financial and mechanical capacity to produce.
Another challenge is her disability. Sometimes, it places some limitations on what she really wants to do.
How education has helped
Education has helped Nina to value research, as she reads a lot to find new ways of doing things in order to improve her product quality.
Nina wants to turn her coconut oil business into a bigger industry. She wants her products to be the household name for various oils in the country and even export outside the boundaries of Ghana.
“I have big dreams for it. I wish to have my own large coconut farm which will serve as my raw material base. Then, I want to venture into other oils. I will do palm oil, palm kernel oil, sunflower oil, among others. And I will reuse all the by-products for something else just as is done in Malaysia.”
Advice to people with disability
“Once there is life, there is hope. So, I want to encourage anyone with disability not to give up and think it is all over. Look within yourself and you will see you are good at something.
How government can support
Government, she said, should encourage people with disability to enter into entrepreneurship by expanding the funding available to help them. I know some funds exist but often,we don’t even get them. So, government should look for ways of expanding it and making it easily accessible.”
When I was just about to part with her, Nina made this warm appeal to me. She said: “Obed, please, find me investors to help my business grow.” And I replied: Investors will surely come after reading your touching story in the B&FT.
Contact Nina on 0555556970 or 0264701424