Poppy Newton tells Label about her volunteering experiences in Nigeria.
Hi! My name is Poppy Newton and I am in 3rd year studying Criminology and Social Policy. I have only recently returned to University this year from an extremely busy summer volunteering in Nigeria, Africa. This all started last academic year when I started thinking about my summer break. With the thought of my future in mind, specifically the whole “getting a job” thing, I thought I should have a productive summer enhancing my CV instead of partying the summer away!! Therefore, I decided to apply to International Citizen Service (ICS) with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) with the main reason behind it being to improve the content of my CV, but also I wanted to do something that would be rewarding both to myself and to others. VSO is a UK government funded international development programme that works to combat world-wide poverty and naturally, I was overjoyed at being accepted onto the programme. My journey began when I received an email offering me a 3 month placement in Nigeria. Honestly, I wasn’t as excited as I think I would be if I got Kenya or Tanzania as my placement probably due to my pre-conception of Nigeria as a country. If ever you hear about Nigeria on British News channels all you hear about is Boko Haram and how “dangerous” the country is at the moment. However my view was about to change drastically and now I want to go back as soon as possible!
The placement I was assigned was a pilot placement for VSO which was called “South-South-North”. This meant we were a team of 25, some from UK, some Kenyan and others were national volunteers from Nigeria itself. Our project was governance focussed where we worked in 6 areas within Ikorodu (Lagos State) to create inclusive neighbourhood spaces for children aged 7-12 and 13-17. Within these spaces we wanted the children to have fun whilst we facilitated the learning of 21st century skills such as presenting, leadership, communication etc, in order to engage the children with governance in their local community. In other words, we wanted the children to enhance their skills so that they can have a voice, become active citizens and eventually take ownership of these spaces.
In addition to these successful spaces (which are ongoing now with the help of local volunteers) our team also had to host 3 community action days (CAD’s) which aimed to create awareness about various global issues. The first was a rally about the importance of volunteering in the centre of a local market. The second was a Children’s Conference that saw over 250 children from our spaces come together to perform and learn from one another alongside a number of Child Rights NGO’s who we invited. The final CAD was a music festival that had an anti-drugs message which was held at the local police barracks and hosted around 500 people! We invited Nigerian musicians that we had previously met whilst networking at a Nollywood Film Veteran birthday party!
During my time volunteering, I stayed in a host home with a Nigerian family – the Imbegwams – and also a Nigerian counterpart who was a fellow volunteer in my team. Her name was Salome. She was just hilarious and so caring, now a friend for life. Mrs Imbegwam, Knownso (older brother) and Kerita (younger sister) were the most generous and thoughtful people I have ever met. Mrs Imbegwam cooked the most amazing Nigerian food (albeit spice like I’ve never had before!), cared for us when 2 of my fellow volunteers and I got struck with Malaria and excitedly took me to her local Catholic church where she loved showing her “oyinbo” (white person) temporary daughter to all her friends. Knownso and Kerita helped me so much throughout my time there. They taught me the local language Yoruba and gave me all the tips on how not to be conned by the local Okada (motorbike) drivers. My family allowed me to feel fully immersed in the Nigerian culture and they (and the rest of the community) made me feel completely safe in the area.
I experienced first-hand the huge effect volunteering can have on a community and it has allowed me to realise that not only “good/Samaritan type people” can volunteer but anyone can and everyone will directly benefit. I believe that most people in my generation don’t realise how important volunteerism is both personally and for the community they work with. Personally, I learnt so much during my time in Nigeria. I have developed my confidence, communication skills, negotiation skills, team work skills, leadership skills and the list goes on! From everyday conversations, to living in a host home with a family from a completely different culture to my own, working in a team of 25 again from all different socio-cultural background, to meeting chairman’s and state officials, my learning on ICS VSO was constant and completely invaluable for my future.
This programme is a truly special programme as it allows a number of different cultures to come together, overcome challenges, have fun and make a positive impact on the community and ourselves taking part. I made so many life-long friends, felt so personally rewarded and also it made me appreciate everything I have in my life, even the smallest of things that I completely took for granted before. I am so proud to have been involved in such a great project and I would encourage anyone and everyone to apply.
Don’t feel like you can’t make a difference. You can.