Amaka Ezekwugo

In this interview with GuardianWoman, she talks about her passion for children, the need for parents to be actively involved in their childrens upbringing and how leisure can be an alternative means of learning for them.
Kindly tell us about yourself?
My name is Amaka Ezekwugo nee Eneli, CEO and Founder of A&A Kids. I am a proud wife and Founder of A&A Kids. I am a proud wife and mother of three gorgeous children, an entrepreneur and by the grace of God a mogul in the making.
What led you into entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship found me at a very tender age. I have always had a desire to run my own business in the childrens entertainment industry. However, in what capacity, and to what extent, I was not totally sure. This I believe stemmed from growing up in the United Kingdom having started my education there from the age of 11.
As a child, I experienced and loved several childrens shops, play-centres etc. There was always something so magical about them. It was all like a childs haven. I would go there and walking in, feel like I wanted to have absolutely everything in the shops, which made me always wanting to go back time and time again.
After my University education, I worked at Fitch Ratings in the city of London. I realised that the longer I worked at Fitch Ratings, the more I knew I was living someone elses dream and not mine. I remember one morning sitting on the Tube on my way to work one day, I looked around the carriage at my fellow passengers; no one was smiling, all looking tired, the weather was freezing cold as it was the middle of winter. I walked outside and began my walk to the office looking the same way as the passengers on the cold Tube. It was then I had a light bulb moment. What exactly am I doing? I asked myself. I clearly wasnt happy here but stayed simply because it was a paying nine-to five job. That moment, I spontaneously decided to take the plunge and go back to my home of Nigeria. Even being a British citizen, there is only so much and so far I could achieve especially as I felt being black British. I came home and began my quest for my childrens business. After much thought, I took the route of a unique boutique style toy shop. That is how it all began. So its been a long time coming.
You run a kids party shop called A&A Kids. What inspired this line of venture?
A&A Kids Party Shop is a venture inspired by my children. I remember as a child loving my trips to a toy shop and it has always been so magical. I looked forward to it every time and I always had an endless list of what I wanted to buy. I wanted to create the same experience for children here in Lagos. A one-stop boutique style toy shop that was different from the norm, not only from the layout and interior decoration, but also knowing the products are great quality and long lasting valued toys.
A shop you can easily find a lovely gift for a childs birthday, Christmas any occasion, have it wrapped up, get a card to accompany it and know that all this is very affordable and you walk out feeling satisfied that you got value for money. I wanted to create a shop you walk into and feel so comfortable spending hours without realising simply because the environment and customer service which to me is paramount is extremely pleasant.
What does A&A stand for?
A&A stands for Amaka and Alexandria named after my daughters.
You must love children to have opened a kids party shop. What is your view on parents and their relationships with their children?
I absolutely adore children. Children truly are blessings with no worries in the world. I believe parenting and the relationship dynamics with our children have changed. I often feel we as parents miss out of how quickly our children are growing because we are so busy working hard trying to provide what we believe is the best for our families but at a price. We are not spending as much time as families anymore. Both parents are often busy trying to build their empires that in a lot of cases the children are missing out of bonding time and so are being raised by our home helpers (nannies).
I feel as though sometimes parents learn more about their children from their nannies simply because the child spends more hours in the day with the nannies. I often wonder how well parents truly know their children inside out if we are being honest with ourselves.
It is time we all as parents consciously make the effort to be unified in our homes and create true family bonding time as hands-on fathers and mothers. Our children need us.
Can you tell us about a project or accomplishment that has been the most significant in your business?
I believe my return to Nigeria after several years and opening up A&A Kids Party Shop simply because I took the brave plunge into the unknown and stuck to my guns is most significant. Knowing fully well that starting a business in Nigeria would not necessarily be plain sailing without hiccups and general daily frustrations of things, I took for granted things such as constant electricity, water, good sense of security and more. However I truly love what I do and I am enjoying every step of the journey and have quickly understood it is simply molding me to persevere and be resilient.
Are you currently working on any new projects?
I have been thinking, dreaming, living on a project in my head for the last eight years. I believe it will come to fruition and my hearts desire of putting together what I have envisaged for children in Nigeria would happen one day and soon.
I have played around with this project for these number of years because I want to get it right, not wanting to rush it simply so I can do exactly what I have always planned to do down to the little details. It will be a one-stop Family Centre; a place that will create great bond between parents and their kids, where children will learn and play and parents are taken good care of, too. Even the nannies are also catered for. I will keep you guessing.
What is your funding situation for this project?
It is very discouraging for businesses such as mine trying to source for funds to carry out projects that will benefit our society. Approaching banks have not been very encouraging, so I am going the route of family and friends funding with fantastic ROI (return on investments). That way, they are investing not only in my business, but also in me knowing I work tirelessly and they believe in my project. However, funding is still required but I believe it will come.
As regards this new project, what is your view on the impact of leisure on children?
Once my project is up and running, the impact of leisure with children in Nigeria will be on a different scale. It will be huge and I believe it would solve a lot of problems parents face with having to think constantly of how to entertain their children not just on the weekends, but daily.
Do you agree that leisure can be an alternative means of learning for children?
Children learn through play, which we have realised. With this new project, it will encompass these areas, which means they can play and learn in a fun and safe environment. Part of the bigger picture for us, is to encourage learning in an unconventional way.
Should parents embrace alternative learning?
Absolutely! Parents should definitely embrace alternative learning. It is not all about being in the classroom. We know that there is so much that children learn simply from their environment and from other children, too. In other parts of the world, we see and experience the alternative ways of childrens learning which is why we like to take our children outside the shores of Nigeria sometimes, so it is now time we brought that home.
Do you face any challenges running a business and several projects, while catering for your home?
It is by no means easy running an existing business, planning a new project and being a mother and wife too. I often marvel at the strength the Lord has given me without me breaking down. My typical day for example is a 5:00am wake up, get my three children up and ready for school, making sure all knees and elbows are well greased (lol), hair combed and brushed. Sometimes it feels like a military precision.
I take my children to school and must be there by 7;00am. I rush back home, get ready to go to my shop in time for a 9:00am start. I leave the shop once its time for the school pick up again, take the children home, and then start homework. Once done, I go back to the shop, stay till the close of day, then I am off back home again to make sure the children are fed and ready for bed. This is my daily routine. Its not easy but I wouldnt ask for anything else as I see this as being the time I spend catching up and bonding with my children; asking questions, answering their interesting and very often funny questions and also listening to the conversations between themselves. Children grow up so fast and any day you miss with them is a day you can never get back. So I say I am blessed and in all this, I am being a wife to my husband too.
Asides work, what do you do for fun?
For fun I love gisting with my husband and catching up. I also like to unwind and relax with friends. During me time I enjoy watching all the TV programs I missed during the week. I also enjoy cooking as well. Les just say I have fun in diverse ways.