Dear Victoria, earlier this month you had the chance to share your experiences as a youth educator and peace advocate at a conference organized by the UN Association of Nigeria (UNAN). Tell us more about the topics discussed and what the event was like?
I had the pleasure of joining the United Nations Association of Nigeria (UNAN) Peace Day event held in partnership with the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) in Lagos and the Faculty of Law at the University of Lagos. The theme of the event was tagged Together for Peace, and for youth peacebuilders in Nigeria, it was a great moment to explore the role of youth in peacebuilding and contributing to developmental processes.
As a majority of the participants were university students and social workers, I started by challenging the notion of what it takes to work for peace as quite a number of individuals (especially youth) presume that peacebuilding is an activity beyond their own capabilities, probably best left in the hands of professionals. I shared that being a peacebuilder can be as easy as – toning down an argument, working to support humanitarian services in hostile enviroments, helping people in our neighbourhoods, mediating conflict, advocating on behalf of the marginalized, and much more. As many youth are willing to engage in meaningful services but do not know how to start or where to go, I shared my experience as a young peacebuilder working to create empowerment opportunities for marginalised children across Africa.
Sharing my journey really inspired the youth participants, and I’m glad for the opportunity to exchange experiences with other changemakers because such platforms deepen the resilience of youth leaders and help them to keep working for peace in an enviroment where peace seems unrealistic.
Victoria Ibiwoye meeting Dalai Lama
You are on the list of the most influental 100 young Africans of 2017. What does this mean to you, and do you think this recognition can help you build upon the impact you have already had even more?
I feel deeply honoured to be recognised as one of the 100 most influencial young Africans in 2017, and as I have shared on my social media platform, it is an opportunity for me to stay effective in the moment. The recognition also has made me appreciate myself and the work we do at OneAfricanChild. As a servant leader, I often find myself focusing on the several goals we need to achieve, which is really overwhelming. This special recognition has made me take a step back to reminisce and appreciate how far we have come, how many lives have been changed since the organisation was established, and the number of leaders who have been multipled by virtue of our empowerment programs.
This recognition has given OneAfricanChild more visibility; and through that, we hope to spread our story of impact and attract supporters from across the world.
You are widely recognized as a founder and CEO of OneAfricanChild, a foundation focused on helping children from low income communities. What activities are included in running this NGO?
The OneAfricanChild Foundation for Creative Learning, established in 2013, exists to foster creative thinking and innovative practices in children aged 5 - 15 through life skills training in Global Citizenship Education (GCED) and Peacebuilding. The organisation works with youth volunteers, educators, and mentors to empower low-income community children with 21st century skills for critical thinking and problem solving. Our activities are divided into three main tiers which include – capacity-building workshops for underserved in and out of school children, advocacy programs to reveal the gaps in quality education, and education support/empowerment for vulnerable children from poor families.
According to the Global Education Monitoring Report, between 2009 and 2012, only 7% of teacher education programs covered education for sustainable development. Our interest has been drawn to improve the professional skills of teachers because of the strong influence teachers have on their students. To meet this need, OneAfricanChild has designed a model to empower teachers to teach ESD. This begins with training volunteers to become facilitators of ESD, while for the next stage, volunteers share their experience with community teachers, the teachers train their students, and finally the students share their experiences with their peers and community.
My role as Director is to facilitate the process of making maximum impact with our workshop. Most times, I play the role of facilitator, sharing my experiences on ESD with our youth volunteers who then co-facilitate engaging lessons on ESD with community teachers.
Victoria Ibiwoye in the classroom
How did you progress from helping two kids to helping hundreds of them, and who were the first people to join OneAfricanChild and help you in beginning?
Honestly, at that moment, when I was with the two kids who established OneAfricanChild with me, I never dreamt that my small, bold step would one day translate into a life-changing organisation for many more children across Africa. I was simply doing what I love and using social media as a storytelling tool. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter helped draw the attention of visionary youth leaders to the things I was passionate about such as improving the education and wellbeing of marginalised children. Soon after I posted about my experience with the kids, I received positive comments from indivuals who wanted to be part of the initiative, most of whom were University students from Nigeria and a few international friends. We then created a whatsapp group for communication where we planned the next agenda. It became a much bigger project, with over 30 volunteers reaching out to 120 kids at a social rehabilitation centre in Lagos. Our quest for improvement has moved the organisation from a charity group to a social enterprise where we are constantly matching innovative solutions to address community needs.
The most interesting features of your job in OneAfricanChild are the games and activities that engage children to think, learn, and grow intellectually. What activities do the kids usually enjoy the most?
