Towards the end of the Christmas\New Year holiday, I was hanging out in my friend’s house just gisting as usual and somehow the conversation veered into the state of our home country Nigeria. A particular statement seconded by others at the lunch table particularly got my antennas up. We were talking about schools and someone mentioned students going to school barefooted in certain areas of Lagos. I felt like someone doused me with a bucket of cold water. Wait….WHAT? In 2015 students are still going to school barefooted especially in a major metropolis like Lagos? If this is the case, what then is happening in very remote areas of Nigeria? Of course I know about half of the country live in poverty – specifically 46%, according the World Bank; but for some reason I felt I had been hearing and seeing for years how people are struggling to make ends meet but for the first time I was actually hearing and seeing what had been in front of me almost my entire life. I just never let it sink it that things were that depraved maybe because I never really had a firsthand encounter.
It’s so easy going through life, engrossed with our own life, more concerned with the type of chicken in the pot of soup – did this chicken get Botox or not, why is the thigh looking malnourished? or that there are not 4 different types of soups in the fridge or how come there is no array of juices in the fridge, while being oblivious of the fact that some cannot even afford to eat chicken for months at a time and soda is still a drink for major celebrations. I sat there listening, chin in hand and feeling disappointed with myself. How could I have been so focused on my own self that I forgot to reach out & make a difference in a complete stranger’s life?
Oh, I think I get it. Maybe I’ve never really thought about making a difference in a non-relation’s life because in my subconscious I don’t have everything I want for myself. I am yet to arrive. I’m not counting my millions in dollars or pound sterling yet. I mean, my tens of shoes don’t matter since I don’t have red bottoms yet. I need to acquire all the necessities a solid wardrobe needs before I can give a much deserving person a few pairs of shoes. My overflowing wardrobe? Sheeesh….I don’t have enough clothes yet so how can I afford to clothe someone else?
You see, the problem with this thought process is addressed in this anonymous quote “If you wait until you can do everything for everybody instead of something for somebody, you end up doing nothing for nobody”.
Maybe it’s not even my fault or even yours that almost half of Nigerians live in poverty. Yes, it’s not our fault. We are not at the helm of government. We are not the thieving ones stashing our pockets with funds meant for the development and empowerment of Nigerians. All we need to do is get rid of this suit and babariga clothed Aninis in disguise and divert funds to the right infrastructures and all would be well. Poverty would be eradicated, all jobless college graduates or skilled people would have decent employment, the roads would be free of potholes, and not have to be a labor inducing mechanism for a heavily pregnant woman, there would practically be manna and gold on the streets; We would no longer be rated a Third World Country. We would now be bondafide “na the same papa born us” siblings with the United States. So you see the problem is not ours.
Now this would totally be the ultimate solution if the build, growth, sustenance of any community were entirely up to its government. Haven lived in the United States for as long as I have, I have come to appreciate the sense of community, especially of giving back to the less fortunate. All the time here you run into people who barely have good clothes on their back giving to those who have nothing, you see people who are living paycheck to paycheck going to volunteer at one community development or another. I especially like that it goes beyond just writing a cheque for many – it’s about their time as well. Being there for someone else monetarily, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. By the way, when are we going to open a Boys & Girls club in Nigeria?
There’s a euphoria of some sorts from watching and being amongst a nation of selfless people. I sometimes wonder if Americans are very literal about John F Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural speech, in which he said this very famous line “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”.
In my more than three decades as a Nigerian, we have always demanded time and time again from our government and if after years of doing something without positive results perhaps it’s time to see other alternatives.
No time soon will the government provide school sandals for every single child in this country, In no time soon will the government ensure that no child is left behind when it comes to education, there will clearly not be a hunger eradication in our life time either, and I can go on and on from here. But, you and I can actually provide school shoes for almost every child who needs one, or we can feed at least one family. I know you’re thinking… well, that’s quite ambitious. I also know a journey you don’t embark on, you cannot complete. I would rather start this journey of putting shoes on children’s feet or clothes on every unpaid pensioner or whatever journey I need to be on to help change my community, then find out half way that I can’t reach every single person. By then I would have reached a whole lot more people than I ever envisioned one week ago.
I am especially interested in the girl child. Call me partial because I’m a woman, I agree but biko, go do your own with your gender. Therefore my very first act of giving back to non-blood relatives is to sponsor 3 girls starting immediately through the rest of their high school education and hopefully into college as well. The girls have been identified through a program called the Girls in Science Girls Prize initiative. I hope to increase this number significantly each year – God willing.
You and I cannot afford to wait until our life is perfect (Heck, I got some bad news 2 weeks ago that should have put any additional expenditure on my part on hold, because I need to think of my needs first. That’s not going to happen – not anymore) before we can extend a lifeline to someone else whose life depends on receiving that lifeline today – not tomorrow. We have to be the generation of non-self-seeking, or non-selfish Nigerians who do not only think of themselves / always think of themselves first.
There are a million and one ways you and I can do something to build our community. I chose to educate well deserving girls because “The power is in the pen”. Find something to do with the little or vast you have at your disposal. There is an unequaled & lasting blessing that comes from giving, which all the Feragamo in the world can never give you.
I’ll end with a couple of my favorite quotes:
- “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do” – Edward Everett Hale
- “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – Mahatma Gandhi
- “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead” – Nelson Mandela
Photo Credit: Dreamtime | Tommyandone