From Grass to Grace, Former homeless Nigerian Pastor Tinuola Babafemi moves to take on world hunger

Reading Time: 14 minutes

By Sesan Awobiye

Recent 2022 statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, indicate that 811 million people still go to bed hungry each night.

The report said that after steadily declining for a decade, world hunger is rising, affecting 9.9% of people globally.

From 2019 to 2020, the number of undernourished people grew by as many as 161 million, a crisis is driven even largely by conflict, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the case of Nigeria, the state of insecurity, among other factors, are responsible for the rate of hunger in the land.

In this regard, FAO has emphasized the need for bold action against hunger before things get out of hand. According to them, about 660 million people may still face hunger in 2030 due to the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on global security.

"Unless bold actions are taken to accelerate progress, especially actions to address major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition and the inequalities affecting the access of millions to food, hunger will not be eradicated by 2030".

In a bid to put an end to hunger in the world, a humanitarian, an Entrepreneur, and a crusader of Christ, Pastor Tinuola Babafemi, through her NGO, House of Praise and Prayer (HOPAP ), is on her mission to end hunger with her project, 'PROJECT FEED 5000' which is centred at reaching out to as many as possible especially the less privilege with her food bank, making sure that no household goes hungry.

With these moves, HOPAP is on its way to supporting the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, goal three of Zero Hunger.

From Grass to Grace, Former homeless Nigerian moves to take on world hunger
Pastor Tinuola Babafemi

Tinuola tells the story of how she struggled to survive outside Nigeria, why she started HOPAP, the impacts she has made, and her plans for the future with Sesan Awobiye

Your background and how it has influenced your project?

I was brought up in a Christian home. My father was an elder of The Apostolic Church. My mother was a deaconess.

They were very devoted to their religion. My parents loved Christ and brought us up in the same manner. I particularly followed their footsteps. I loved going to church, anything of God, or the Christian religion. That is where the interest in having a House of Praise and Prayer, HOPAP came from. It is the background I was born into.

My name is Tinuola Babafemi. I am a Nigerian /Canadian. My parents are from Ilesha, but we grew up in Ibadan. I did most of my secondary school and some of my education in some parts of Ibadan before moving to Canada.

I have an NGO called House of Praise and Prayer (HOPAP). We started this Charitable Ministry on the 15th of December 2015, and this year by the grace of God, we will be celebrating our 7th anniversary. We are an Ontario corporation working across Ontario, Canada.

There shouldn't be HOPAP Charity Organisation aimed at eradicating hunger in the world by 2032. "There shouldn't be anybody hungry in the world by 2032."

Why did you choose to come to Nigeria?

Ontario, Canada, was our first point of call, and we are going all over Ontario, and now we are coming to Nigeria in October, which is why I am here in preparation for that. Because obviously, I am a proud Nigerian; I love my country. We are more hungry in Nigeria than in Canada, do you understand what I mean?. Here in Canada, there are social services and government support.

In the past, I was homeless, I was hungry, and I went to the food bank; they gave me groceries, I had nowhere to cook, and I had to give them out, so from that experience, I know that people are hungry, but they had nowhere to cook whatever you give them. So for those people, you should give them cooked food and not uncooked food. So when people come to register, we will find out their situation, so we know how to deal with them accordingly.

Would you say that your experience prompted you to open this organization?

Yes. Because I have decided that If God can take me through that pain, I don't want anybody to be hungry.

Can you tell us more about your experiences?

When we migrated to Canada, I was with my children. I have two children. It was tough for me to keep a job. I don't know what went wrong, so If I couldn't keep a job, I couldn't earn a living, and from there, I was broke. I resorted to going to a food bank to get food, and most of the time, they don't have cooked meals. They don't have facilities, and they gave me what they had. They gave me groceries, and there was nowhere to cook them, so I decided it was also good to have a kitchen and a pantry. We are going to have both.

How did you come out of the painful experience?

Yes, I decided to get a loan and set up my own business. When I set up my own business, as you know, it takes a few years or months, depending on how aggressive or the experience I have in the business, to survive.

I lived in my grocery store for six months. I got a place for my two children where they lived together. My daughter was in the university; she was living in the university facility, so I moved my son to stay with her. I was living in my grocery store. I chose my business over my accommodation because I was determined not to be hungry and beg anybody again.

I created my own business, and I lived inside my grocery store. I went to register with a local gym in the morning. I would go to the gym, take my showers, and just use their equipment for two minutes. I would do my make-up and stay in the front of my business selling my products, and it worked, so that was how I came out of the situation.

After Ibadan, where do you intend to go?

We are starting in Ibadan because I grew up in Ibadan.

