Women & Money is a monthly PiggyVest series that explores the relationship between real Nigerian women and money. This series sheds light on money, career and business from a female perspective.
For this month’s Women & Money, we spoke with Augustina Adika, a 27-year-old phonics and early child educator living in Lagos. She founded Phonics Villa, an educational institution providing easy, fun, and effective reading services to children who find reading difficult.
In this conversation with PiggyVest, she discusses struggling financially as a child and building a brand that helps children have a better relationship with reading.
What was your relationship with money growing up?
I saw money as gold: it was never available. Even when it was, it was never enough. I was raised in a home, where I saw my parents work their asses off just to provide the basics for us. And to me, money was reserved for a select few; everybody else had to eat scraps.
I became money-conscious as early as 11. Once, I was sent home from school with my twin brother for owing school fees. It was terrible. Whenever my parents generously gave us lunch money, I wouldn’t spend mine. I had a tiny pocket in my schoolbag where I would stick the 10, 20 or 50 naira notes for safekeeping. When my classmates were having good moments, I would just sit and watch them.
That must have been tough.
Yeah. I learnt to treat money as something valuable. I probably heard the phrase, “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” more times than there were day and night.
So, I got my first job at 14, during junior WAEC. While others were writing their exams, I was somewhere cleaning up after horses, just to support the family in any way I could. Even before I got my first job, I had sold kerosene to help my mum.
Did your situation change as you entered adulthood?
Our financial situation took a turn for the worse. My father’s business closed down, and my mother became the one supporting the entire family. What that did was reinforce the belief that money was something reserved for a few.
It got to the point where relatives had to intervene. I had to leave our family home to live with my grandma in order to complete my education, and even then, I still went into other ventures to support myself financially.
I left secondary school at 17 and didn’t get into university until I was 22. So while my classmates received their first degrees, I was in my 100 level. Why? Because of money. I had to do many jobs just to have the funds to sponsor my university education. Since then, I’ve had this awareness that money isn’t something you’re just handed; you must toil to get it.
Did this awareness impact the way you interact with money?
A hundred percent!. There were many beautiful things I wanted as a child but never got. And I didn’t dare ask, not because my parents would not want to get them for me, but because I knew they couldn’t afford them.
But a good outcome was that it instilled the virtue of prudence in me. I learnt to manage early on. Not until recently did I start teaching myself that I, too, deserve the finer things.
What influenced your career choice?
I had excellent teachers growing up. Even in church, I had terrific mentors who I enjoyed listening to and learning from. And I felt like I could be the same in another child’s life. In 2012, after my confirmation in church, there was this call for volunteers to teach the children. I decided to come forward. Till today, it remains one of the most monumental experiences of my life.
In 2013, I relocated to Lagos and continued. I would keep teaching children in church even while working other jobs. In my gut, I knew that there was something for me in education.
When did it finally become clear to you?
The lightbulb moment came in 2016, when I met a lady who spoke impeccably and flawlessly. I was wowed. I wanted to be like her. So after interactions and inquiries, I found out about an organisation that trained individuals who wanted to go into teaching or broaden their knowledge on the subject.
It was a two-and-a-half-year training that taught us how to teach children to read early on, and to speak and pronounce their words correctly. And today, we’re here.
How has the journey been so far?
Wild, adventurous, bumpy, fulfilling and demanding; like any career path. I teach reading specifically, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interact with exceptional children from diverse backgrounds.
Teaching is my safe space. Not once, not twice have I made crazy decisions that led my family to question my sanity. [Laughs] I’ve quit jobs just to teach. I’ve left jobs where the pay was twice what I would earn as a teacher. I’ve missed my exams to be at essential training sessions.
Ah. I can’t blame your parents o!
[Laughs] I’ve had to deny myself many comforts to purchase courses that would improve my life as an educator. I know the path I’m on. I work with 2-year-olds to 10-year-olds, all tender ages. Children look up to you to have all the answers, and if you’re not constantly improving or innovating as an educator, you will mess things up.
