I learnt of acceptance to a placement in Nigeria around November 2006 and immediately got invited to go through pre-departure preparations and training. This turned out to be the most exciting period of my life owing to the high expectations from family and friends. I had not worked abroad before and this was going to be a significant shift career wise.
When I applied to VSO, I knew it would be like any other job except the prospects of travelling abroad but when I attended the first training christened “Preparing for Change” my expectations rose higher and I realized I will be in for a long haul to prosperity. Changing environment was a definite motivation but also the fact that I loved travelling and working with communities was a plus. I began my journey on the 15th of February 2007 that took me to Abuja through Lagos. The culture shock is something to write about, but the warm reception from all especially the VSO staff was ecstatic.
After a week of ICT of course there was that grand visit to Calabar, one town that I must visit again in my happy life. Four more days of ICT and I hit the trail to Yola, the capital of Adamawa State in the Northeast Region of Nigeria. It is also known as The Land of Beauty. I arrived as an IT specialist cum trainer at the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) but I was transformed gradually to a system administrator, data manager and procurement officer. The roles were all linked in a way that was effective and convenient for the delivery of IT services and training. I had a team of fourteen men and women that I still adore today. I learnt so much about working in diverse teams and with people with varied skills. My approach to administrative work and civil service went through 360 degree turn because I realized inter-personal relationships is not what people write on CVs but that very practical application of objectivity, positive attitude and loyalty to a cause. In my years later as a volunteer in Bangladesh and Namibia these attributes enabled me overcome immense obstacles and endure difficult situations with the ease and calmness of a seventy-year old.
The ESSPIN project in Nigeria took root while I was in Yola and part of the activities that fed into its approval and eventual implementation was the annual school census and training of data clerks in three UBE Boards of Kano, Kaduna and Kwara States. Adamawa State participated as a control case. A standard platform is now in place for all states to feed in and draw from in terms performance rating, resource allocation, teacher training and facility improvement. In addition we have 21 model schools (maybe 25 by now) well equipped and the heart of which is a state of the art computer laboratory complete with a mini-server and LAN for sharing amongst the schools in the LGA. This project is managed by the EMIS Unit and is unique to Adamawa State. It is a concept that I pray will be replicated throughout the whole of Nigeria.
I left Nigeria in November 2009 after extending my placement for six months. I am proud of the work that we did in Adamawa State including advocacy meetings for ‘the education of the girl child’ in Maiha, Lamurde and Jada Local Government Areas (LGAs). I know the meetings re-visited the cultural constraints and burden on the girl child, the nomadic/pastoralist way of life, poverty, the issue of dowry and early marriages (educated girls disappear in the towns without fetching any dowry or even honour to their parents). These stories continue to inspire me and I saw a strong image of the African man completely in defense of their culture. I felt very proud to be associated with the community especially in Maiha and to suggest very softly, a blend of their practices with western education in order to improve the quality of life and alleviate poverty.
Today I sit behind my desk at VSO Jitolee with pride and character as a Volunteer and Programme Advisor charged with managing prospective volunteers and in particular those heading to Nigeria, Cameroon, Bangladesh and Vanuatu. My role is both administrative and programmatic as we work in specific goal areas, covering both recruitment and posting of volunteers. My IT and project management skills come in handy in this paperless office but my volunteering experience is like the ice cream sundae dessert after that tasty meal. It is like the tempering needed on professional skills and qualifications. I take every opportunity to learn a bit more and boast about my Nigerian experience. Occasionally I show up at functions with my expensive agbadas (because they are many) but most important to encourage and motivate those planning to volunteer to take that leap in the dark. There will be no regrets and in place of lost opportunity there will be many opportunities to choose from. To build a career takes all manner of risks and volunteering is one of the most worthy risks because the impact on the volunteer will be fulfilling and that impact on the beneficiary (the ones whose lives you touched, the ones you trained and mentored, etc) will be for a lifetime.
Volunteering has taken me to five different countries with unique cultures and warm people. I have many friends around the globe including those who served at the same time with me and we maintain a huge network for professional and personal support. I hope my new job at VSO will be even more refreshing and enriching in terms career growth. I look forward to seeing a world without poverty where every individual belongs and lives in dignity.