Our learners always enjoy our energisers and the activity-based sessions, which are usually practical and engaging. Our principle is not to teach but to facilitate the process of learning. Hence, we often start off a discussion using an inquiry-based approach by asking questions to test the curiousity and knowledge of the learners. Giving our learners opportunities to take ownership of the learning process and developing answers to their own questions is a way to boost their confidence, make learning interesting, and boost their leadership skills. During this process, they get to build valuable skills such as team work, communication, negotiation, critical thinking, complex problem solving, and much more. We introduce energisers in between the long sessions to re-ignite and boost their energy. Introducing fun energisers always makes the children happy, and hapiness is crucial to learning. A happy child always looks forward to school. Over the years, we have also introduced audio-visual learning tools to most of our workshops. Once, we organised a peace workshop for 50 students at Jumpstart Academy, an afterschool located in Ibadan, by screening a movie called The Lost Medallion. It was easy to hold the attention of the participants for over two hours, and at the end of the session, we did a debrief where they shared what they had learned and their perspectives on peace. This method has been highly effective and inclusive of children with different learning needs such as kids with dyslexia.
How did you manage to overcome the problem of low self-confidence about learning and reading and generally fitting in, as a kid?
As a child with dyslexia, I had to learn what worked best for me for reading and assimilation. It was really difficult for me to adapt in a country that adopted rigid educational mechanisms for assessment. I have employed different strategies to figure out my learning needs, for example, making an infographic summary of my notes helps me when revising, and also exchanging knowledge with my peers has helped me in retaining information for a longer period. I experienced low self confidence when I couldn’t measure up to school and societal standards. I’m grateful to have experienced this challenging period of my life because it gradually led me to a stage of self realisation where I discovered my other abilities. Even though I always find it difficult to express myself in writing fully, I realised I was better at storytelling, and this discovery inspired me to start teaching. Volunteering as a teacher has greatly boosted my self confidence. I find myself to be a great inspiration to other kids experiencing similar challenges like me, and I always share my experience to make sure that we do not miss the potential of any child.
What is the hardest part of your job, and what is the most joyful part?
The hardest part of our work is the planning stage where we try to seek the approval of schools or communities to implement our project. This is usually a long and difficult process, trying to ge the approval of government schools to execute our project. It’s very tough but eventually fulfilling. The most joyful is getting to implement our project and listening to the feedback of our beneficiaries and partners in development. OneAfricanChild has worked with several communities, empowering thousands of children since 2013, but our utmost joy is putting faces to the statistics. Hearing from some of the students we have trained and seeing that they have progressed to lead better lives and become change agents in their communities, this is the most joyful part of our work.
This summer, you had the chance to travel to New York and participate in the Global SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee's third meeting, which took place at UN Headquarters. One of the matters discussed was the possibility of introducing innovative approaches of learning in the local education system in Nigeria, so that all the kids you are focused on can benefit from it. What are the chances for this to happen in the future?
It was, indeed, an amazing experience participating in the SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee’s meeting as the youth representative, thus conveying the ideas, interest, and voices of young people within the steering committee. As a new member of the steering committee, one of my core responsibilities is to enhance the Education 2030 agenda by developing communication and advocacy actions based on the findings of the working groups within the SC and to propose actions to advocate increased political commitment to SDG 4 –Education 2030.
Being a voice in a high-level network like the SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee also gives me an opportunity to monitor global policies within the SC as they translate into valuable local actions. I believe it will take a multi-stakeholder partnership to achieve the SDG-4 goal, hence I am exploring possible collaboration with networks within and outside the steering commitee such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and the UNESCO youth sector (organisers of the 10th UNESCO Youth Forum) to ensure that policies and recommendations related to the Education 2030 agenda are implemented at the local level where they are most relevant. Locally, I am working with community based organisations and networks like the Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development based in Lagos, Nigeria on its youth-led initiatives and teacher empowerment programs.
What makes a person a good visionary?
A good visionary is one who doesn’t stop at dreaming but takes proactive steps to turn their dreams into reality. Even when issues occur, their resilience and winning spirit keeps them on track.
What do you see as the greatest reward for what you have achieved so far?
The greatest reward would be to see my generation and the next share the dividend of the hardwork of our investment. I believe that someday soon, education will be free and accessible for all regardless of socio-economic background. I believe that the true power of education for sustainable development will be fully realised as we work towards a society that is more peaceful, tolerant, and sustainable.
Victoria has completed her LLB degree at University of Ibadan. She is also an advocate for Global Citizenship Education (GCED) and is the regional focal point of the United Nations Major Group on Children and Youth (UNMGCY) for West and Central Africa.
Photos: From archive of Victoria Ibiwoye