Digital Editor Alex McDonald shares his top tips and an inclusive travel guide for a short break in ancient city of RomeWritten by Alex McDonald on 26th December 2017
Travel Diary | Nigeria
Travel writer Molly Sutton writes an account of her time spent volunteering in Nigeria over the summer
I suspect very few university students hold a prize spot for Nigeria on their bucket list, and neither did I. However, after spending 12 weeks in Igangan, a rural community in Osun State, where I volunteered with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) on an International Citizen Service (ICS) placement, my opinion has changed. Yes, it’s no Camp America or ‘lads holiday’, but ICS is perfect for students as its government-funded initiatives send volunteers to various destinations to complete international development projects.
Despite international volunteering often receiving bad press, ICS programmes are requested by charities that exist within the communities, and you are therefore guaranteed a worthwhile placement. After fundraising just £800, all costs were reimbursed. This is particularly useful as it enabled me to receive many vaccinations ‘for free’ which will cover me for future travels. ICS also makes a real difference to volunteers by emphasising personal development, so if you’re looking for golden CV material, new skills and a unique cultural experience, you should apply while you still have the chance!
I hope my account of my summer can help inspire others to participate in such an experience, and provide tips to help you if you do so.
As a 75-day travel diary may exhaust the attention span of most (myself included) I have chosen to depict my ‘top days of Igangan’ to give an impression of some standard and some more exciting days of my placement.
Day 5 - 26th June
On day 5, we arrived in Igangan, our new home for the next 3 months! We were met by the community welcoming us with native music and dance as they paraded us through the streets. As I was staying in host homes with local families and a Nigerian ‘counterpart’ volunteer from Abuja, we spent the evening settling into our living arrangements. Staying with a host family was a unique experience, as there seems no greater way to immerse yourself in a culture than this. My host-home adventure was one of the most challenging yet rewarding parts of my travels and helped me to get a sense of what it was like to live in such a place. My top tips for living with locals is to offer to help with everything, try their way of doing even simple tasks such as washing dishes, and never forget the importance of personal space and having the confidence to make time for yourself.
Day 16 - 7th July
I and two Nigerian volunteers, Bashir and Adaeze, took four CCSVs (Community Citizen Service Volunteers) on a field trip to a national catfish farm. Previous volunteers had set up a catfish farm in Ilosi, one of the five communities we worked in. Today, we took members from local communities (Oke-Agbede, Ilsoi and Igangan), to teach them how to run successful farms. In hindsight, this day was crucial as, by the time we left, 4/5 of our communities had functioning, profitable farms that they knew how to care for.
Day 20 - 14th July (aka my 20th birthday)
I’ve mostly included this day for some top tips for homesickness. During the third week, I missed my dad’s 50th, my sister’s graduation and my own birthday. Luckily my project allowed me to have semi-reliable contact with home, but this didn’t prevent it being a hard week. Talking to home, confiding in the people around me and staying busy proved the best way to keep motivated. If you ever find yourself in this scenario, remind yourself of where you are, what you’re doing and think of what you’d be doing if you were at home. Prepare in advance for whatever you’re missing, for instance, I took a total of 8 birthday cards with me so I could open them on the day and it makes more of a difference than you’d ever imagine.
Day 27 - 18th July
Today was the international ‘Nelson Mandela Day’. Therefore, we went to Olopon (the fifth community we worked in) to educate the locals on who Mandela was, and how they could apply his influence in their own lives. This day was incredibly successful as the attendees engaged with what was presented, and asked insightful questions of how they could themselves become leading figures in the community. A particular young individual showed inspiring motivation that impressed me and my fellow volunteers.
Day 35 - 26th July
The young farmers, a group of middle-high school students, hosted an agricultural fair which featured produce from all five communities, most significantly from the demo farm they run independently. It was great to see children as young as 6 selling the products they have grown. They also performed a cultural dance and drama for the visiting community members. Another success of today was the first catfish sale from our original farm in Ilosi. This is the first batch that has succeeded and it is so satisfying to see Victor profit from the business he works so hard on.
Day 46 - 6th August
We embarked on our project in the community of Ilosi today. Despite being terrible at digging, I helped to forge the holes for the corners of Victors new snail farm. It was much easier to machete slice the bamboo into strips to be nailed to the corner pillars as walls.
Day 47 - 7th August
Had the most insightful cultural experience of my trip today. We discussed our conflicting perspectives on the rights to freedom of sexuality, comparing viewpoints from the UK and Nigeria. For those who are unaware, in Nigeria, homosexuality warrants 14 years in prison- that’s more than child abuse or rape. The significance of religion in Nigeria compared to the secular acceptance of the UK was startling and really made me appreciate just how significant ‘voluntourism’ can be. There’s no way to challenge these views, laws and traditions if nobody is ever encouraged to, or given space to, engage in a dialogue and challenge their perceived norm.
Day 54 - 14th August
I have finally experienced my short-term dream of carrying water on my head! Yes, it was the same size as the 5-year old girls and was barely enough for my own shower that morning but we called it the ‘training bucket’ and it was very exciting.
Day 64 - 24th August
On day 9, the CCSVs set themselves a new long-term project: fixing the holes of Igangan Middle-High School roof. Today, we fixed the roof!!! We were all so excited to see this project completed, despite many complications and disheartening turns of events, we left the community with new, rain-proof classrooms for the students to thrive in.
Day 73 - 2nd September
Today was my final day in Igangan. I visited our neighbour’s cocoa farm which was incredible! Completely different to how I’d ever imagined it would be, but then again, who has ever imagined the farm your chocolate bar originated from. He showed me how he plants, harvests and cares for his produce. As our project aim was to increase the livelihoods of those lower down the cocoa value chain, today was crucial in understanding the importance of where we were, what we were doing and how it made a difference. The perfect end to an extraordinary adventure.