By Victor Gotevbe
Ambassador Inalegwu Frank Uji is a winner of the prestigious LEAP Africa award. He was born without a silver spoon and had to do several menial jobs to secure what he calls his ‘glorious destiny’. Over the years he has garnered experience in Project Management including programme design, planning, implementation, mobilization,monitoring and evaluation using participatory rural gender, sensitive and multi-cultural approaches. Please read on…
I was born into a polygamous and large extended family at Otukpo, Benue state and I was first of my mum, Growing up wasn’t that easy but educating and not much of enjoying childhood. But in all I tried to struggle and I attended primary school and after that I joined my father in Otukpo, to follow up with my Secondary education (GSS, Otukpo, Benue state) 1992. I worked in the rice mill, served and mixed concrete to enable me pay my school fees. While working and schooling I learnt a lot that the world is a better place if we can stand up and do the little we can. My father of blessed memory was a disciplinarian who made sure we read our books every day and before we go to bed; he must check our note books and help us do our assignments.
Later I realized his position which was that if we get our education right, every other thing shall be ours. While in secondary school, I joined so many clubs and I found one that targeted HIV/AIDS prevention called (Sweep AIDS Away from Africa) in 1997 with the support of the School principal and the Dean of studies – Late Mr. Garba. The club did very well and we were able to educate and recruit more members. I got my 1stPeer education training in 1998 while in school with support from SWAAN and Pathfinder International.
After my secondary school in 1998, I started work with Dolphin Hotel as a laundry assistant and later I was posted to the bar, kitchen and restaurant. While serving in the hotel, I was fully involved in community sensitization and a volunteer for PPFN. I got trained again as out of school peer educator and coordinator for peer education program. After series of trainings and workshops, I bought my oven and started producing snacks (meet pie and fish roll).
I did my supply in the morning and checked back in the evening if they would need supply the following day and I used this too to support our peer education activities within the community. Through out the project year, I recruited more youths and designed programmes for the project. I was selected for the state of the ART Adolescent Reproductive health Conference in 2001 and that was the beginning of my connection and sustaining my desire to be part of the change process. It was my first time to know about e-mail and how it works. They organized e- mini varsity with support from Journalist Against AIDS in Nigeria.
After the conference I couldn’t pay for the computer lessons because the fee was about 35,000 naira. All I did was to purchase the training manual and I started going to the cyber café to buy air time. Though funny and hard but today I am a computer literate and the things I do and learnt are based on information shared on the internet. Thereafter, I got admission into Benue state University where I studied Social works and Development for the love of development and service to humanity. I also have an ND in Business Administration and Management.
I founded Society for life and Human Development Initiative in 2003 to help bring the youths together on a platform for a better integration and contributing to development of their communities. In all, I have spent 15 years in development and working with youths. This has contributed to my present position as African Regional Director for Nile African Development, UK and coordinating the African Development Ambassadors and African International Achievers Award
Greatest motivation to remain a change agent
Thinking big and starting small. My growing up challenged me to do more as I was planning to read medicine in order to help people, although I look forward to building a hospital for my community one day. I later changed to art class; I was always in the art studio as I draw and carve too. I see that I have a role to play in contributing to the change in my community and this begins with me. I must not be that rich or a political figure before I do something. Life is not full of bed of roses but with determination faithfulness and sincerity, you will do something.
Reformer in the Nigerian Prison Service
I joined the Nigerian Prison Service in 2001 as a reformer; I see the prison not in isolation from the community and it’s a place to work as you have every character in the society locked up behind the prison walls. Though joining the prison was not easy then as we had issue of short falls and half salaries. So most of us were not comfortable but that was later resolved and some of us stayed in the service. Working in the prison was anchored on following standing order and as a reformer I tried to do my best. I once shared with one of the senior officers on my wish to help improve the prison system.
This was later reported to the Officer in charge of prison then, that I wanted to destroy the system. When I was matched to the officer’s office, I explained my idea, he understood it and made me his personal assistant. I partnered with PPFN to train the staff of Otukpo prison on HIV/AIDS prevention and organized world AIDS day with inmates sharing their ideas in 2002. Working in prison gave me the idea on how to improve on my support to humanity as the inmates’ reformation and rehabilitation, affect me directly and indirectly.
My organization and its impact
Society for Life and Human Development Initiative (SLHDI) is a non profit community based/NGO established in 2003 with a primary focus on Youths, women community development and contributing to positive change in the community. It is registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission CAC/IT/NO 29605
SLHDI has trained so many youths in ICT, HIV/AIDS prevention, Leadership, mindfulness and mentoring. Most of our volunteers are working with other International NGOs while others are CEOs of their Business and Community based organizations so the network is sustained and on incentives, some staff and youth volunteers benefit from sponsored trainings and scholarships abroad.
My work with young people
As a youth, I see that there is need to carry other young persons along and sometimes the problem we found ourselves is caused by us. So working with young people gave me the privilege to learn and identify ways to supporting them. This I do through participatory learning, mentoring, counseling, peer education class, support for improved capacity and I contribute to their development through referral for services we could not render. Most of them are inspired through sharing a role model’s story and other also check on how I work and have been achieve so far with the resources available in the office. Through peer to peer learning has also contributed to improve young people’s participation in our project. The centre is called Youth Embassy (ie Youth Place) and within the management are young persons leading the change.
Hope for young people in Africa
Yes there is a greater hope for young people in the continent of Africa as there are many young persons involve in development and are identifying possible ways to improve livelihood. Young persons are championing the change today and forming coalitions from the rural to the urban and at the international level. Though, there are some challenges where adult speak for young people and do not allow them to participate in issues that concern them especially on policy formulation, good governance and accountability. I thank God for African children as they are learning fast and the network is growing and together we can make the difference. A tree can’t make a forest but allowing others to share with us will make us better leaders as I am here because you are there.
The way to go…
Think big, start small, know your goal, be focus, sincere and humble then you will get there. Another thing is that lives is not full of bed of roses let’s give life a human face and believe in our dreams. Information is for sharing, please be open as young persons to learn and share. Always read and do something, and the world will be a better place as we all have a role to play in issues that concern us. Our leadership starts today and not tomorrow.