A peculiar thing about my job is that I don’t have to sit in a single classroom. As a result, I’ve worked with many schools and thousands of learners, and trained many teachers successfully. I could take as many as 11 classes a day; sometimes, I have to be in two schools in one day.
That’s a lot.
Yes. It really was a lot back then. After two to three failed projects, I launched and registered Phonics Villa. The responsibilities and expectations have not necessarily changed, but there’s been much improvement. We seek ways to serve the children better, in person or virtually.
Last year, I had to sit and reimagine things. We’re currently building an offline network through referrals and parents who trust our competency. We have something coming soon.
What are your favourite career milestones?
There are quite a number. In 2017, while I was still at the organisation I trained under, I had six schools under my belt. They had a regional competition comprising about 30 schools. In all the regions my schools were assigned to, they came out tops. They were either in 1st, 2nd or 3rd position. That was a massive moment for me.
In 2018, I launched my first YouTube project called “Expression”, where I taught correct words and pronunciation. In 2020, post-pandemic, I got my first individual client after I decided to go solo. It was a big thing for me at the time.
Moving on to 2021: After I had gotten more and more referrals, Phonics Villa was born. That same year, we had our first international client. I had to start thinking of how to harness technology so I did not need to be physically present to teach children how to read. I learnt a lot in the process.
What does career growth look like for you?
It’s seeing a child transition from novice to pro reader while enjoying the experience. It’s parents not having to worry about finding educators to provide these services for their children. As long as Phonics Villa can keep providing these services for thousands of children or parents, with or without me, that’s career growth.
What challenges have you faced in this journey?
Every career has its own hills and valleys; I’ve had my fair share of challenges. I’m 5’3” now, but at 21, I was around 5’1”, so it was hard to convince parents that I was not just one of the SS3 students. Once, a teacher nearly walked me out of class because I seemed too young to be a teacher. But I know my onions, so that helped me surmount that challenge.
Due to financial constraints, it took a lot of work to get the idea of Phonics Villa up and running. I had to take up a lot of projects to be able to come up with the money. I applied for funding and made pitches, and many of them said no. Only a few were successful. I was shortlisted for the “Next Titan” reality show, but my journey ended shortly after I pitched my idea.
Teaching doesn’t pay the best, nationally or globally. We put in so much, but we don’t get the returns. But I continue to stay up to date and innovate so that I can always bring something to the table whenever I meet with stakeholders.
Speaking of a teacher’s salary. What would you say financial freedom means to you?
As I said, I’ve had to worry about money since I was 11 years old. Even now, that hasn’t stopped. I want to reach a point where I can make certain purchases, enjoy some comforts, and go to places without worrying about money or my account balance. To me, that is when I’ve attained financial freedom.
How are you working to attain this?
By positively changing my mindset about money. From it being a scarce resource to something I can have in abundance as long as I do the work. I have financial goals, so I intentionally work towards them by tracking my expenses.
I also save quite a bit; a lack of rainy-day funds contributed to my family’s financial slump, and I don’t want to be in that position. So I take my savings and investing seriously.
What’s a piece of advice you received that changed your outlook?
One of my many mentors told me, “Your growth and development are in your hands. A teacher can only open the door for you, but it is up to you to enter.” Since then, I’ve learnt how far I advance in my career is up to me.
Have you made any money mistakes?
Even as a self-acclaimed prudent spender, I still have money mistakes, like quitting a high-paying job without a plan and plunging right into teaching. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have done that. Not because of the teaching part, but quitting my job the way I did.
I’ve also invested out of excitement and some peer pressure. It was with one of the popular MLM companies that sell supplements. I expected to get returns three months later, but it was all a sham. Since then, I no longer spend money when I’m excited.
I also make impulsive purchases occasionally, but who doesn’t? I’m working on this, though.
What’s your favourite purchase you’ve made?
Last year, I brought my dog home. Her name is Luna, an American Eskimo, and she is the best investment I’m currently making.
What financial advice do you have for women?
Money is for everyone. It knows no gender. Dear woman, you’ve earned that financial compensation as long as you put in the work. You deserve it. Also, you’re enough. Don’t let your account balance determine your worth. Don’t make crazy buying decisions just to be noticed or liked.