Chief Joan holding a certificate while surrounded by people
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Mother with a Big Heart: Newest Nigerian Chief Works for Empowerment in Villages

Jan 17, 2017

Joan Jeremiah didn’t expect to be named a Chief, and she certainly didn’t expect to be named Chief in a town where she didn’t grow up and where there had been no previous female chiefs. But that’s what happened. Joan, a woman who works tirelessly for the rights of women and girls, now finds herself with the chief title of Eka Esit Mbom, which means “Mother with a Big Heart,” of Ikot Idem Udo, Okon Clan in Essien Udim LGA in Akwa Ibom State.

Joan, or Chief Eka Esit Mbom, has worked for Population Media Center (PMC) for more than 10 years. PMC is a US-based nonprofit that focuses on improving the rights of women and girls with entertainment-education. They produce TV and radio dramas that tell stories over the course of many episodes, often years long. They hire all local writers, producers, and actors. PMC began working in Nigeria in 2006 and that was when PMC first met Joan.

“I saw an advert for application in the PMC-Nigeria Ibadan office in 2006 so I applied and fortunately I got the job and I have been living my dreams ever since,” Joan says. “In PMC, we act for change – meaning we are positive change agents concerning every area of the human life. My belief is once we have more people with positive behavior, we will have a better world to live in.”

It’s this sense of herself as a role model – which also happens to be exactly what PMC’s dramas do, they role model different behaviors to help the audience see different outcomes for different characters – that has led Joan to live a rather extraordinary life, even if she doesn’t see it that way.  She describes herself as “God-fearing, simple, and unassuming.” She says she loves hard work and vision-driven individuals. And she was shocked to learn she was being named chief.

“I asked an elder in the village why they chose me because I am not from Akwa Ibom State,” she says. “He told me in parable that you know who a good wife is by looking at her husband. He said that though I am not from their state, I had demonstrated so much love, care, and support for their people, that I have accepted them as my people. I welcome and respect them when they come visiting my house and have given their young ladies and women hope for a bright future in the way I interact with them.”

Her strength – which blends optimism, perseverance, and humility – has enabled her to work for good and role model what she believes in. She has dedicated herself to the betterment of others since her time at University. She was raised by her maternal grandparents and studied history and international studies at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma – Edo State where she graduated with honors. After graduation, she spent her service year as part of the Peer Educator Club. She met with youth and encouraged them to join the Peer Educator Clubs and learn about HIV/AIDS and other health issues in secondary school. Her life has been one of service ever since, and will continue to be so with her Chief title.

“It means more responsibilities now, more people are looking up to you. You have become a role model, mentor, and a counselor,” she says of the Chiefdom. “It was not something I longed for or asked for, but I would love to use the opportunities it brings me to create more awareness on maternal health care, youth and women development, and empowerment in our villages.”

About Population Media Center

Population Media Center is a nonprofit leader in entertainment-education, dedicated to women’s rights and empowerment, population stabilization, and the environment.  For the past two decades, PMC’s entertainment programming has promoted social and cultural change and has helped 500 million people in more than 50 countries.