Travel Tuesdays: A Volunteer’s Story

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Travel Tuesdays returns this week where Nicole Anyango writes about her eye-opening experience as a volunteer in Nigeria, and shares her beautiful lessons learnt while influencing young minds of the world.

Edited by Natalie Whitmore

We all share similarities along with our differences, this is one of the many lessons I have learnt during my summer volunteering in the beautiful city of Ikorodu, where just like the chickens roaming the streets, I have never felt so free!

My name is Nicole Anyango, and I am a  VSO (voluntary services overseas) volunteer who is taking part in the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme In Nigeria. The people are amazingly welcoming, the atmosphere is forever lively, and the food is hot enough to make you sweat- I tried to not let the pepper defeat me.

12622366_10205442550328694_3226047155268806905_oI’m a young Kenyan woman whose home is in England, but is currently living in Nigeria. I think it’s okay to say that I’ve experienced my fair share of living under different cultures. On the programme we have a mixture of Kenyan, UK and Nigerian volunteers. We wear different clothes, eat different foods, speak different languages but we all have one thing in common that has played a part in bringing us all together in the most incredible opportunity; the fact that we’re all here to learn and gain as much as we can. Yes we’re different and there is a beauty in being unique. It’s just important to remember that while everybody is unique, we are all still human beings.

IMG_2752Before making the trip, I had no clue what to expect from either the country or the people. The Nigeria I have gotten to see and know could not be more different to the Nigeria I see portrayed in the media. I was preparing myself to live in an society where men are the ones in charge, it was a pleasant surprise to realise that I could not have been more wrong. When we finally arrived we were overwhelmed by the change of environment, the heat, the people, the cars on the wrong side of the road, everything! The journey from the airport to the training camp was the only chance we had to take it all in and get used to the fact that this would be our home for the next 3 months. Our aim as a group is to encourage and motivate youths to be more involved in governance, by creating youth parliaments and teaching them 21st century skills. From organising car washes to planning music festivals for young people, we did all we could to raise awareness for social inclusion and how make the most of this journey of guided learning. The jam packed roads made is easier than ever to promote our events and gather people of different ages. There is no better feeling than seeing the smiles on children’s faces shine brighter than the scorching sun in the sky, and all because of one simple gesture showing them their simple rights of inclusion.

12622162_10205442550248692_8553380215788543052_oSalome is one of my fellow volunteers. The amount of spirit and value she brings to the team is indescribable. She represents the face of every young Nigerian woman who faces the push backs of society; and according to her, the general view of women in Nigeria is that their only role is that of a housewife. I then asked her what her own perception of a Nigerian woman is, and based on what I’ve witnessed, her response could not have been more accurate, she answered, “the women here are going against this belief. What a man can do a woman can do better.”

“A woman in Nigeria is somebody who is strong, someone who is able to take care of their family while working and doing whatever is necessary to provide for the people around them. That’s my own description of a woman in Nigeria.” Gender prejudice is a global one. While in conversation with Sarah, a UK volunteer, she said that, “Men looking down on me because I am a woman is something I face daily- it’s really undermining.”

The ICS programme has helped me to become more open minded. I have realised that just because someone lives in a different environment, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have the same worries as me. The major thing the people living in Nigeria lack are support systems, which can guide them through the barriers that slowly wares the enthusiasm and hope out of them. The barriers that eventually deceives them into thinking that they are chained to the environment they were born in. This has really played a part in the way that I approach and form relationships with the youths and young women that we work with. I realised that it’s not a case of putting myself in their shoes but a case of learning how to walk in them.

Without the hard work and perseverance of all of the children and young adults who we work with, the positive impact which has been made during our placement would not have been possible. These girls have managed to turn their wounds into wisdom. It is clear to see that they will one day be role models for the girls who grow in their paths. It is important to recognise that we are just playing the role of a microphone, they already have the skills and potential, we’re just assisting them in making their voices heard. They are my biggest inspirations, they have helped me gain more than I ever had to give and for that I say,

Thank you, Nigeria.