Monday, September 29, 2008

Workshop at Sea School

Having no exciting plans for the upcoming long weekend (27 Sept-1 Oct), I agreed to be a resource person at a capacity building workshop on NGO management organized by the Human Rights Information Network (HuRiNET) for its member organizations. The venue was the paramilitary training ground-Sea School Apapa, which was a twenty minute boat ride from Lagos. We left on Friday, with many brave and scared souls who have never stepped foot on a boat before, who were very grateful to the Lord when we safely landed at our destination. I gave two sessions on Organizational Development and Volunteering and generally helped out in the workshop. The 60 + participants were committed and passionate social entreprenuers who were struggling to build their NGOs. In between work, we got the chance to do kayaking and with my prior one-time experience, I was pretty good! As you can see I was lucky enough to get great shots (atleast I think so) of the sunset....I tried getting the night shots of the lighted ships, but I would need a more heavy duty camera for that one...(potential birthday gift for those reading:))

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Ikogosi Warm Water Springs!

Coming all the way to Akure, I could not resist a short visit to the Ikogosi Warm Springs, which is just an hour's drive away. No-one knows the reason for the warm water. In the photos, you see the origin of the warm water, the meeting point of the warm and cold water; the pipe carrying the warm water into a swimming pool; my feet dipping in the warm water; and the breathtaking scenic drive!

Witnessing the Ancient Igogo Festival in Owo

I was ecstatic with my big sister-Rachel told me that as a Princess, she had to visit her town-Owo (close to Akure) on the same dates as my trip to Akure to attend the very special ancient IGOGO festival. The festival pays homage to the Queen of Owo who as the story goes merged with the forest after being chased away by the other jealous wives of the King of Owo. This is an annual festival in Owo which lasts a total of 17 days featuring a number of ceremonies including the blessing and release of new yams. During the period of celebration, drumming is banned in Owo and instead, metal gongs (Agogo) are used. This was where the name 'IGOGO' was coined. The Olowo (King), who during the festival usually dresses in Coral Beaded Crown, plaits his hair like a woman with Olowo's dressing. The Olowo leads his people including the Chief Priest and the male youths to dance round the whole town.

I witnessed a ceremony along with the people of Owo in the Oba (King) Market where the young males pay respect to the elderly and dance to an ancient song which translates to (if you dont pay your debt, the debt will hang over your neck!). We then walked to the Oba's Palace, where I saw in close view the procession of the King and the chiefs. The song is quite mesmerizing and I realised I still remembered its tune even after 2 days:) There were others parts to the festival which women cannot witness including sacrificing a ram (a human sacrifice in ancient times) in the forest. The person in the middle of the photo in beads is the KING!

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Workshop in Akure

I was invited as a resource person at an Induction program for newly recruited volunteers at the Kids & Teens Resource Centre ( K&TRC is doing excellent work with children and youth on reproductive health & HIV/AIDS including sensitization, community mobilization, capacity building, HIV/AIDS counselling & testing. Its ED-Martin Mary is an energetic, agile, fun-to-be-with, committed change maker whose spirit is contagious! They have a well-stocked resource centre for young people and the posters and banners lining up their office walls speak up of the work they are doing. I took three sessions over the two days on the concepts, benefits and challenges of volunteering. It was an exciting experience to work with the The road to Akure is draped with trees and green hills on either side and is a refresher for the eyes after the hustle & bustle of Lagos. I had a comfortable stay with one of the volunteers whose mother prepared for me the specialty of Akure, "Pounded Yam"! Akure has lots of large billboards boasting of government's promises like the one in the photo!

Encouraging Youth Corpers to Volunteer

The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme, was established in Nigeria in the seventies as a one-year compulsory service for all Nigerians under the age of 30 years with an aim to built responsible citizens enabled to contribute to national development. Every year about 300,000 youth enroll NYSC corpers. There is a three-week orientation across all states which includes primarily para-military training and more recently more useful add-ons like leadership, MDGs etc (UNICEF and UNDP partner with NYSC to attract and train peer educators on MDGs). Corpers are placed outside their state of origin typically with schools or government offices often in remote areas. They have one day of the week marked for community development activities. The program has an excellent geographical spread and covers almost every inch of the country.

