Endurance Ogri stared at the wall, contemplating the interior design for a room painting. Her mind soon drifted to her rustic life in the village, where she hurried to the stream every morning to fetch water and the hot, dreary afternoons, which saw her haul firewood from the forest.
Having grown up in Bewo, a rural community in Bekwarra local government area of Nigeria’s Cross River State, Ogri could see how these humble beginnings shaped her into an independent and resilient young woman who believes success can only come by dint of hard work.
“I was saddled with lots of responsibilities then, from picking palm fruits from my father’s palm plantation for oil processing to going to the farm to weed grasses and harvest crops. In those days, everything was a struggle, ranging from how I live, the people I interact with, schooling, and family life generally,” Ogri recounted.
It didn’t end there. As she recalled, Ogri was tasked with tending to her younger siblings while cooking and washing the dishes at home.
Following her graduation from Ogar Science Academy Otukpuru Afaa in 2014, Ogri enrolled in a computer-operations programme at Marymat Computer School, Abuochiche. The skills and knowledge she gained later secured her a secretary job in a business centre. In 2015 she took the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, or UTME, and passed.
Her admission to the University of Calabar to study agricultural education was fraught with challenges, as she struggled to pay the tuition fee and couldn’t quite adapt to the rigours of campus life. Finding campus life unfit for her took a toll on her academics, as Ogri recalled.
“I wrote a particular course, and I couldn’t find my result. I went to meet with the lecturer, and he said he hadn’t seen me before and was asking me if I was a student in the department. I said yes. He said no, and his reasons were valid because I didn’t mingle or get close to any lecturer. In the process of trying to seek help, I couldn’t get it because I didn’t make friends or identify with anyone. It took me a long time before the issue was resolved,” Ogri shared.
Incessant strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, or ASUU, including the pandemic lockdown, delayed her graduation until March 2022, yet she remains thankful for the experiences.
“I’m grateful for the experiences I have encountered while I was in the university because they groomed me into a better person. I have always wanted to make a change in my community and create an enabling environment for the younger generation to thrive, and the university struggles strengthened the vision for that,” Ogri said.
The foray into interior design
In March 2023, Ogri’s interest in becoming an interior designer took a leap of faith after a meeting with Oku Charles, a skilled interior decorator, in Calabar, the capital city of Nigeria’s Cross River State.
When she voiced her inerest in interior design, Charles, who had long considered the craft an exclusive preserve of men, was taken aback. But Ogri didn’t relent even as Charles explained the intricate complexities of the job. Sensing her curiosity, Charles took her under his wings.
“I started following him to work, while others were working, I started learning step by step. It didn’t take me up to two weeks to learn how to paint and install wallpapers. Cutting wood, giving measurements, and dismantling the wood were my biggest challenges, but despite the stress and everything, I started picking up gradually,” Ogri told Prime Progress.
At first wood-cutting was challenging for Ogri, but she soon became adept at it despite the occasional snide remarks from men who thought she would be better off with enterprises like make-up and fashion design. But she pays no heed to their remarks.
“I’m not trying to be like a man, I do interior design out of passion, and I enjoy every bit of it. Sometimes when I get contracted for a job and if I go there, the people will laugh at me and ask if I can deliver well, I will then convince them by giving out excellent work,” Ogri stated.
While Ogri’s father gave his daughter his blessings, her mother didn’t warm up to the idea, fearing for her daughter’s safety with such tools as hammers, drills and nails. But Ogri managed to persuade her.
Sometimes raking over N100,000 each week, the 24-year-old is defying social norms and barriers to thrive in a male-dominated profession, with even grander dreams for the future.
“I have plans of having an interior design academy in the future and teaching other young women,” she said.