My recent trip to Nigeria: Hugs might come a day late but when they do… cherish it!
As someone who is invested in finding the best ways to relay our work in partnership with Nigerian communities with our supporters here in the U.S, the one thing I have found to be most successful is building relationships. These relationships are between the children that we serve and those who equip us with the tools to serve them. My recent trip was a work trip where I was meant to approve the design plan of our After School Academy facility and then sign the necessary documents so that we can begin construction. It is surreal just thinking about that! My other goals for the trip were to lead our Nigerian staff retreat, host a volunteer orientation and present a youth seminar, among other administrative tasks. But this visit cannot begin without me paying homage first to our kids at the After School Academy.
You see, I spend a lot of my time in the United States behind a desk, meeting online with our Nigerian staff. I listen intently as they share the story of each child they have targeted within the community that needs the help of A2S. By communicating closely with our Nigerian team, we are able to discern how we can meet every child at the point of his or her need. Trust me, every single time I go through this process, the question, “How did I ever go through these things and make it out?” pops into my head. But then, I realize that God did not call me to answer questions about my past, but to speak into my future, a future that helps many find theirs.
So you must understand that every time the car or bus brings me to the A2S After School Academy, the one thing I look forward to, before anything else, the one thing that was always certain was the flood of children who abandon everything they are doing and charge towards me screaming, ”Uncle Andrew! Uncle Andrew is here.” As they charge towards me I cannot help but reflect on each of their stories, to understand why A2S has come to mean so much to them and to enjoy the moment because if you know me, I love hugs. But this time around, that was not the case.
The car pulled up at lunchtime. You could hear the voices of the children as they chatted, ate, or sorted through the lines to get served their meal. I walked in with Ehis, our Program Coordinator in Nigeria. To my surprise, no one but the adult volunteers said hello. This was much different than I was used to. I smiled at the kids, said hello, took some pictures and came to the conclusion that they probably thought I was a substitute for Evelyn or Tobore, our A2S photographers. To be honest, I felt like a father that was not recognized by his own children. As I toured through the classrooms, they would each stand up and greet in unison, “Good afternoon, Sir. You are welcome to the A2S After School Academy and may God bless you.” I said thank you, asked how everyone was doing, and moved on so I did not disrupt their schedule for the day. So, as much as I looked forward to the most sincere hugs on the planet, my expectations came to naught. However, it was still a great day because I got to see them all doing so well.
At the staff retreat the next day, Roseline, our After School Academy Site Coordinator, told me that the kids did not recognize me the day before. As you can imagine, my first response was “What?” She then explained that after I left, they mentioned my visit to the children and they ALL argued that they were 100% sure that I was NOT Andrew Lovedale. “Really?” I mustered. The students’ reasoning was that Andrew Lovedale was much taller than the guy who came to visit yesterday. According to one of the kids, “Andrew Lovedale is a basketball player and always wears his basketball jersey.” Ahhh- that was it. These kids are very impressionable. Coming straight from a business meeting, I was in pants, dress shoes and a tucked in A2S polo shirt. This new Andrew Lovedale, the one that dressed up, is not the one the kids had been used to seeing. The one they know always shows up in basketball shorts, Jordan flip-flops and a T-shirt. See? Just like I was expecting the usual hugs, the kids were expecting the usual Andrew Lovedale. But two “strangers” showed up.
Later that day, I returned to the After School Academy dressed in the same business clothes. As the car pulled up, you could tell they were waiting… charging towards me with hugs, smiles, their stories, my story, our moment, your impact, woven into one happy circle on red sand. These kids always remind me that the investment we make and the relationships we form are all wrapped up in single moments. The moment when we can all be there for one another, forgetting about the ills of this world and embracing what truly matters- our togetherness. My hugs came late, but they came anyway and it was even sweeter.
The rest of the trip went really well. The biggest takeaway from this trip is that the Benin City community is taking ownership of the change they wish to see and celebrating their partnership with us. Our team in Nigeria is bigger and better. We had about 80 people attend our Volunteer Orientation and about 200 youth attend the Youth Seminar. The goals for the trip were all accomplished. Most importantly, I am so excited that we are constructing our own facility from where we can serve even more children. The more lives we impact positively, the more hugs I get. And you know I love my hugs!
I am back in the United States, developing relationships with our friends and supporters who work tirelessly to bring about positive change. When I come knocking on your door, please save me a hug. Trust me, there is no better place to start 🙂