It's all actually happening and I just can't wait! This October, I will be travelling to Nigeria as a volunteer with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) on their Youth for Development (YfD) scheme. VSO is an international development charity that works through volunteers. It works with local partners in developing countries to tackle poverty and social exclusion and promote international understanding. For the last twenty two months I have been working for the international development charity Christian Aid in London; therefore, YfD will be an invaluable experience for me to develop my career in overseas development work. It will help increase my knowledge – first-hand – through the promotion of international understanding and by supporting VSO’s development goals.
For 12 months I will be working as a Business Development Facilitator with Ipaja Community Link (ICL) in Lagos. ICL is a community-based organisation involved in providing skills acquisition, business support and HIV/AIDS support programmes to local community groups, working with women and youth groups. I will be primarily using my knowledge from Christian Aid to help strenthen ICL’s youth volunteer programme, assist with the creation of job opportunities for youth in the Ipaja community and increase the awareness of the role and contribution of national volunteers in development. Whilst doing this, I will also be networking with government and other civil society volunteering agencies to share learning and providing support to youth mentors through peer-to-peer education.
Nigeria faces many development challenges. It is Africa’s most populous country with a staggering population of almost 150 million – almost 5% of the world’s entire population – and at the country’s current 2.38% rate of growth, one that could reach 200 million by 2020. Lagos has a population of about 13 – 17 million and is one of the largest cities in Africa with many sprawling and overcrowded shanty towns. Nigeria has one of the lowest levels of modern family planning use in the world and quality health services are hard to find throughout the country, as well as cultural and social pressures also limiting access to family planning. The enormous population stretches the availability of food, services and infrastructure. Almost half the population live below the poverty line of 1$ a day and an estimated 4 million people are currently living with the HIV virus. Nigeria is a country of contrasts. It is Africa's leading oil producer; it should be Africa’s economic giant, but it isn’t.
In order to make my placement in Lagos happen, I have been asked to raise a minimum of £900 and therefore on 16th August, dodging bird poo and grime, I will be aiming to do at least 50 lengths of the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London, to help reach this target. Impressive?! Well, the Serpentine is a 28-acre recreational lake and therefore I won’t be swimming 50 lengths of that (!) – I will be swimming in the Lido, which is 107 metres long, and partitioned off from the rest of the lake by a perimeter of buoys. I’m just hoping that the rumours of man-eating eels aren’t true…! In doing this swim, I am hoping to overcome my fears of Hyde Park since I fractured my leg attempting to rollerblade there back in February. Ouch. Hence the swim – I can’t do much else! So, it would be great if you could sponsor me at www.justgiving.com/jen_in_nigeria. YfD do not ask me to pay for my placement, but they do ask that I raise a minimum of £900. I have reached this, but I would urge you to keep on donating towards VSO and the amazing work that they do.
Africa is our most misunderstood continent – I realised this when I travelled to West Africa in 2006. It touched my heart and I will be hoping to make a positive and lasting impact in the Ipaja Community in Lagos over the coming months.
As I find out more about my placement and as I prepare to leave, I will keep you updated through this blog!