Our first point of call is Ibadan because I am from Ibadan and have local contacts in Ibadan. It is an excellent point to start. I have friends and families that can support me to put me through what I need to do. So Ibadan is an excellent place to start, I mean Oyo State, then we go to Lagos State.

Like how many people do you plan to reach out to?

As many people need help, It is not one person's job. It is not my own job alone; together, we can end hunger in Nigeria.

So when you start it, and people see how effective it is, people will support you it is normal. I started it alone. My Ministry started alone in Canada, and one morning, I discovered that we were running out of food; I sent out a ministry support letter to every contact on my email, and my letter got to a particular man that I didn't even know, and I think he had a friend in the government, so he sent the letter to the local government and later I got an email that reads: "Pastor Tinuola Babafemi, we heard about your project, 'PROJECT FEED 5000' we are curious about it, how can we help you, how can we partner with you, we have read and heard a lot about you? That was how the government started giving out grant support.

We served over 100,000 families in the year 2021, So when you start and people see your commitment, and you are really doing what you say you want to do, and you are making an impact. It becomes everybody's work, that is what I believe.

How much has HOPAP impacted society so far?

So far, we have positively impacted society by putting smiles on people's faces. When people walk into our food bank, they feel happy and surprised, especially when they realize we are really makes me feel fulfilled when I see people of different races and ideologies benefiting from our food bank

Do You have a book?

Yes. My book tells a testimony of what God did for me. I put them together in a book to tell the world what I have been through, how God saw me, and how much God has been kind to me.

What Niche do you want to create in society?

I want to make sure that nobody is hungry in Nigeria. Do you know the meaning of hunger? For people to be hungry? Do you know how bad hunger is for people not to have something to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

I want to make sure nobody is hungry again in Nigeria. That is my dream, and it will come to pass.

Listening to your life experiences, one will say that you were able to come out of it because you were residing Abroad, and life abroad, as many thinks, is better and easier. Can you please, tell us how it was and how you think young people here in Nigeria can come out of such a situation?

That is the mistake most people make. There is no fair place. Life over there is not even fair. It's determination. There are people with Canadian passports that are hungry, British passports that are hungry, and poor. Being British, being a foreigner, or being a Canadian doesn't make you rich; it doesn't make you make it in life. So it is an individual's determination.

There are hungry people in Canada; if there were no hungry people, there would be nothing like a food bank. The difference is that there is help and somewhere to run to. So when you are in a difficult situation where everything is bad, be determined. Don't give up. The first thing is don't give up. When you give up, you cannot plan or think of the next thing.

No matter how bad it is, you can still come out. Things were tough. I was losing my job, I decided to set up a business, I didn't have money, I took up a loan; you said Canada is easier than Nigeria; I actually got my loan from Nigeria. In Canada, they would tell you, you have no credit history, you don't have this, you don't have that; it was very difficult; I had to get a loan from family and friends.

The loan was from Nigeria. For part of the groceries I started with, a friend shipped it into Canada. Food groceries like garri, beans and so on, from Nigeria. So it is determination. Whenever you are in trouble, everything down, you have to remember that being broke is not the end, you have to see yourself getting up again, and you have to keep moving; that is my belief.

Would you say that you have found fulfilment at this stage of your life?

Yes, I am thrilled with what I do; I believe I am fulfilled.

How do your children see you, please?

Sometimes, your children don't say much about you until the opportunity presents itself. A few days ago, I was celebrating my 50th birthday, and they invited my children to give testimonies about what they know about me or feel about me. Wow! it was mind-blowing what they said, and I felt so happy. My son was very proud of my achievements. I didn't know that they were observing that when I say something, I will do it, so they have positive testimonies to give. My daughter said no mother could have brought her up because she believes I am understanding; they said all sorts of nice things, so they have good testimonies to give.

What are your plans for achievement?

To see to the end of hunger in Nigeria. To make sure that nobody goes hungry.

You said earlier that you reside in Canada even during your hard times; why did you leave Nigeria for Canada?

Migration. We migrated for better education for my children.

How much support are you enjoying from the Canadian government to have gained ground?

Without any support from the government, no programme can survive. Yes, individuals may help, but government carries most of the responsibilities; but before government supports your vision, they have to see what you are doing.

The same thing happens in Canada. Like I said earlier, we first started as a ministry, and when we ran out of resources, we wrote ministry support letters, we were lucky enough to see one person, out of the letters we sent out, help us get the letter to the right place, and they reached us by themselves because they saw the difference we are making in the community. So I believe it is the same in Nigeria when they see what you are doing, and you reach out, they will support you. It will not be just individuals supporting you.

You cannot compare Canada with Nigeria in terms of getting this support. Have you considered some of the stress you may undergo in Nigeria to get support?

