AWOGBEMI: Volunteerism As Panacea For Societal Development
Adeola Awogbemi is the Executive Director of Volunteer Corps, a charity organisation, which started 23 years ago and has graduated many students. She is a research and development consultant with about 15 years experience, working with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community-based organisations (CBOs) in Africa. She is also a facilitator, trainer, volunteer and mentor.
Her passion for charity was a hidden treasure she discovered as an undergraduate and has spent most of her adult life working with the non-profit sector.
I discovered my passion, while in the university writing my undergraduate thesis on Nigeria federal character policy. My mother used to work with Nexim Merchant Bank and she told me about her boss, who had a lot of books in his office. So, one day, I went with her to work and I told her boss what I was writing about and he gave me some books to read. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo wrote some of these books. With the other materials I got from the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), I was able to write my thesis.
After my university education, I started reading those books in-depth, having focused on only the information I needed from them earlier to write my thesis and I just realised that that was what I really wanted to do. Obasanjo was concerned about leadership in Africa, which was why he set up the African Leadership Forum, where I first worked. And I realised he was giving back to the society through that.
As if fate also wanted her to follow that path, another occurrence later nudged her in this direction.
“One day, I was asked to buy some equipment from a company and was given an address. When I got there, I realised they were the publishers of the books I had been engrossed in all the while. I also noticed they were into leadership trainings and workshops. I couldn’t concentrate on my real mission of going there and that was how I got involved with developmental works to make the society a better place.
And although it may not be financially rewarding, it is demanding as you could be called upon to work in a community to address health issues or service delivery and I just found passion in it. When I see community people saying how one project or the other has helped them grow, I feel fulfilled. I have never looked back.
So, for me, the joy lies in seeing that I have been able to make an impact in my little space, as well as change thought processes. It is a good thing and without changing lives, I really don’t know what the world would be like.”
Adeola’s organisation started with just one tutorial centre, teaching senior secondary students subjects such as mathematics, English and life skills; now it has nine centres spread across different locations in public schools in Lagos State, with the support of Lagos and Ogun State governments.
We need to contribute to the betterment of society. The government cannot do it alone and that is why Volunteer Corps is contributing its quota. We need to make these children feel capable and that they can make something of their lives. Testimonials abound in this regard. There are sailors, pilots, engineers and PG.D holders from this programme
We work with 47 public schools in Lagos and three in Ogun State. Usually, we talk to principals of schools and when they buy into our programme, we recruit SS1 students through an entrance examination. We don’t ever reject them though, as it is just a way of testing their strengths and weaknesses to enable the volunteer teachers work effectively. In each class we have a minimum of 30 students to ensure effective learning,” she explained.
On her experience while running the centres, Adeola said the number of interested students keep dropping, which is majorly because most of them are challenged.
“Most of them are not living with their parents. Some of them were brought from the village to support other families. Some are housemaids or boys and it is what they are asked to do that comes first and not the tutorial. It is a Saturday programme that starts from 10a.m to 2p.m because our volunteers are working class people from different walks of life, who take out time to impact the lives of these students.
What is key to us is our L.I.F.E skills classes, which targets leadership, information, finance and ethics. So, while an hour is spent on teaching Math and English, teaching L.I.F.E skills takes two hour. It can be on leadership, financial literacy or volunteerism and other programmes about the environment and we incorporate it in our curriculum.
“These programmes are necessary to motivate and inspire them not to think too much about where they are coming from because these children are challenged. Once, I was at a centre and found a student crying. When I enquired what the problem was, I found out she has not eaten since the previous day and so, I had to feed all of them. Since then, we have continued to feed them across all the nine centres and this is huge; it requires a lot of money.”
In the course of interacting with the children, Adeola and her team soon realised the environment has a lot of influence on the way a child eventually turns out.
“We discovered that their environment could define them. We see some of these children who do not have manners or misbehave changing for the better. One of our programmes, which tackle this, is our Boot Camp series. SS1 students are taught habits and behavioral manners expected in the home and society. SS2 students are taught purpose and the need to identify it and then in SS3, they are taught how to tap into opportunities, as some of them may not be opportune to get into the university. We also have excursions which we organise for these kids, as well as a graduation programme at the end of the session, a big ceremony, when we give awards and scholarships.”
In her view, creating opportunities for these children is an important step that is likely to affect their lives in no small measure.
“If we check the history of Boko Haram members, most likely, they are there because they have been disenfranchised and deprived for so long. Some of them don’t eat for days, queuing up in people’s houses to beg for food. We don’t want that to happen here. So, we need to contribute to the betterment of society. The government cannot do it alone and that is why Volunteer Corps is contributing its quota. We need to make these children feel capable and that they can make something of their lives. Testimonials abound in this regard. There are sailors, pilots, engineers and PG.D holders from this programme,” she said.
So, how does she combine her hectic work schedule with running the home? Said she: “it can be tough, because I want to be financially dependent to enable me make money to support the dreams of young students and give back in my own little way. I have three children, but then I have been able to cope. Now, they have passed the nursing stage but then, I have to always juggle picking them from school in the middle of work every day, and I have been able to manage. They now understand what I do and they come to ask what they can contribute to the centres. Sometimes they come with N100, saying that is what they have and I collect it and thank them. This is because I am teaching them volunteerism, which is what our society lacks today.”
In her opinion, government needs to pay more attention to working nursing mothers by establishing crèches so that they can concentrate at work and become more productive rather than fretting over their babies’ wellbeing, thereby giving divided attention to work.
She added that the former Managing Director of Chams Plc, Sir Ademola Aladekomo, who had the privilege of being tutored, while in secondary school in Osun State, by a German volunteer, founded Volunteer Corp. This singular act benefitted him and other students immensely and many of them were able to get admission into the university on that account.
During his Youth Service days as a teacher in a public school, Aladekomo decided to give back to the students. So, he started organising tutorials for the students. Along the line, the school principal noticed his efforts and encouraged him to register an organisation to enable him take it further and that was how Volunteer Corp started officially.
Adeola holds a BSc and MSc degrees in political science from the University of Lagos, and has certificates in planning monitoring & evaluation and community development from Canada and the Netherlands. She is also a Fellow, Salzburg Seminar, Austria and Nigerian Institute of Training and Development (NITAD).