“I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you have addressed the world’s deepest inequities, on how well you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity.”—Bill Gates
As I near the end of my time as a CUSO International Business & Management volunteer in rural Nigeria after close to two years, I inevitably find myself in a period of retrospection on everything that this experience has taught me. The lessons are endless.
Professionally, my eyes have been opened to the critical need and significant opportunity to create employment and secure livelihoods through socially conscious enterprise and to improve agricultural value chains for all stakeholders, particularly rural farmers and processors. I have lived through the challenges of working in a developing country with limited infrastructure and the frustration that comes with feeling insignificant in the face of such overwhelming inequality and injustice.
My final task as a volunteer was to visit key stakeholders in the cocoa value chain, including an international cocoa procurement company in Lagos and a farmer’s cooperative in Ibadan, to gain insight surrounding the agricultural certification process as well as how to replicate their successes in the cocoa value chain development with the Mary Slessor Foundation’s palm oil processing mill, and eventually a larger network of oil palm farmers and palm oil processing mills in the area. We also had the privilege of visiting cocoa farms in rural Osun State to hear firsthand how the training provided as part of the agricultural certification process, UTZ Certified in this case, has helped individual farmers to significantly increase their yields and profits.
Personally, I’ve found it incredibly rewarding to learn about another, vastly different culture through complete immersion. One aspect of the CUSO International volunteer experience that I’ve truly enjoyed is this immersion into a new way of life, experienced in everyday occurrences such as taking public transport, cooking using only locally available ingredients and participating in traditional celebrations.
I was honored to have been asked by one of the graduates of the Mary Slessor Foundation’s Vocational Training & Skills Acquisition Center to act as an advisor on personal and family affairs, and to have been involved in settling a family land dispute for a friend in a nearby village. These invitations have shown me that, even outside my role at work, I have become a valued member of my community.
Overall, what this volunteer experience has made clear to me is that I must continue on this journey, which my mother accurately termed as a non-religious spiritual calling, to explore and work toward serving my fellow human beings with a compassionate heart, an open mind, contagious enthusiasm and valuable business and other practical skills.
Christine M. Adolf (BBA ’07) spent nearly two years 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.