The true development of human beings involves much more than mere economic growth. At its heart there must be a sense of empowerment and inner fulfillment.
-Aung San Suu Kyi
Living and working in Akpap Okoyong, Cross River State is enriching my life immensely and continues to teach me about myself and the world in every new experience, challenging situation and delightful interaction. Most people here in the village are really helpful and friendly, so I’ve been able to adapt and settle in very well. The natural surroundings are incredibly beautiful and learning about the different crops that grow in the area has been a lot of fun. I’ve decided that I’d like to focus my career on agriculture and women’s empowerment in some capacity moving forward. Culturally, I’ve witnessed many interesting local practices and traditions—my favorite is always the spectacular dancing by people of all ages! My leisure time here includes activities such as palm tree climbing, motorbike riding, swimming in the river and even learning basic metal welding.
Supporting the work of the Mary Slessor Foundation has been very rewarding thus far, though there is still a lot of work to be done.
I’ll be focusing the remainder of my time at work here on training my colleagues on administrative management, as well as teaching basic entrepreneurship and business, English and computer skills. I also hope to build a small resource library that they can continue to refer to as needed. In addition to local awareness and outreach, we also plan to build the organization’s network by meeting with businesses operating locally and in Calabar town to better understand their needs so that we can adequately prepare our students for employment, build the reputation of the Mary Slessor Foundation and add value to the certificates of successful graduates of our Vocational Training Center. In addition, we’re working to develop the school’s first curriculum in each of our three departments and recently held a workshop to initiate the process with the school’s trainers.
We’ve also managed to hire a doctor and reopen the clinic to treat patients within the community and we plan to host health talks for the local youth and students of surrounding schools on sexual and reproductive health, a need identified by our local health staff.
Palm fruit is in high season so our agricultural processing facility is booming with customers who come to turn the local fruit into high-in-demand palm oil for consumption and sale in the market and to traders. We also operate the facilities needed to process cassava into garri, a staple in the local diet.
It is very uplifting to see the pride students have when they master a new skill. When sustenance farming is all you know, being given opportunity (not resources such as money) through a new skill or the facilities to process your palm fruit and cassava and selling the surplus for income, significantly affects your day-to-day life. The people (specifically youth) I meet every day are capable, smart and full of life, waiting for an opportunity to work hard so that they can fulfill their dreams, whatever those may be. What I’ve seen here is that life is not fair and that if you have enough in your own life, it is important to serve people by providing them with the opportunity to earn their livelihoods, the freedom to choose how to spend their income and the education to make the best choices.
One of the biggest challenges in my daily life (other than fetching water from a well off-compound and not having power, both of which you easily adapt to) is seeing all the young children not enrolled in school because of their parents’ inability to pay school fees. The importance of educating children, even if it is only for one more term or year, is not always understood by parents facing financial hardship and it is very sad to see so much wasted potential. Dealing with land ownership issues and managing within such a different work culture have also taught me about the importance of keeping an open mind. In reflecting on my time in Nigeria, as it has been almost 11 months now, I’ve realized that I’ve truly enjoyed living and working with the local community rather than living in an expat bubble as so many international workers inevitably do. Sure, I occasionally miss hot showers (and running water) and getting from point A to point B on the sometimes-questionable public transport always takes longer than I could imagine, but my experience here would not be as memorable or authentic otherwise.
Overall, living and working in the village of Akpap Okoyong has been an amazing opportunity for complete immersion into an unfamiliar way of life that is interesting, confusing, beautiful, frustrating and wonderful all at once!
Christine M. Adolf (BBA ’07) is spending a year in Nigeria as a CUSO International volunteer, exploring how she can use her background in business to empower people living in poverty around the world. Her interests include yoga, reading, dancing, social entrepreneurship and exploring new places.