Abuja – The United States government said in Abuja on Wednesday that it had released N7 million micro-grants to nine Nigerian alumni members of its exchange programmes.

Mr William Strassberger, Cultural Affairs Officer of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, announced the release of the grants in an interview with journalists on the sideline of the First All Alumni Conference organised for members, who have participated in different U.S. exchange programmes.

Ambassador Terence P. McCulley. U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria

Strassberger said that the beneficiaries took part in the U.S. alumni micro-grant competition which focused on development projects.

He said that though the competition was open to youths across the six geo-political zones in the country, the programmes were targeted at the youths in the Northern region.

“We are targeting the youths in Northern Nigeria but the applications were eligible to come from throughout the country; the ones we received ultimately did come from Bauchi, Kano and Kaduna.

“But the youths in the northern area is really a target of the embassy and we want to continue to reach out to them.

“Today is an example of the embassy reaching out to those youths working with our alumni.

“They run between four and five thousand dollars each; we are actually working with the grantees to make sure we can award them with as much money.

“Overall the total awarded for the nine grantees is over 7 million naira, grand total, and we estimate the number of direct beneficiaries through these grants is actually in hundreds.

“Some of the projects have direct and follow up of beneficiaries and hopefully some of the project is either re-replicated or self-sustaining.

“It is an unlimited number of beneficiaries and that is our goal through this.’’

The development projects for which the micro-grants were given were centred on entrepreneurial skills-training for girls in Benue; youth empowerment through agriculture and fish farming.

Others include Gombe mairuwa project; Samaru car washing project; solid waste to wealth project and leadership workshop in Bauchi.

In his address, the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Terence McCulley, said that 5000 Nigerians had benefitted from the various U.S. exchange programmes.

McCulley also said that Nigeria’s participation in the International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) had in the past five years experienced an annual increase.

He attributed the increase to the quality of participants in the programme

“Some of you travelled to America as Fullbright scholars, some of you as Humphrey fellows, some of you as participants of the International Visitors Leadership Programme or under the umbrella of one of the many other exchange programmes sponsored by the United States.

“There are 5,000 of you here in Nigeria and I’m pleased to say that many of them play key roles in providing strong leadership to your country.

“Prominent alumni from Nigeria include Professor Attahiru Jega, Governor Adams Oshiomole, and Former Vice President Alex Ekwueme.

“Over the past five years, in Nigeria, the number of IVLP participants from this great country has significantly increased because Washington recognises the quality of the candidates that Nigeria produces.

“Our annual allocation of IVLPs has usually hovered around 40 participants but in the past five years annually, we have sent no fewer than 50 to 60 Nigerians to the United States because Washington always turns to us when there are extra slots and Nigeria has never failed to deliver.

“It is really important to maintain this great record and to continue to send quality candidates for the exchange programmes.’’

McCulley stressed the benefits of the programme and tasked alumni not to relent in their efforts at making quality contribution to the development of the country.

“You know better than anybody, you bring new ideas, new experiences to share.

“I encourage all of our alumni to continue to inspire and to provide hope to Nigerian youth; whether it is developing a leadership academy or improving university curricula, these initiatives are a value added benefit for Nigeria.

“The exchange programmes promote mutual understanding, bring us closer as two great nations, but they have concrete material benefits that you all are engaged in helping to construct democratic institutions in this wonderful country.

“I challenge you to serve as ambassador for these exchange programmes and educate others to the opportunities; assist us in identifying top candidates for future exchange programmes.

“Be our partners to help continue the wonderful record that the U.S. Mission to Nigeria and Nigeria has established across range of our exchange programmes.

He expressed satisfaction with the positive developments in the country and added that the embassy would engage actively with alumni members in development programmes that cut across all levels of Nigerians.

“I remain as optimistic as I was when I came and recognising that Nigeria has significant challenges and you all know them much better than I.

“Just as we have made large investments in Nigeria through our various programmes, we want to work with you, the alumni of U.S. Exchange Programmes, to reach out to all levels of Nigerian society and to engage especially with youths in towns and villages across the country.

“In working with you, we want to be your partners to increase our opportunities and inspire hope.’’

Some of the recipients who spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) expressed gratitude to the U.S. embassy and said that the projects would be sustained to ensure continuity.

Dr Adele Garkida, a 2005 Fulbright scholar, said she was awarded a grant of 5000 dollars for a project that would employ 20 unemployed youths in car washing.

“I got the Samaru car washing project successful and in this project we hope to actually set up the business for some youths, between five to ten youths in Samaru, Kaduna State.

“We will get the place, set it up, get these youths, train them and hand it over to them to run and make something for themselves for a living.

“Generally, living is a little better now, people own cars, so it appears it is going to be a thriving business for young men and women.’’

Also Dr Raymond Bako, a 1998 Fulbright scholar, was given a grant of 5000 dollars for a project targeted at creating a new crop of water vendors (Mai ruwa) in Gombe State.

“The idea is to get about 10 to 15 unemployed youths, give them some entrepreneurial training, lessons on hygiene and produce functional carts for them and kit them up well.

“We will also get them organised into a little cooperative society where they can put their resources together and sustain the business and overtime they can recreate themselves by bringing in new unemployed youths.’’

First All Alumni Conference has as its theme “Leadership, Mentoring and Youth Development in Nigeria: U.S. Alumni Celebrating Partnership through Exchanges”.

The conference would focus on leadership, mentoring, volunteerism and youth development in Nigeria. (NAN)

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