Written by: Erica Madden
A2S Mission Team Member 2017/2018
If I had to pick one word to describe my experience in Nigeria this week, I suspect my selection might surprise you. Over the last six days, we’ve precariously navigated dirt roads covered with holes and often passable by one vehicle at a time. We visited schools of children with tattered uniforms, many running around barefoot on the muddy, soiled landscape. We were welcomed into dark “homes,” one-room spaces serving as all things to families of five. We observed sleepy, subdued children awaiting their first (and likely only) meal of the day at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. We talked to kids about their daily chores of fetching water, water we couldn’t even drink for risk of disease. We saw and smelled the impact of littered trash and inadequate restroom facilities. We were pulled by children just begging to be touched, to be hugged.
So, how would I describe my return to Nigeria in a word?
Yes, all those experiences are real. And so vivid. And unbelievably humbling. But they aren’t the full story.
I have the advantage of being the lone returnee on Team 2 of the A2S mission trip. A newbie last year, I came with my eyes wide open, and what I saw broke my heart. But broke it in a healthy way. A way that tugged the pieces of my heart to serve, and think, and strategize … and hope. What I learned over the last year and upon my return is that a little hope can go a long way if you share it with the right people.
Over the last week, I saw more paved roads, less trash, and even witnessed a truck doing trash collection! I saw A2S staff members who have made significant professional strides, showing the ability to step out of their comfort zones and a willingness to lean into growth. I walked on a piece of A2S-owned land, leveled and ready for us to break ground for our very own building. I embraced Loveth Edo, a girl once known only by her shyness who has now stolen the hearts of every US supporter by passionately bringing us the weekly edition of A2S Kids News. I was absolutely speechless (and in tears) by a dramatic production written and performed by our A2S scholarship kids. I was impressed by the enhancements to the Entrepreneurship Incubator program — a program still very much in its infancy. I shook my head in awe at the caliber of ideas, the ingenuity, the creativity, and the courage of every team who came to pitch its business idea. I reveled in the excitement of the teams that were selected and the sportsmanship of those who weren’t.
It is happening in Nigeria. Are the problems not still very real, very harsh, very heart breaking? Absolutely. But there are also very real people here with big hearts, creative minds, and huge dreams to make Nigeria better. I am proud to be a little piece of this family – they think I give them hope, but many times I think it is the other way around. Seeing hope in a place where hope shouldn’t exist catapults me forward, seeking the next opportunity for progress.
I’ll close my eyes tonight knowing that this visit is coming to a close all too soon. And while it is never easy to say so long to family, I have an incredible peace about the capable hands that are doing the work of A2S on ground. Keep pressing on, my friends. See you soon.