In a typical Nigerian social gathering where every member of the family is present, it’s easy to spot out the Nanny. Her clothes are demure and old, not stylish and flashy like others; she sits with her head bowed most of the time, away from the rest of the family, cradling or feeding the baby left in her care; her hair is shaved to a low cut or woven in a modest style. She doesn’t speak except she is addressed and she has little or no self-esteem.
When Amara Agbim noticed these traits in the Nanny she entrusted with her precious children, she knew she had to do something about it. “Back then she was not comfortable when she accompanied the children and I on outings and she didn’t want to be addressed as a Nanny,” Amara recalls. “I perceived this was more from lack of self-esteem doing a job that our society regards as derogatory than lack of love for the children. I felt deeply hurt by that and desired to do something to change all that.”
Armed with a desire to improve people’s judgment about how Nannies should be treated and to help nannies feel more confident about their jobs, she started Nigeria’s first institution providing organized training services for Nannies in 2010: The Nanny Academy. This would later be a hub for women seeking careers as child minders, helping provide a work-life balance for not just the working mum but for every woman raising children under thirteen years old.
From the number of success stories the institution has recorded till date, it would seem The Nanny Academy had a smooth takeoff from idea to startup. But it wasn’t so. Amara faced a big challenge convincing her family members that this was what she wanted to do.
“The greatest difficulty was convincing my husband and parents I could do this for a living,” Amara tells me about her family’s initial reaction to her idea. “My husband found it ridiculous that with all my qualifications I could settle to run a Nanny Agency and my Mum felt it was something that I could do part time. My Mum even said to me that this is not her dream for her daughter!”
Little did they didn’t know that this dream was already deeply ingrained in her, and so for Amara, there was no turning back. And just like it happens in most cases, there was reward for her hard work. It wasn’t until she began to win some awards and business funding such as the BET Award, the Federal Government of Nigeria’s YouWin Programme, WISCAR Membership and the 40 Under 40 Special Recognition Award that “they began to see reason with me”, Amara says proudly.
The challenges didn’t end there. Her search for professional training or a model institution to learn from in Nigeria yielded no results. “Most agencies operate combined services and it was hard to see a successful model,” Amara speaks of her frustration. “I had a hard time learning from nowhere and eventually travelled to the United States to see what they do over there. So many people told me organized Nanny Services cannot work in Nigeria the way it works abroad but I was persistent and passionate to make mine a success.”
She did persist indeed, and today, The Nanny Academy offers different kinds of training programs to individuals and institutions that are in the business of childcare. The major elements of training Nannies gotten from The Nanny Academy are sound knowledge of children, how they grow and behave and how childcare workers are to conduct themselves professionally while at work. This has gone a long way in improving the performance of Nannies who have undertaken some of their long and short term training courses such as the Baby and Home Management Orientation program (BHOM) a two-week basic orientation program that raises awareness of baby-care and basic home management; the Baby and Daycare Operations Management (BADOP); and the Certified Professional Child-Caregiver (CPC) Program. The duration of the courses ranges from two weeks to six months.
I recalled reading a Newspaper feature about how the unemployment crunch was causing graduates to seek for jobs that were previously relegated to the uneducated sector. Seeking placement as Nannies was one which struck a chord within me. I found it quite hard to believe, but for Amara, it was not news to her.
“It isn’t a joke,” she responded matter-of-factly. “We have placed several graduate Nannies and still have some current graduate applicants. We have had to align them in the field of childcare by providing orientation programs that would enable them succeed on the job. The tales from most of the graduate applicants seeking Nanny jobs are tales of the woes of being unemployed after graduation, poor salaries in previous places of work, while in some cases we’ve seen individuals who felt called to the Nanny profession as a vocation.”
She however agreed that graduate Nannies perform better at their jobs than those with little or no education. Most times, the very literate Nannies outperform their not-so literate counterparts using relationship skills and ability to work without supervision as index markers. “Graduate/Literate Nannies scored higher levels of satisfaction with employers because they possess the ability to maintain qualitative relationships as they possess higher communication skills which indirectly aids their understanding and promotes ability to work without being micromanaged. For instance, they can receive instructions from their employers via text message and reply satisfactorily. Being a literate/graduate Nanny also increases the value-added for families as such as ability to help children with homework which can be translated to ability to provide early childhood education for children.”
Caring for children, I believe, is as important as any other job out there; perhaps even more sensitive than most. Parents need that trusted person to be there for their children in their absence. A child’s wellbeing means everything to a parent, but, do Nannies earn enough for the very vital role they play in families? Amara says that compared to international rates, Nannies don’t earn as much as they ought to. “The average amount Nannies earn is N40,000 monthly. Depending on a candidates’ education and experience they can earn so much more or less. For instance there are Nannies earning N60,000, N80,000 or N120,000 as well as those earning N25,000.”
The amount of money a Nanny is paid should however, not be the only factor for expecting efficiency on the job. Amara advises that mothers should look out for Nanny Candidates who have undergone some form of training to launch into the profession or those who have done it before. “Determining these will show through candidates whose commitment levels are high,” she advises. “Commitment to the job is essential for the children’s emotional health benefit and for the ultimate convenience to the mothers.”
It’s easy to understand why Amara pushes so hard when her work is her passion. She’s chosen a path where waking up is another day to live out her dream, and she’s determined to inspire more people to embrace the Nanny career as a viable means of livelihood. Her joy is in the feedback she gets from clients about the better performance of Nannies trained by The Nanny Academy and the improved confidence they now have in their jobs. For over a decade now, her children’s Nanny has been improving on her job and living a fulfilled life, a testament to Amara’s hardwork. “I started out mentoring her and gradually her confidence grew. Today she is visibly confident and proud doing her job and even has a swag going about it.”