Traveling is very important to me. Since I was 18 years old, I spent at least 3 months every year in other countries. Talking long hours with lorry drivers while hitchhiking in Europe. Wandering through villages in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains. Spending hours on benches in Spanish parks talking with old men. Or discovering vibrant nightlife with younger ones in Tel Aviv. Traveling means looking for knowledge about my greater passion - human beings. Exposing myself to different cultures, becoming more aware of myself in individual and global contexts. It’s simply how I grow up.
I decided to participate in this program because I had to assure myself that I am making a good decision about my career path. I wanted to combine my love for travels and exploring places, contact with other people and cultures, interest in global politics and social development and passion for media, communication and journalism. And a little bit to prove myself, that I can become friends with everyone. No matter how “different” we seem to be.But I can’t talk about my volunteering experience without mentioning Lagos. Probably the biggest city in Africa. Probably? Yes. There is no solid data. Estimated population of Lagos is at 17.5 million (Lagos State Government), 22 million (UN Statistics Division) or 30 million (Lagos gossips). What’s more there is about 2000 new citizens every day. I think the word that describes Lagos the best is an “anxious” and synonym for lagosian should be a “hustler”. This city is challenging. Always buzzing, loud, chaotic and it is an absolutely fascinating place.
I came to Nigeria to discover more about work in the social development sector and how I can participate in it. Action Health Incorporated (AHI), my hosting organisation is an NGO focused on sexual and reproductive health in Nigeria. I read about their work and I really wanted to learn from them. Happily, they give me a lot of freedom when it comes to work and projects I Am involved in. I just had to be proactive and show initiative. So I started with one of their biggest projects and I was supporting program officers. I became Excel Master handling our database and “Our oyinbo” (word for fair skin people in Yoruba, Igbo and Nigerian Pidgin) during fieldwork with facilitators or community sensitization meetings.
Afterwards, together with people from 9 African countries, I had a chance to participate in Sexual Leadership Development Fellowship designed for policymakers, program officers and leaders in the field of sexuality in Africa. That was intense two weeks when I learnt a lot about sexual and reproductive health issues and policies (not only in the African context). I am also participating in the whole process of organising Teenage Festival of Life. From seeking funds, through logistics to promotion, I am making sure that during this event young people have everything they need to advocate for their rights.
Lately, together with our nurse, I conducted two-week workshops about photography, video and visual story telling which ended with outstanding works made by our 20 girls. It was one of the most intense and emotional moments during my time here and it helped me to make a decision about how I want to develop my career path. Discovering that “normal people” stories are so strong and exceptional is absolutely fascinating. I also think it’s really important and needed in today’s world. One of the things I appreciate the most are conversations. Fact, that I could spend so much time here exposed me to different people and different perspectives. I can understand better why people decide to migrate from their countries. I have more realistic perspective of poverty. Slum is not a strange and dangerous place to me anymore. Social and economical inequalities have faces of both rich and poor with their reasons, decisions, views and stories. Global economic dependencies are stronger and more visible than in any other place I visited. Environmental change and pollution are more visible than in Europe. And Sub-Saharan Africa isn’t only this place with beautiful landscape and about 41% of population living under International Poverty Line 1.90$ (The World Bank).
Lagos showed me a different face of Africa. Not the one from news, nor from non-fiction books or even reports. But a more complex one. With a very lively alternative culture, great art scene deriving both from a rich cultural heritage and western culture. An energetic start-up hub and… normal, everyday life. Being here, observing and participating in Lagos’ life, working at AHI is the best thing I could do with my time. Both for my personal and professional path. I am grateful I had a chance to do that. It’s hard to describe this enriching experience in a small article because I know it influences me in every aspect of my life. I also can’t say it is an easy experience - Nigeria’s mix of cultures is very far from everything I knew before. Almost everyday I come across a new, smaller or bigger, challenge. But I proved myself that every time I am able to find a lesson in difficulties and joy in differences. I realized that I am very good with intercultural and interpersonal communication. And I know that after living in Lagos for 6 months I am ready for everything.
Małgorzata Głogowska (Poland)
EVS volunteer in Nigeria