Helping Students Help Themselves – Volunteering in Nigeria

“Jockwa,” I said as I stood up and addressed the people at the meeting. I had learned this word for “hello” in the nearby village of Unwana. But now we were in the village of Nwofe, and something was seriously wrong.

I could see confusion in their attentive faces; their eyes gave it away. Then suddenly, a flashback from the orienteering period, ‘…and there are over five-hundred living dialects spoken in Nigeria’. I had used the wrong language.

Tutees in Ebonyi State
Tutees in Ebonyi State
The PTA, village elders, school headmaster and what seemed like the vast majority of Nwofe village was observing the meeting to witness my blunder. I reluctantly continued with a red face and the use of simple Pidgin English. Somehow, the meeting proved a success and permission was duly given to begin the project.

I spent two months working voluntarily in Nigeria on a project aiming to implement tutoring programmes in a number of secondary schools. These schemes aimed at reinforcing learning by training older students to tutor the younger ones. It was the responsibility of a team of expatriate volunteers to administer this training.

During the training period, students overcame fatalist attitudes and began to exhibit growing aspirations. Some students even revealed new ambitions to be teachers. Whilst in the field, I was amazed by the creativity and enthusiasm of these underprivileged students. Due to popular demand, in addition to training students to be tutors, the volunteers and I also taught some classes based on our undergraduate subjects. These classes proved to be hugely successful.

Science practical lesson at Nwofe Secondary School
Science practical lesson at Nwofe Secondary School
“Kids were constantly asking us to teach them stuff, especially science ‘cos they hadn’t had a science teacher working at the school for a few years” – Russell Hunter, volunteer in Nwofe village.

Unfortunately, due to the volatility of protests and crime in Nigeria and the consequent sensationalist press that it generates, there are not many agencies who send volunteers to Nigeria. Some companies who do arrange volunteer programmes to Nigeria include ATLA, SYTO Nigeria, Volunteer Abroad, Global Volunteer Network, and HiPact (via London), with whom I chose to volunteer.

Of course there are dangers to be noted, like natural diseases such as Malaria, and crime, but if you take all the advised precautions, these dangers can be significantly mitigated. Nigerian people are extremely warm and welcoming and the food is spicy and fresh. If you are brave enough and want a heart-warming experience that you will never forget, Nigeria is certainly a place to put on your volunteering ‘A-list’.

Nigeria Volunteer Resources and Information

ATLA: This agency sends volunteers to do theological and librarian work in Nigeria.

HiPact: HiPact’s official Web Site gives information about volunteering, past and present projects, volunteer accounts, and contact information.

SYTO Nigeria: Arranges volunteer work in Nigeria from a wide range of disciplines, from childcare to construction.

Global Volunteer Network: Another agency that has volunteer opportunities around the world.

Volunteer Abroad: A popular portal for various volunteer excursions, including Nigeria.

Vanguard: One of Nigeria’s leading online English newspapers.

Online Nigeria: A comprehensive site for all things Nigerian.

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