….Journey of a Sickler into entertainment
By Juliet Ebirim
Marvelous Agbaje is 18 years old and wishes to be a singer and a model. But because she has sickle cell, her dream is becoming something of an arduous task. According to her mother, Stephanie Agbaje, the founder of Marvel Sickle Cell Foundation, when she was born she cried for days and fasted for months, hoping the situation would change. This is her story and the dream she is working hard to make come true.
When did you start modeling and singing?
I started modeling two years ago when I was in SS3, but I have been singing for as long as I can remember. I grew up with music. My mum always played Brenda Fassie’s songs. I grew up listening to them.
How has your modelling career been?
It’s been good. Though there are others who are better connected and healthier than I am, so they have more advantage than me. I contested for Face of Mo-Town (Mowe Town) and I’m the Face of Marvel Sickle Cell Foundation (MSCF). I’ve also submitted proposals to some companies to be their brand ambassador. For instance, the producers of Real Milk, Peanut Burger, Exquisite Magazine and so on. We are expecting their replies.
As a sickle cell warrior, how has it been?
It hasn’t been easy. The crisis come when you least expect it. You might have plans for the next day and when the next day comes, you won’t be able to do anything because you are sick. Most times, it affects your education, though it hasn’t affected mine. At the moment, I’m seeking admission into the university and I intend to study Mass Communication.
How far have you gone musically?
At first, my mum wasn’t interested. She recently just bought the idea. I’m willing to go as far as God wants me to.
You have so many dreams, do you sometimes get discouraged given your health challenge?
Yes, I do.
So, what keeps you going. Where do you draw strength from?
I draw strength from my mum. Whenever I see her standing strong, I know I just have to also be strong, because she is the one spending all the money. If I lose my confidence, it’s going to hurt her. I also draw strength from other warriors. For instance, a supermodel – Miss Tanzania, who is also a sickle cell warrior inspired me to go into modeling.
While you were in school, were you treated in a particular way because of your health?
Yes, but mine is a bit fair compared to others, because looking at me, it isn’t so obvious that I’m a ‘warrior’. But the moment other students get to know, they start treating me differently and even bully me. They say very hurtful things like ‘You’re obviously going to die very soon. What are you doing here?’ Some will make sure others don’t talk to you. There’s that stigmatization.
What kind of songs do you intend to do?
I prefer R n B.
Have you written any songs?
I’ve been writing songs since I was five years. I have a lot of songs, but initially my mum wasn’t supportive, but now she’s totally in support.
Should we expect any of your songs soon?
Yes, before the year runs out hopefully. I intend to go for a talent hunt first, before putting out my songs.
How do you intend to combine all these with schooling?
People do it and I believe I can do it.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I see myself graduating from the university. I also see myself being a professional model. Then musically, I believe I would have become a celebrity. I have very high expectations of my future.
What would you like to change as regards the way sickle cell warriors are treated by others?
I’m actually planning something with my mum. A lot of people do not know what sickle cell is about, especially in the villages and local communities. Most sickle cell foundations hold their programmes in places like Ikoyi, Ikeja and the likes.
The people in these areas already know what sickle cell is. The awareness should be taken to local communities, because most of the people believe sickle cell is the same as ‘Abiku’ and so on. Awareness and enlightenment is very important. That’s where I think the government should start from or perhaps assist those who have the vision.
Also, in schools I believe guilds should be set up just like Girls’ Guilds, Boys’ Scout and the rest, where warriors can support each other. In most schools, sickle cell warriors are not allowed to hold leadership positions. Teachers should not stigmatize even if students do. The stigmatization is just too high. They should try to encourage us. We can do anything.
Talking about stigmatization, what has been your most embarrassing moment?
That was while I was in JSS2, I was going to school and I was very late. A fellow student saw me and shouted from across the road ‘Sickler, you won’t hurry to school, you’re already late!’. It was embarrassing. Most people tend to bully me because they know I’m a sickler.
Has being a sickler affected you academically?
Personally, it hasn’t. Except I just want to be lazy. So far, I’ve been lucky not to have fallen sick during exams, but I have friends who have fallen sick during exams. Also, I actually gained admission last year into Delta State University, Abraka, but because of my health I couldn’t accept it, due to the distance. My mum insists that I must go to a university that is a bit close. Left to me, I would have loved to school in the south. So, that’s the only way it has affected me academically.
For those of us who don’t really know how bad the crisis can be, can you enlighten us a bit?
The crisis usually happens unexpectedly. You might be very healthy this minute and the next minute, you are so ill. Water helps to an extent. Some conditions are really beyond water. Water helps when it only affects your joints, but when it starts affecting your eyes and so on, it’s difficult.