Give back (now) or watch your back (later)
It’s Children’s Day. There’ll be no full-page adverts. On May 29, public funds will deface Nigerian newspapers. Shows where the heart is
— ‘Gbenga Sesan (@gbengasesan) May 27, 2012
As predicted through my tweet above, May 29 got more attention than May 27 in Nigeria. I’m not playing with dates, but Nigeria is playing with the future! The signs are already there – in education, security, etc – it shows that government is only paying lip service to what should be our biggest investment in the future.
But then, anyone who has spent as much time as I have in my beloved country will know that while waiting for government to awake from its deep slumber, the need to intervene is huge. I’ve often spoken of the funnel effect, describing how many children get dropped off the opportunity radar as life continues to happen to them. One possible outcome of the funnel effect is that these children may grow into adults who will see any expression of comfort as the reason they have been denied their own “fair share.”
The kids who snatch phones in traffic will grow into adults who snatch cars and maybe even lives. If there was a way you could give back to that child now, instead of watching your back later, would you? Truth is that you can, and many are already doing that. I’ve been asked why my area of interest in technology is in equipping young people with skills that can improve their livelihoods, and my answer is simple: kids who are given a future assure us of a safer one for ourselves and our own kids.
Giving back doesn’t necessarily mean building a career around helping children and youth. It could be as simple as volunteering at a program that already does that, mentoring a child dazzled by the maze that life around here can present, or demanding change through your opportune channels.
I strongly believe that our generation has to think a bit beyond what we can acquire to considering what we can give back. It can become a culture so strong that our enlightened self-interest finds a place in cohesive national development.
When Emeka and other young people walked into a training centre I managed for the trio of Lagos State Government, Microsoft, and Junior Achievement of Nigeria about 7 years ago, my excitement revolved around the opportunity of seeing them blossom into young adults whose stories will inspire fellow young people to create a future they would be proud of instead of holding on to ready excuses to explain activities that would hurt others. Few weeks ago, I met Emeka at an event. He’s not only an example to other young people around him; he has adopted the culture of giving back.
I met Esther in Ajegunle more recently. Looking frail and shy, she walked up and spoke about her interest in computers. Many weeks later, she had learnt enough to start out on a path of success because of some of the many volunteers who continue to give their time at Paradigm Initiative Nigeria’s Ajegunle.org program. She has worked at the UK Deputy High Commission, managed projects at the new local Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA2), and more. More importantly, she’s a role model to young women who could have used similar circumstances as excuses.
“How many people can my small contribution reach?” Few, but imagine the volume of many ‘fews’. If drops of water come together to make a river, then your deliberate act of giving back will connect with many others to weave a fine future for us all. Your skill, time, and other resources can plug a hole in our collective future if you reach out to a young person looking to figure out the often confusing maze of life, especially in an environment like ours. When we give back, we contribute to a culture that will see us giving back now instead of watching our backs in the future.
This piece first appeared in YNaija’s ’30 Days, 30 Voices’