Every once in a while, you’ll realize you’re living in a bubble. Life will confront you and the ideologies you have. It might be the fact that you thought the process of getting your NIN is easy or that you think that the water supply is constant because you have a constant water supply. For me, it was that there are people actually living in areas with barely anything to feed on.
Like a pin through a balloon, that’s how fast my first bubble burst when I volunteered for an NGO some years back. Do you know the weird thing? You think you are no longer living in a bubble till the next thing and then the next thing. So far, I believe life is full of bubbles waiting to be busted.
Still, on bubbles getting busted, I had another experience between the 21st, 22nd 23rd of December 2020. These are days I won’t forget. When I say I want to die knowing I have impacted my community, that I want to change the world one day at a time, what I mean is I want to spend my life doing what I did in these 3 days forever!
These 3 days had me begin my new role as a management associate at N-YEP. The Mama Put Buy-Out was our first project. From the moment I saw the advertisement for the role at N-YEP to the onboarding process, I knew the vision- a Nigeria where every young Nigerian is empowered to attain their highest potential – was something I was sold out for. It’s nothing like I’ve ever worked on before. For the three days, we visited different communities to buy local food sellers so that residents could eat for free. That way we helped the vendors sell out, and also feed those who could not afford a meal.
We kicked off at Bariga, where I saw children with little or no clothing. I had a quick thought about how I complained about not having anything to wear when in reality it was about not liking what I had to wear. These little kids would be grateful to have just some new clothes. For the second day, we were at Ebutte-Metta and Oko Oba. Honestly, I was not expecting people to show up. As a child, I had grown up to be wary of receiving gifts from “strangers”. Though this is a shared belief system amongst many Nigerian families, people turned out. That signified to me the presence of need—for food and other basics.
As you might have guessed, the reality in these locations wasn’t far off from Bariga’s. However, one thing stood out for me- the housing conditions which was a kiosk-like settlement made of wood.
While we were there, a woman put me to bed and a number of things ran through my head. I imagined the state of the house where she birthed her child. Was it clean enough to welcome the gift of a child? Was there a good enough bed for the mother and child to sleep later that night? Was there nutritious food for her in the coming days?
All these played around my head as I made a mental note to ensure that I’ll be one of those to change such realities for the better.
On the final day at Ijeshatedo, people of different demographics came out, especially the young population who are our target. Vibrant humans who had just completed high school with no clarity on how they’ll progress to the next stage. It hit deep because I grew thinking progression was normal, you know. Moving from kindergarten all the way to the university because my parents could afford it. But facing me that day were young people hope for a future they couldn’t afford. In better climes, it is easier to dream because the needed infrastructure to spin dream threads into reality exists. Sadly, the story reads differently here. Dreams hardly ever materialize into beautiful realities because not everyone can afford the tools that carve realities out of dreams.
However, though I deeply shared their pain, I was confident that we’ll impact many like them in the nearest future. Our projects at N-YEP have a clear path for empowering a new generation of dreamers through education and employment.
We also met with some graduates of the community who had managed to see themselves through school who didn’t have a sustainable source of income and had to do petty jobs to survive. The entire experience opened my eyes to new things. One was that these people didn’t choose the lifestyle they lived, but still, they’ve chosen to love their lives. Can you imagine seeing a good bed you can only imagine nights in while you sleep on a cold bare floor? Regardless, instead of moping and giving up, these people turn up for their daily hustles and keep things going with uninspired cheer.
Little wonder, Nigeria was ranked 115 of 153 countries in the 2020 World Happiness report. Surprisingly, I expected worse considering the sadness that clouds my mind when I think of the state of this country. Suffering and smiling? Fela was and is still right. I couldn’t help but appreciate their resolve. This display of strength aligns well with our empowerment programs that will reward a number of them better for their hustles.
By the third day, I told my colleagues we’re living the same lives with different realities. Same lives because we go through the same thing, we are all pressured, we all have to provide ourselves basic amenities, same lives because we ply the same dangerous roads. Listening to the people in the community, I realized we’re in the same situation just with different realities which make things palatable for the privileged. But how long before we are caught in a car accident or the hospital can’t provide oxygen? Nigeria is a leveler!
So, I stay there wondering, what if their realities just changed? What if they had a little more of this? There are so many “What-Ifs” that may never be answered but to the “What-Ifs” that can be answered, we will put in the work.
The work here goes beyond temporary reliefs. To be clear, gifts are great, but they only scrape the surface. At best, they help serve as short-term motivation. A hungry young Nigerian will see god in the bread you give them, and if that comes from corrupt politicians they’ll dance to their tunes. But to help them key into the core goal of nation-building, they’ll need intensive education on key issues and how to get a seat at the table. For this, we’ll wear our teaching hats and host quality engagements with community members to ensure they see themselves as empowered engineers of change.
At N-YEP, we are standing in the gap to ensure that marginalized young Nigerians do not see god in the bread. We’ll bring together privileged and well-meaning Nigerians to help uplift the underprivileged till they find their own voices.
2020 has been a rather tough and uncertain year. So, to see myself be a part of something as beautiful as this is a year that we barely survived is amazing! I am excited that my little privilege has been used to help some without access to my realities get on the good side of life. Looking to do more exciting—and impactful—stuff with N-YEP in 2021. For us, at N-YEP it is beyond the will to put in the work to ensure youths in these communities get equal opportunities at making the best of life. We will actively work to also get them seats at the tables that determine policies that impact them directly.