Andrew Shares Stories from Camp 2015
“You girls need to start noticing and believing that until you take your place in Nigerian society, it will be very tough for this country to move forward.” This was not part of the citizenship session we had planned for the day but it somehow fit in. It was me starting off empowerment camp having a heart to heart conversation with about 140 girls in attendance. The girls opened up to me about their feelings but towards the end of that session they all said “please tell these same things to the boys.”
After lunch, I was standing in front of about 250 guys saying the same thing but this time, I gave them many chances to tell me what they thought was the the biggest problem with our society. They mentioned everything from corruption, to bad governance, to violence and more. However, they were stunned when I told them that “we all want to study abroad and visit countries like the U.S.A. We sometimes forget that women in the U.S.A. play a major role in driving their economy. We need to stop waiting for others to empower our women, man up and empower them. When we can all pursue our dreams together, we are stronger and can move this nation forward.” It was amazing to see the looks on their faces. They were all so engaged because frankly, when we think of our many problems as Nigerians, one of the last places we look is in the misplaced destinies, marginalized living, and often silenced dreams of our women.
The session was interactive as everyone wanted to learn about ways we could make things better. A camper asked me and said “but where do we start from? It seems like these things have been going on too long that it will be very tough to change.” I was quick to seize such opportunities and in this very case, I used a simple demonstration that my coach in college used to help guide our path as individuals and as a team. I shared the idea of “pennies and a jar.” We talked about how we cannot fill that jar with pennies in one day but that everyday we are gifted with is an opportunity to sow the right seeds in our women- a penny at a time. And overtime, we can help our women walk by our side and not behind; something that will add up in the end to help our nation move forward.
What a good segway into the empowerment topic of the day, citizenship. After an hour thirty minutes of a heart to heart conversation, we proceeded to have the citizenship session for the day. I could not believe what I saw at the end of the day. I saw a young male camper hugging a female camper he had never met before, saying “on behalf of all Nigerian men, I am sorry for the way we have treated you guys.” Can you imagine? You might not understand what that means but in a place where male egos are constantly being polished, a statement like this was a huge win. It makes me wonder what every camper who attended that session has been doing up until now to help repair those dreams,self-esteem and destinies of our mothers, sisters, friends and wives.
After receiving a call during the first session with the girls that my wife, Molly was at the hospital and would give birth to our baby boy 6 weeks early, and finding the strength to finish the men’s session, I could not have been happier. My wife who told me to finish the day with the youth before changing my plans. I did not return to camp the next day as I was on my way back to the U.S but that moment right there and the renewed sense of purpose I saw in the faces of the youth, assured me that our trip was on track. Without understanding identity, it is difficult to live out your purpose and throughout this trip, there were cases where people not only realized who they are but whose they are. I am excited for each seed that was planted during this trip and I trust that our lord will water them to help bring about positive results for our society.
These agents of change are growing by the numbers and they are collaboratively finding news way to help move their generation forward. As a Nigerian, we have always said enough is enough to poverty and broken dreams but we have never really found constructive ways to put an end to it. These types of empowerment programs are unique in that they sow the seeds that will bring about the much need improvement in our mindset to help make life better. Thanks to those of you who supported our trip, the ladies know that they do not have to be second class citizens and that they have a right to pursue their dreams while the men have an understanding that we are stronger when we live, not in dominance but in partnership with the women in our lives and in our communities.
Thanks to all of you who work with us to make these types of stories possible.