The gruesome health and economic calamaties, precipitated by coronavirus have resonated the imperative for recruitment of more volunteers and aid workers to mitigate the impact of the pandemic across society.
This surge is particularly evident in Nigeria and other developing countries, lacking adequate social and health facilities to support the huge population of persons, distressed by the scourge.
These issues took center stage, Thursday, at a lecture organized by the United States Government Exchanges Alumni Association(USGEAA) and the US Consulate, Lagos.
The event had as theme, ‘Volunteerism: Opportunities and Challenges in the COVID-19 Era.’
The virtual conference featured presentation of awards of excellence to fellows, who have distinguished themselves in various development projects, across the country.
African Regional Coordinator at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs(ECA) for Department of State, Washington DC and guest speaker, Ms Amelia Carvalho, congratulated the recipients for their commitment and passionate responses to the humanitarian crises occasioned by the epidemic.
Carvalho underscored the enormous necessity for additional care givers, as many communities grapple with the infection, particularly in underserved populations.
She cited lack of funding, travel restrictions and widespread anxiety as major obstacles fuelling the decline in volunteerism.
‘Major challenges include competition for volunteer pool, fear of risking exposure to COVID-19, digital divide, because low internet bandwidth and access to technology create barriers for virtual engagement.’
According to her, decline in financial and human capital, as well as physical constraints also limit crucial responses to COVID-19 relief.
Earlier in his welcome address, president of USGEAA, Dr. Jude Ememe commended the awardees for their transformation activities, while describing the seminar as ‘historic and inspirational.’
Ememe, a management consultant and lecturer, reiterated the group’s commitment towards projects that will improve the lives of citizens, who are suffering as a result of job losses, soaring food prices and the medical plague.
He hailed the successful nominees, who have devoted, time and resources for societal progress, saying ‘the value of your endeavours for socio-economic growth is indisputable.’
‘You are making the difference to impact and change lives. You are creating memories that will last for ever. The worth of a man or woman is not in how much you have accumulated. It is in the lives touched. As fellows and beneficiaries of US-sponsored programmes, we should continue to engage in voluntary work and helping the less-privileged, through selfless and strategic ventures.’
‘I have personally been involved in personality re-characterization programmes in the four prisons in Lagos State, by empowering the inmates and prison personnel with vital trainings and skill acquisitions. This has enabled me to connect with the sacrifices of practical volunteerism,’ Ememe added.
‘Top officials, who participated in the outing included, Acting Public Affairs Officer(PAO) Jennifer Foltz, Ms. Doyinsola Apalara, as well as USGEAA Vice Presidents, Dr. Mary Danesi and Mr. Abishalom Johnson Nweze and Mr. Joseph Iorwuese.
The discourse, which is the fourth edition of a series of lectures by the mega-alumni body, explored various strategies to seek institutional assistance and funding to promote public services and support for the indigent.
Also speaking at the event, jointly compered by USGEAA’s publicity secretary Mike Okwoche and secretary Ms Tinuola Aina, the awardees dwelt extensively on the urgency for more individuals and corporate organizations to offer relief and palliatives to disadvantaged persons, particularly in regions, bereft of life saving amenities.
Highlighting outstanding pontentials and benefits of these non-profit ventures both nationally and internationally, the honourees extolled the US government and the embassy for sponsoring various leadership and academic programmes to foster peace and cooperation globally.
Such programmes include Fulbright Scholarship, Hubert Humphrey Fellowship, International Visitors’ Leadership Programme, WomenTech, OneBeat and Young African Leaders Initiative(YALI) among others.
The profile and magnitude of their various programmes are quite impressive, expansive and inspirational.
The array of their humanitarian and philanthropic undertakings are worth recounting.
Ms. Amanda Obidike, Executive Director of STEMi Makers Africa, addresses social innovation, youth development and reform in education curriculum.
She is a mentor in the New York Academy of Science, Cherie Blair Foundation, Global Thinkers and one million Women in Tech, where she lends her voice and serves as a role model to girls. She was given the Technology Rising Star Award; WOC Michigan, Positive Impact Award of Athena40’s World Innovative Woman, 2020 and 100 Leading Ladies in Africa.
She currently serves on the Leadership Board of the 500 Women Scientists, USA and writing a Research on ‘Digital Transformation for Development: e-learning, lifelong learning and Education Strategy,’ a research presented to West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN).
Mrs Adeze Ojukwu is a multiple award-winning journalist and an alumnus of 2003/2004 Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship, at Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA.
She was a lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, Fourah College, in University of Sierra Leone, under the Technical Aids Corps(TAC) diplomatic mission.
She is an accomplished development-centered journalist and advocate, with over two decades of media experience and commitment towards sustainable development issues in Nigeria, Africa and developing countries.
She is the Founding Editor of Harvest Africa, a serial newspaper columnist, publisher, as well as a member of United Nations (UN) Volunteers organization.
Her niche is in deploying practical advocacy skills and modern multi-media platforms to disseminate news and reports to positively, influence public policies and projects to improve access of citizens to quality health, food security, housing, gender equality, youth empowerment and environmental security, as captured in the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs).
For establishing a strong profile on these burning issues, she has to her credit a string of outstanding international recognitions and media awards and prizes including the Nestle Nutrition Media Award, which she won successively in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
She is also a recipient of several merit and recognition awards from Nigerian Embassy in Sierra Leone, in 2009 and Association of Nigerian Residents in Sierra Leone 2009 for probono services.