In conversations with the young and the old, I have received mixed responses to the idea, relevance and impact of the NYSC program. Some regard it as irrelevant since it was initiated during the military regime, some regard it as necessary to induce a sense of discipline among youth. Youth themselves are not very excited about it since it means being posted away from home in a far flung area with limited access.

The sheer volume offers tremendous potential for impact and VSO has partnered with NYSC to include a pilot sensitization on volunteering at the orientation in four of the 36 states. My organization was called on to facilitate the Lagos camp and 4-5 of us including some national volunteers conducted a one-hour session to get corpers attracted to the idea of volunteering. The Lagos camp was like a party zone with blaring music, internet checking points, booths selling almost everything from insurance to loans to mobile connections to clothes....Given the large size of the audience (in thousands), we managed a crowd but about 200-300 who seemed to be interested in what we had to say!

Siting Nigeria's Tagore-Wole Soyinka

I had not heard about the Nigerian Nobel Laureate in Literature-Wole Soyinka untill Daddy gave me his autobiography to read. Though the book is still work in progress for me, I got a chance to see Kongi (as he is lovingly called) live a book discussion at the Goethe Institute recently. Gerd Meuer, a german "Jack of All Trades" published a book called "Journeys Around and With Kongi-Half a Century on the Road with Wole Soyinka." The "BND" inscribed on the spine of the book expanding to "Books Nobody Demands" was funny, Gerd had to publish the book himself after facing two rejections from publishers. Wole's arrival at the event caused quite an unwanted stir, especially since Wole chose to sit among the audience (just 2 rows in front of me), Gerd being the centre of attention at the event. Later with casual mingling over drinks and suya, I wanted to go and talk to Wole, but decided not to coz I couldnt think of anything meaningful to say. Though one needs to know more about Wole and have read his books to really follow the book, the few chapters Gerd read out were quite intriguing for me and I bought a copy and got Gerd's autograph.

In the photos, you see Gerd reading passages from his book, and Wole asking a question from the audience!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The "Ugly" Beautification of Lagos: Crackdown on Street Trade

On my way home, I witnessed a violent, vicious and destructive law enforcement by government officials. Officials of the special task force were breaking down the tables, stools, chairs used by the street traders. They confiscated all their wares and dumped them into their trucks. My colleague who was with me said with an unflinching face that all that "boot" would be nicely distributed within themselves.

I felt so disgusted. In my six months here, I have not seen or read about any task force to take down the "area boys" (criminals who extort money at any occasion), the omnipresent armed robbers, or NEPA for not providing electricity. These are thousands of people who are just trying to make ends meet by their street trade, which by the visible volume clearly is matched by demand.

This is all part of the governor's "well-intentioned" agenda to beautify Lagos and make it a mega city. I am fine with putting potted plants on the pedestrian bridge or murials on the walls but banning buying and selling on the street is in my opinion, barbaric especially in a country where not so many livelihood options exist. And I have tried to get the opinion of the Lagosians who seemed to be quite happy by the discipline being enforced and not many share my disgust and absolute abomination of this crackdown. According to them, the traders have been issued several warnings and no other option exists!

PS: I have written a longer article on the informal economy and street trade. I haven't figured out a way of uploading it on the blog. So let me know if you want to know more.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Half Time in Naija

I complete six months in Nigeria today, half of my time here! This is the longest I have lived outside Delhi. At the moment I have mixed feelings. A part of me is very proud and excited about my ability to live of my own, "living" another culture, creating a whole new social life, the appreciation of my work, the unimaginable experiences I have had here.

A part of me is missing home, family and friends terribly. Today I was listening to a song which I usually played while driving...vow I miss driving in Delhi:) I miss just landing up at Mom and Dad's or at Parul's. I miss just hanging out with Parth and my gal friends! I miss seeing my nieces and nephew grow. I am not even going to start on food. Living away from home has been the hardest thing I have ever done. I love and appreciate everyone at home...who have patiently supported me during this and I can't wait to come home:)