Volunteering in Nigeria: Burning Food and the Complexities of Saying 'Hello'
Have you ever been craving adventure and looking for something just completely different? One day I discovered a project advertised on the Internet by an organisation called HiPact (http://www.choice-experience.co.uk/internationalpartners). The organisation proposed to send volunteers to Nigeria with the aim of implementing student-tutoring programmes in Nigerian secondary schools. The student-tutoring projects were aimed at training older students to tutor their juniors after class in an effort to reinforce learning. By administering this project, the student tutors would relearn material from their own notes through the process of teaching, whilst the tutees would benefit from the extra tuition. This arrangement is a symbiotic learning experience that has been tried and tested in various underprivileged nations. It was to be the responsibility of the volunteers to successfully administer and implement these projects.
After having graduated from University and worked in an office for a year, I decided that it was time to do something worthwhile and tangible. So, acting on impulse, I quit my job and signed up to go to Africa.
Volunteers were first given a one-week orienteering at Essex University in London before travelling to Ebonyi State, Nigeria for a period of up to three months. The orienteering consisted of each volunteer providing the role of group leader at a summer school for underprivileged schools. This weeklong programme helped the volunteers to gain crucial skills for the upcoming project in Nigeria, such as skills in communication, leadership, autonomous planning, teaching, and administration.
THE NIGERIAN EXPERIENCE
Our first day in Nigeria was spent travelling the arduous journey from Lagos to Ebonyi State, after which the British volunteers met with the High Commissioner of Education to discuss the tutoring projects. The volunteers were given placement in groups and my group was placed in a rural village called Nwofe in the northern region of Ebonyi State. Before leaving for Nwofe, we spent a few days in the village of Unwana for cultural immersion and orientation.
After meeting with the headmaster of our school, the volunteers and I were taken to the centre of the village to meet with the village elders and PTA. This meeting was conducted under a straw roof with no walls and observed by a large number of the local population. After learning some basic phrases in the dialect spoken in Unwana, we tried to open the meeting by addressing the elders using this same dialect. Having travelled just a few miles, the volunteers and I assumed that the same dialect was also used in Nwofe. However, the use of this dialect caused only confusion and some embarrassment. We later discovered to our dismay that the Nwofe villagers spoke a completely different dialect, one of more than 500 that are spoken in Nigeria! The remainder of the meeting was humbly conducted using simple English, the official second language of Nigeria.
We quickly discovered that aspirations at the school were initially not very high and the stark reality was that many of the students would go on to do menial manual labour when they finished schooling. Whilst in the field I was amazed by the enthusiasm and creativity that these underprivileged students began to display. During the process of tutor training, the students overcame social reproduction, showing changing attitudes and growing aspirations. The experience revealed that the fates of third-world students are not wholly automatic and predetermined, but are constantly renegotiated. The student tutoring programmes assisted in these renegotiations. Volunteering in Nigeria is indeed a worthwhile and rewarding experience.
VOLUNTEERING IN NIGERIA
Due to the volatile nature of protests, corruption and crime in Nigeria, and the sensationalist press that it generates, there are not many companies that are comfortable with being responsible for sending volunteers to Nigeria. Consequently, HiPact is one of the few volunteer agencies that continue to send volunteers to Nigeria. The company is reputable and well established and has been sending volunteers to Nigeria for a number of years. Other agencies that send volunteers to Nigeria include ATLA, SYTO Nigeria, Volunteer abroad, and the Global Volunteer Network.
Of course there are many dangers in Nigeria, including natural diseases such as Malaria, but if you take all the precautions advised the dangers can be significantly diminished. The people in Nigeria are unbelievably warm and welcoming and the food is great. If you are brave and want a mind and heart-opening experience that you will never forget, Nigeria is certainly a place where you might find such an experience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason J.R. Gaskell, Msc. is an ESL teacher and freelance writer who has been published in numerous newspapers, magazines, and Ezines; and more recently has been working on a new title for Dorling Kindersley publishers.