She features in several international and national fora including the recent UNDP-led virtual consulting meeting on Women Peace Builders in Post War Peace and decision initiatives, amidst COVID-19 challenges.
Dr. Temitope Aladesanmi, an expert in Information Technology management, has over 18 years of experience managing large scale digital services in multi-platform environments for secured enterprise network solutions.
He is a certified mentor, a member of Nigeria Computer Society (MNCS), member, Steering Committee on Africa Academic Network on Internet Policy, member, Internet Society (ISOC) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
He is the founder of Mobile Apps Summer School Initiative (MASSi), established to protect women from danger. The project has won several awards for its impact in society.
Funmi Ilori is the founder of iRead Mobile Library, which is Nigeria’s foremost innovative ‘books on wheels’ for children.
With a high-profile academic certification in Educational Psychology as well as Urban and Regional Planning, she heads iRise Model School, a network of affordable nursery and primary schools.
She is an author of children’s literatures, a prolific storyteller and a serial social entrepreneur. Her organization partners with several international and local organizations to empower school teachers, children and the library community.
She is an alumnus of Clark Atlanta University, USA, a Mandela Washington Fellow, president Barack Obama Young African Leader and vice president of Teachers’ Empowerment Network, with numerous prestigious awards and endorsements.
Ugochi Obidiegwu is a social development strategist with a speciality in creating products, programmes and policy advisory that solves Africa’s pressing development issues affecting African children and youths. Her major work pillars are ensuring child safety and reducing substance abuse in youths.
Her safety activities focus on training and creating unique safety education products like story books and programmes like the annual ‘School Safety Summit’ in order to intentionally groom a safety conscious generation.
To reduce substance abuse, she recently rolled out a programme where she equips recovered addicts with relevant digital skills in order to aid smooth reintegration to society.
Her laudable work has been profiled on the Tony Elumelu Foundation blog, She Leads Africa, Bellanaija, European Network Education and notable media platforms.
Bisi Ajayi-Kayode, a lawyer, leads the Cece Yara Foundation’s Legal Advocacy and Support Programs to serve the needs of children, non-offending family members and child protection professionals. She ensures that Survivors of child sexual abuse have easy access to justice.
She has worked with prominent developmental organisations including the Women Consortium of Nigeria (WOCON), a gender based NGO with a UN consultative status, the Security, Justice and Growth Programme of the British Council, where she coordinated the Awaiting Trial Persons Project, as a Consultant with the State Accountability Voice Initiative (SAVI) of DFID, the Community Policing project of the British council and the Safer Schools Initiative Programme of the British Council.
She has undergone various trainings including, the prestigious US International Visitors Leadership Programme(IVLP), Adult Awareness Programme on Child Sexual Abuse and Mediation, as a form of Restorative Justice and UNICEF campaigns . She is the recipient of the 2012 United States Consul General Award.
Oluwatosin Olowoyeye-Taiwo, a recipient of the 2012 US Consul-General Award, is the founder of Street to School Initiative, a non profit organization, which provides access to quality learning for street kids in underserved areas.
Since 2010, she has consistently mentored and sponsored young people to register freely for basic national examinations such as GCE, JAMB, NECO and WAEC. In 2015, she established a free school for out-of-school children in Alimosho Local Government Area(LGA) of Lagos state, where 198 children access quality education, with 78 of the beneficiaries studying in secondary school.
In 2018, the loss of a seven-year-old pupil informed her partnership with international organizations to renovate and fully equip two abandoned Primary health care centres in Agbado Oke-Odo LGA.
She is also a recipient of international recognition from the United Parcel Service, and 2019 Awardee of the Education and Innovative Award from The Education Partnership (TEP) Centre.
Indeed other alumni have also distinguished themselves in social enterprise and charity.
Dr. Osita Okonkwo, another vibrant HHH fellow, an internationally acclaimed public health management consultant has successfully, developed donor-funded projects in Nigeria, South Sudan and Sierra Leone.
His philanthropic commitments saw him serve as the Health Advisor to Nigerian Red Cross. He is a recipient of UN Ambassador for Peace Award and co-founder of the Initiative for Improved Population Health Access and Empowerment (iphAE), which provides free healthcare interventions and benefaction for poor and vulnerable populations.
Plateau state-based HHH alumnus and physicist, Mrs Nosa Tukura, has also undertaken numerous selfless welfare activities in Jos, the capital and its environs.
Through her Hephzi-Sheman Foundation, she has successfully initiated and executed projects on poverty alleviation, conflict management, women empowerment and child rights, which have earned her several national and international laurels.
Amb. Sunny Irakpor of SILEC Initiatives, has worked assiduously, for over 10 years promoting youth employment and public campaigns to reduce drug abuse in society. The IVLP alumnus has won several medals for his humanitarianism.
Mr. Emmanuel Agunze, a 2018 Barrack Obama Mandela Washington Fellow for Young African Leaders has continued to offer free educational and vocational trainings to children through his Makoko Education Dream school.
His altruistic disposition has received him wide acclamations and international partnerships.
No doubt, the investment of the US in Nigeria and its citizens is quite remarkable and beneficial, both to the grantees and the country in general.
Evidently, volunteerism, in all its ramifications, remains an honourable and edifying vocation, that should be embraced by more members of society.