I won't go through any stress. The Nigerian government is very sensible. They are educated and know what they are doing when they see something that works, they will support it. The people they are trying to work with are not making it work; when they see the team of people making it work, they will be happy to team up with them. I am positive; I have no problem. When we reach out to them, they will support us.


We will reach out to them, they will see what we are doing, they will be convinced, and they will support us. I will remind you when we get to the stage. Every government wants good things for their country, but it will not work when we are not getting the right and adequate personnel, it will not work. When they see people doing things that have to be done and doing it the right way, they will support them.

What would you say about Nigerian youths?

I love the youths in Nigeria. They are very strong because when we were growing up, it wasn't as tough as this. And these things keep happening, and Nigerian youths still have a joyful disposition; they use every opportunity to make themselves happy regardless of what is happening. I believe in them; I believe that with some help, most Nigerian youths will do better.

What project will you have for them?

When you have a charity organization, you will focus on a particular theme, our own NGO is to end hunger, so if any youth is hungry, it still covers them. They still come to have their lunch and dinner, and we are still doing something for them. Food is number one. When they have enough food, they can think right and decide what to do next. You cannot promise accommodation or jobs; you have to focus on one thing when youths are not hungry, there will be less trouble in the community, they are happier, they can think well, and they can plan well; I think it is the foundation. We give them the foundation.

What is your message for the youths at these challenging times as a mother?

They should stay away from trouble and not give up. To believe in themselves. Being broke is not being poor; there must be a breakdown before a breakthrough. Sometimes, when you go down, it means you are still coming up.

Aside from this project, what else do you do?

I want to continue to expand my Ministry. I am an evangelical pastor. I like to preach the gospels, and I like to travel to different countries for ministry works. That is what I love doing, and I will keep doing that.

How long have you been in this Ministry?

It is going to be seven years now.

What is the experience like?

Very interesting. It's been fascinating.

Having a Ministry was not my plan. God knows the truth. Our plan is to bring out the food aspect of the Ministry. My mission in coming to Nigeria with my Ministry is to support my people.

We have seen kindhearted Nigerians trying to reach out like this, but because it is not channelled to the right people, it does not get to people that need them; instead, the people they give the project to either pocket them or reach out to a minimal number of people, how do you tend to bridge that gap of corruption?

Thank you, that's an excellent question. During COVID-19, I was watching on social media. I saw some of the items that were meant to be given to people in the communities that expired in the warehouse.

And I was like, wow! If they had given them to their families, I would have been happy, but they didn't give them to their families and the people; it was meant for.

That is why I came on the ground. I am going to arrange my team myself.

I will come with my team from Canada to supervise and train some of Nigeria they will be in charge of every unit.

I am going to bring my trusted team from Canada to Nigeria. I am not going to rely on or partner with just anybody that I don't trust.

It will be my team and me. Then, we can entrust reliable personnel as we go along.

Considering the present situation in Nigeria, what can you tell us about the economy, insecurity, and others as a pastor, evangelist, and humanitarian?

We have to keep praying. I know we pray a lot in Nigeria, and that is what is sustaining us. We must keep praying, hold on to our faith, and change from evil ways. The Bible says if my people called by my name can humble themselves, be sober, and pray to God. He will heal our land. I believe that one-day things will change their country.

Do you have other projects or businesses you do that you would like us to hear about, please?

Yes, please.

Okay, please, let's hear them.

I am the owner and operator of two Mummy Afro Caribbean kitchens in Mississauga and Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada. They are 5 Star Restaurant.

What is your slogan?

Together we can end hunger in Nigeria.

Tell us about your most exciting moment or moments?

When I celebrated my 50th birthday recently, It was very exciting. I had photo shoots for two days. I changed my clothes over and over again. I ordered a few more attires, but they didn't come on time, so I couldn't use it. Maybe God is saying what I must do: 'you have dressed enough and changed enough.' I like occasions that bring families together.

I get excited seeing my siblings and my friends and celebrating makes me excited. Church makes me excited too. I always look forward to Sunday service, where I will see everybody. I get excited on Saturday night because I know I will see everybody on Sunday. I get excited about the place I worship. So, the church makes me excited.

From the little, you have shared with us. Will it be right if I say you are the one that inherited your parent's godly lifestyle?

No, I won't be able to say that because we are six children. I believe some of us love the church. They are doing well and also serving God in their best interest.

I think you reflect it (parents' religious background) the more.

You may be right, somehow.

Some parents like seeing their children reflect on them while they are still alive. Can you share their experiences of seeing you reflecting on them, I mean their features?

Yes. My mother is still alive, and she still sees that. My father, too, saw me going to church and doing the things of the Lord

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