About five or so years ago, a group of seniors of *The Lagoon School came together and decided that they were going to change the world. They had meetings and discussed great ideas. I wasn’t there, mind you. I do, however, imagine an energy around them, sparking as the ideas were given wings as they left the realm of imagination and began their journey towards a possible reality. As they spoke, these ideas spread their fluttering wings and flew around them waiting for that one green light that would make them something more…something concrete. These girls called themselves The Environmental Committee. A year and a half ago, I accidentally almost did not became a member of this club. But that’s another story.
A year after its conception, the idea for a walkathon became one of the winged ideas to take the journey into reality. These girls decided that they were going to host a walkathon to engage the youths and others into cultivating a habit of standing up for what they believe in. Year after year after year, this idea kept getting passed on. As graduation bells rung, so was this idea being passed on to the following set. This winged idea stayed in the same spot for years…and then, it got to us: my set.
A few months prior, we woke up. We realized that we had done zero planning. So, what did we do? We rallied like we didn’t even know was possible. It was almost as if we were in a different dimension. Once again, an energy grew around us as we had meetings upon meetings until the final proposal was made.
The idea became something more…something concrete. It was simple. We planned to carry out a walkathon from our school, The Lagoon School, on the 9th of December, 2017 to create awareness of and raise funds for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) across Nigeria. Many people don’t realize that it’s actually more than that. This walkathon is just a piece of the puzzle that we have constructed to indeed make the word a better place. The walkathon is item one on the much larger Save The Earth Campaign. However, that is a different story. The scary thing about the idea becoming more concrete is the fact that once it does become more concrete, it loses its wings. It was entirely up to us to make it a reality.
After drafting letters, asking for permission, seeking out possible sponsors and putting together a proposal that still makes me feel as tired as I was when I wrote it; everything stopped. Every single watt of electricity died down and every single idea that had survived lost its wings and fell flat to the ground and hid in between crevices. Our hearts skipped a beat. The one person that held the fate of this walkathon in her hands had pressed the pause button on a remote control that only she had access to. She gave us an ultimatum. My heart skipped another beat as I left the office to tell my fellow Environmental Committee club members what had happened during that meeting. There was silence.
With every word I spoke, I could see as eyes that were once bright with excitement and innovation became as dull as a layer of soot upon the shiniest diamond. We were afraid, but no one dared to say why. Then, I told them about the ultimatum. Our President was the first to speak, she said, “Well, we shall do this as individuals. It is too important to be left undone for yet another year. The IDPs are counting on us. We are doing this.” Then, everything came back to life.
In the end, everything went as planned. A small group of four people was carved out of the Environmental Committee to handle the planning of the walkathon. I was in direct contact with the school authority as well as with Doctors Health Initiative; Semilore George was in charge of the running of the club with Kene Onyenokwe as well as reaching out to potential sponsors. Vanessa Ariyibi kept people talking about the Walkathon online. Our first order of business was to partner up.
I had been working with Doctors Health Initiative for about a year and so, I suggested partnering up with them. Doctors Health Initiative (DHI) has changed my point of view about NGOs greatly. Now, I’m incredibly biased. I had always frowned upon NGOs and non-profits because I had always thought that they seemed so self-serving. Then, I accompanied DHI on one of their outreaches. Here was an NGO that is passionate about helping put the poor and underprivileged in our society by providing them with free and high quality health services among other things. So, naturally they were my first pick to partner up with. We took a vote and ended up with them. I remember telling Dr Nkechi Asogwa, the President of DHI, about the walkathon and how she didn’t even hesitate to express her willingness to collaborate with us. That meant a lot.
Then, the actual panning begun. We sought out information to create a proposal. We sent out letters to the DPO to ask for security coverage, got permission from the local government, sought out Pat Utomi for the opening remarks, created digital posters to be posted online, picked a date and time, decided on products to sell and future meeting dates. It is truly amazing that we managed to pull all this off. Mind you, we are about 13-17 years of age. Possibly the most stressful thing was sending out requests for sponsorship and donations. We talked to our uncles and aunties and others that we really didn’t know. We were all determined to raise as much funds as we could.
Then, the real task began: talking to the students of our school about the walkathon. It was truly a challenge because many of our schoolmates did not know a lot about internal displacement in Nigeria. To top it all off, exams were fast approaching and we knew that soon enough people would frown upon us doing extracurricular things during exam time. I think now it’s safe to say that we still did. The right amount, however. We still had to go round to individual classes and address their questions, collect their registration fees and so on. I’m still waiting for my report card to know whether I regret that or not.
