By Victor Gotevbe
“…a society that cuts itself from its youth severs its lifeline, but a society that engages their interests, enlists their talents and liberates their energies, brings hope to the entire world.”—Kofi Anan, former UN Sec-General
Your first encounter with Jennifer leaves you with a strong impression that she is cut out for a career in journalism. Jennifer who is only 28 years old has travelled far and wide using her pen to inspire positive change around the world. She started her pursuit in Nigeria. Recently, she was referred to as one of next generation’s of communicators by George Washington University.
Jennifer is currently working with Global Press Institute (GPI) as a media trainer (and reporter), a job she started out as a freelancer while in college (Nigerian Institute of Journalism); she is also serving as a trainer in Ethiopia, working on a unique project focusing on recruiting, training and managing a group of girl journalists in three communities in Ethiopia.
She also writes research papers, articles, poems. She has two published books—“In Days to Come” and “Preserve my Saltiness” and presently dreaming up a third book. In this interview, Jennifer tells Youthful Vibes her inspiring journey from career confusion to career choice- journalism.
Jennifer’s childhood and education
I was born in Edo State but relocated to Lagos State with my family when I was about five years old. My mum is an educator, although she is now retired. My dad was an entrepreneur , a businessman. Bless his memory. I have five siblings—I’m the youngest. I also grew up in a kind of open-door policy environment- with cousins and lots of extended families around. I am only just learning the culture of leading a quiet life. And yes, I am 28 years old, not 23.People often mix up my age for reason I still can’t understand.
For my education, I attended Estate Primary School, a public primary school in Lagos and proceeded to secondary school in FGGC, a boarding school in Benin, Edo State. The boarding school experience enabled me grow into an independent little girl. But I only spent three years there. I came back to Lagos for my senior secondary school education in Ikeja High School, a public government-funded school. I was appointed as the Senior Head Girl of the school.
After high school, I wrote JAMB a couple of times. But my highest score was 204 (Two hundred and four) and that was not good enough mark to be admitted into the University of Lagos to study Law. I flirted with the idea of studying Mass Communication or Creative Writing. I was a bit confused with what I really wanted to do. I love the idea of just writing and being an academia like Prof Wole Soyinka. But that passion was not strong enough.
I took a year off to work some more with the hope that the experience will give me a clearer vision for what I wanted to do with my youth. I ended up spending a good part of my formative youth volunteering in different organizations locally and internationally. I felt the experience was part of my education. During that period, I realized I did not want to study law or creative writing. I had a natural talent for writing and nosing around so I was swayed towards development work and journalism.
Volunteering at Journalists Against AIDS (JAAIDS) and Serving as a presenter/researcher at PRTV Jos Plateau State gave me an insight into what media for development was all about. That moment I knew I had to pursue a career in Journalism. So, I eventually had to make a conscious decision to study Mass Communication at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) in Lagos.
The school provided hands-on learning experience. Also, Church played an interesting role in my formative years. Books played an empowering role in my life. I spent a lot of money on books instead of clothes. Trust me, I am still reading and have also expanded the types of books I read.
Awesome experience on International Journalism
I actually started out freelancing with a National Newspaper in Nigeria. In 2007, I was presented with the opportunity to serve as a weekly youth columnist. The Sunday Editor then, Mr Lekan Otunfodunrin is a nurturer. He helped mentored my journalism career. I also used to contribute features stories on different youth issues to the newspaper, aside the weekly column. As I grew in the field, I maximized the opportunity by reporting whenever I travelled abroad.
While in D.C I heard that President Obama was Meeting with Young African Leaders. So I contacted the organisers and requested for a press pass. I was told I needed to contact the White House directly. I actually did and I got the pass. I really wanted to ensure I was able to report the event in a way young people, who were not among the some 45 selected participants, were able to understand and connect with.
In 2010, I was contacted by a PR firm working with Rolex to report live on the first Rolex Young Laureates Awards in Geneva, Switzerland. By this time I was freelancing as a Features Editor at Celebrating Progress Africa CP-Africa.com. I also served as a speaker during the 2011 World Press Freedom Day event in D.C. I spoke on youth consumption of the New Media, its challenges and opportunities, under the theme “Digital Native: The New Media Generation.
I recently served as a reporter and blogger at the UNESCO Youth forum that held in Paris. I worked with Doudou, from DRC, Hend, from Egypt to cover the African region. We were a team of 10 journalists/bloggers from different countries covering Europe, Asia, North and South America as well as Africa, during the UNESCO event.
Jennifer named one of the Next generation communicators by George Washington University
Between 2009 and 2010, I was recommended to participate in a one-year Atlas Corps Fellowship program by One World Youth Project (OWYP), a youth led organization I volunteered for while in school. While I was working or volunteering as Communications and School Partnership Director in Washington D.C., I was contacted by Georgetown University’s GAIN & Center for Social Impact Communication to serve on a panel focused on how technology and social media can better shape the way Africans tell their stories, beyond the typical hunger, disease and war torn continent that is often communicated.
Her Counsel to Nigerian youths
I’ll tell young people, never underestimate God’s ability to show you your purpose in life. The first step is to ask. If you are feeling depressed and discouraged right now, it is time you go back to God and ask Him to direct you right. Don’t be afraid to start from scratch and don’t work with another man’s timing. We all have our unique race to run. Don’t use other people’s lives to limit your uniqueness.
YOUNG NIGERIANS MAKING THE DIFFERENCE
Obinna Nwoke – SOUTH AFRICA
Obinna is an indigene of Atta Ikeduru Local Government Area of Imo State. He believes strongly that his passion for active youth participation in shaping a country dates back to childhood.
He is a graduate of University of PortHarcourt and later proceeded to University of Rhode Island where he studied Martin Luther King’s Non-Violence Methodology.
He got certification from the Center for Non-Violence and Peace Studies in the same University as a non-violence practitioner. His passion for advancing non-violence and Peace building initiated the start up of Safe Community, an NGO with a mandate to work towards achieving a safe environment in various countries.
In October 2011, Obinna had the opportunity to attend a meeting with the Pan African parliament members in South Africa with the theme: Dialogue on Youth Empowerment in Africa for a Sustainable Development.
At the end of the meeting, young persons in attendance decided to have an African youth forum – Pan African Youth Council- through which they can bring all African Youths living in Africa and the Diaspora to form a more unified and virile African Youth body with a view to developing African Continent to advance other continents and to also contact Africa’s relevant institutions.
He emerged the continental president, seeking with other leaders to set up a frame work which shall encourage active participation in building African Youth Policy (AYP), non violence and discouraging corruption in the African Continent through partnership with governmental and non-governmental organizations.
The Council has other executives, namely, Najma Abdi-Ahmed as 1stVice President (Somalia, East Africa); Gloria Mwelwa Liwindi as 2ndVice President (Zambia, Southern Africa); Eyenet Arnault, 3rdVice President (Congo Brazzaville, East Africa) and Ibrahim Sileck as 4thVice President (Central African Republic). The Council also have Rtn. Quintin Dogubo Gibson Mologe (Nigeria, West Africa) as Chief of Staff to the Continental President.