Lagos, Nigeria, is a vibrant community with an expanding economy, often referred to as the world’s next “mega-city.” My parents grew up in Enugu, Nigeria, and they have always sought to infuse our lives with threads of their West African childhood. We often return to visit our extended family and I have benefited immensely from its rich culture and diversity. However, despite the city’s rapid growth, many Nigerians still live in substandard conditions and are victims of well-known developing world challenges such as malnutrition, poverty, and economic instability. The Haney Fellowship gave me a great opportunity to actualize my desire to work in Nigeria and make an impact in a unique way.
Children are the most affected by high poverty rates and families cannot afford to send their children to school. Nigeria has the highest number of children out of school in the world; 13.2 million children, the majority being girls, do not have the opportunity to receive quality education. Children in underprivileged areas who are fortunate enough to attend school end up in under resourced facilities with inadequate buildings, limited electricity supply and minimal classroom equipment.
My goal was to share my passion for science with girls in Nigeria. My plan was to help them in their educational journey and to encourage their interests in future science-related professions. I intended to interact with these girls in a way that would emphasize the importance and value of education. I was put in touch Ms. Jade Adedeji and partnered with Mrs. Lanre Oniyitan to coordinate a three week program where I could teach the fundamental basics of Biology, Physics and Chemistry to a group of girls in Lagos. Mrs. Lanre is the executive director of an organization called Sustainable Education and Enterprise Development (SEED), a school transformation program for low cost private schools. It seeks to provide lasting and holistic solutions to inferior education by setting up affordable schools and helping existing schools that serve children from low-income families. By the 2017-18 school year, they had served 715 schools in the six Education Districts of Lagos State, and are on their way to reach their target of transforming at least 10,000 schools with more than 1 million children by 2030 in several developing countries, beginning with Nigeria. We exchanged emails before my arrival to coordinate the logistics of the program and they made it possible for me to teach at one of their schools, Excellent Stephens Academy.
When I walked into the class on the first day to see fourteen girls expectantly staring at me, I could tell that they were almost as nervous as I was.To say that I was nervous before my first day of teaching would be an extreme understatement. Despite hours of preparation, I did not know what level of schooling the girls had received, and whether the subject material I had prepared was too easy or difficult. The biggest challenge was that there was no white board or electricity, so I had to be innovative and be prepared to teach in a way that still made the class engaging.
When I walked into the class on the first day to see fourteen girls expectantly staring at me, I could tell that they were almost as nervous as I was. After we moved passed the painfully awkward yet obligatory icebreakers, we began the first day material, an introduction to biology. And while the morning did not pass without some hiccups, I could truly see how bright the girls were as they enthusiastically dived into the packets I had prepared and eagerly took pertinent notes. I felt relieved to see they were excited to learn about the energy and biomass pyramid and new words such as “homeostasis.” I had never seen a group of students so thrilled to learn.
With each passing day, the students began to arrive earlier, participate more fervently, and ask more inquisitive questions as their confidence began to grow. I was always amazed when a student would come back the next day with more questions after reviewing the material from the previous classes.
For the next three weeks, I stayed at my Aunt’s house in Ikoyi, Lagos, and traveled one hour to teach at Stephens Excellence School in Ibeju-Lekki in the mornings. Though I was worried that the girls would not come back after the first couple of days, that was the farthest thing from the truth. With each passing day, the students began to arrive earlier, participate more fervently, and ask more inquisitive questions as their confidence began to grow. I was always amazed when a student would come back the next day with more questions after reviewing the material from the previous classes. We were able to cover a comprehensive range of topics from infectious diseases to atomic structure. On the day we talked about cellular structures, we ended the class with a competition on who could create the best analogy relating organelles to everyday objects. And even though most of them did not consider themselves artists, they vigorously took on the challenge of drawing diagrams of wave interferences and the different steps of cell division. They said that their favorite activity was using pH paper to test the pH levels of different liquids to determine if they were acids or bases. When they enthusiastically shared their differing results with each other, they drew their own conclusions from the mini lab and the sources of error that contributed to their results.
The Haney Fellowship has given me a truly amazing and challenging educational experience and I am very grateful. I would like to express my sincere thanks to Mr. Haney, Ms. Haney, Ms. Brzys and everyone in Portsmouth Abbey who helped me to pursue this project to fruition. I also appreciate Ms. Jade and Mrs. Lanre for communicating with me before my arrival in Lagos and the help to coordinate the program while I was still abroad. This opportunity was extraordinary and though it only lasted a few weeks, I know it created a lasting impact on the girls who participated as it did on me. They showed to be incredibly intelligent young women who have the drive to take them far in life. My mission is to continue beyond the Haney Fellowship to encourage young females to pursue careers in science.
You can learn more about Kemkem's experience here.