Then, we decided to find other ways to publicize the events. I sent out about fifty emails while Semilore made phone calls. Even though not many people responded favorably, I like to think of the fact that for a moment in time they were thinking about our brothers and sisters form Northern Nigeria (the IDPs). That to me is enough. Let’s not forget that the amazing Adesua Wellington actually did post about the walkathon on her Instagram page.
One week to the walkathon and we realized that we weren’t entirely ready. It’s amazing that one meeting with Dr Nkechi was all we needed. We ran the whole day from start to finish and ironed out all the little details. I remember that when we finished that meeting and put up our banners in school all I could think about was the fact that we almost didn’t have this walkathon. What I know now is that when the circumstances do not favour your plans, you do not just abandon those plans. You create your own circumstances and execute your plans as well as you can.
It was the day before the walkathon and I couldn’t sleep. I had just finished putting together the names of all those who had registered and printed pages and pages of registration sheets. I hopped into bed and I could almost see the next day behind my eyelids. I could almost see the leaf green t-shirts and face caps and the sneaker prints in the sand. I woke up at 5:00AM to the sound of merciless raindrops hitting the roof of my house as though they had been challenged to a fight they were determined to win. It almost felt like they had been practicing for this fight and that day was the day they were going to showcase all their strengths. I thought I was dreaming. As we approached The Lagoon School, the rain had given up on winning the fight and just managed to throw a few punches here and there, but the sun was nowhere to be found. I checked. The grey clouds had invited some of their light blue friends, but only a few. As they stood in the sky, I strained to hear whether their conversation was about rain or shine. It was 7:00AM and the sun was playing hide and seek with an unknown third party.
7:30AM and Pat Utomi spoke to us. He spoke about leadership and courage and for the first time, I could acknowledge that this was no longer just an idea. It was a reality. 8:40AM and we began to walk. I stayed behind with the girls registering as I watched the crowd leave the green gates of The Lagoon School. My feet could not move me. The camera I held in my left hand had been abandoned for my eyes as I stared at the moving image in front of me trying to capture every last nanosecond so that I will never forget the moment I helped to make over three hundred people take one step towards those who had to take thousands of hurried steps in fear of their lives. With every step my eyes caught, I could see a thousand more frantic steps running away from what once was home. I could see little feet running as fast as they can, sweat dripping to the ground and gun shots firing mercilessly behind them. I could see some feet stop. I could see them still on the ground as sweat became blood. No camera could ever capture that image. The camera lenses would break in fear and the photographer would join in.
As we walked through Lekki, I saw faces of people just wondering what we were up to. I heard some people say “tourists” and others say “they must be church people.” I smiled and carried on. The crowd only seemed to get larger and it felt like I was walking on air. As I interviewed parents and teens, I got to hear about their thoughts on the walkathon. It was incredible. I saw the police officers directing traffic wholeheartedly and clearing the way for our safe passage. I saw the policemen with their eyes alert, looking out for any potential threats. I saw DHI volunteers making sure that no one was left behind. I saw my Environmental Committee girls, holding trash bags and yelling chants for the walkathon. I saw parents, fully geared and taking the opportunity to get some exercise in. I saw a lot. I also did not see a lot.
I did not see age discrimination. I did not see gender discrimination. I did not see social status. I did not see tribe. I did not see political ideology. I did not see level of education. For the first in my life, I saw one Nigeria. I saw one community taking progressive steps for the greater good…and there was peace. There was joy. There was happiness and there was tranquility. In government class, I learnt that Nigeria was never meant to be one nation. I learnt that our colonial masters joined us together for their own convenience. People have told me that One Nigeria can never exist because it never existed. Now, when I tell them that they are wrong, I will have perfect example to illustrate it with.
We didn’t just walk for the IDPs that Saturday morning. We unknowingly created something more. We brought different groups of people together and we did something great from start to finish. We created a perfect illustration that ONE NIGERIA is in fact a possibility. Take from this walkathon what you want but do know this; we are more similar than we are different, and we must continue to do things that bring us closer together rather than tear us further apart. Together, we are so powerful.
To the youths: think about it and know that you are never too young to make a difference. To the adults: don’t just complain about the youths, when presented the opportunity please support us like DHI, Pat Utomi, Mr. Oyewale Ariyibi and others did. If you cannot support our causes then you have no right to complain.
To our country: we believe in you and we are on our way to making you great. Just hold on. Generation Z is on the way.
– Written by Tolulope K. Olasewere, Volunteer DHI and Project Manager of The Environmental Committee’s Save The Earth Campaign
*A private all-girls primary and secondary school in Lagos, Nigeria.