Tuesday, August 07, 2007

From Birmingham to Jos, Youths unite against AIDS

September 19th 2005 , nine young Nigerians and a supervisor flew to the United Kingdom with so much excitement brewing within them. For all of them, being a part of the Global Xchange was a rare opportunity they counted themselves privilege to be part of, having successfully passed the thorough selection process and pre-departure training exercise held in Abuja prior to their traveling.
The purpose of their Journey was to take part in an international Volunteering programme organized by the Volunteering Service Oversea (VSO) in partnership with British Council and Life Vanguard. An exchange designed to bring together young people from different cultures and backgrounds to make a practical contribution to local communities. Young people from different countries ( Nigeria and United Kingdom ) are given a rare and unique opportunity to work together, to develop and share valuable skills.
The nine young Nigerians on arriving Birmingham met other nine British counterparts. After being given an in-country orientation by the country management team, they were introduced to their host home in pair. The weeks that followed saw the young volunteers actively engaging themselves in series of training and activities with a close supervision of their two Adult supervisors (1 Nigerian and 1 British). In counterpart pair, the global xchange team spent three months in Birmingham living in different host homes, working in different organizations such as AB+, Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), Omincare, St Basils, Time Bank, Freshwinds, ACCR, BRAP, Birmingham Focus on Blindness, and Groundwork. They also carried out some community activity work on theme of HIV/AIDS.
Although the experience was filled with a lot of hard work, the volunteers also had so much fun living and working in Birmingham and learning about each other’s culture. They made out time to take part in the Black History month in Liverpool, participated in the Trade Union’s mass lobby where they met and spoke with some of their counterparts’ MPs on the issue of Trade Justice. They also organized a car-wash fund raising event where they raised 600 pounds for the Asian earthquake victims. Another very significant event that took place during the Xchange was the World AIDS day. Global Xchange Volunteers working in HIV organizations created a forum where other volunteers could actively participate in helping out to organize the event. High schools and colleges were contacted for permission to distribute IEC materials and inform students about HIV and AIDS. This did not come off easily though as out of 30 schools contacted, only 3 responded (strict rules guiding sexual health talk in High schools in U.K?).
December 1, the city centre of Birmingham witnessed an interruption as volunteers spread themselves across the street. While some busied themselves giving out red ribbons, others took a bold step to stop people to give a little talk about World AIDS day and HIV and AIDS. At around 6pm, people assembled at the cathedral to join in the candle light vigil organized by HIV organizations and world AIDS day committee in Birmingham to honour people living with HIV who have passed on and encourage those living with the Virus. True stories and experiences were shared in the course of the evening. It was a packed filled event.
December 12th 2005, the eighteen young volunteers found themselves in Abuja (not really, they actually flew British Airways). Another round of In-country Orientation was given by the Nigerian Management team to wake the Nigerians volunteers about the fact that they were back home and relief the British volunteers of any culture shock they might be having.
Jos was their primary place of assignment, so with a welcome party held at the Gbong gwom’s palace (in U.K the welcome party was at the Mayor’s), everyone settle into their respective host homes, ready to have a reciprocal phase in Nigeria, Still on the theme of HIV and AIDS. Volunteers spent about 8 hours a day working in organizations like PRTV, YARAC, OPTIONAIDS, SPRINGS OF LIFE, FAITH ALIVE, INTER GENDER, INTERCEPT and MASSHIAH FOUNDATION.
The community impact in the Nigeria phase was massive, as community activities included a HIV rally, a road safety seminar followed by a rally, a dormitory painting project in an orphanage on Zaria road, a HIV drama organized by some volunteers in collaboration with Jos Prison Inmates and Jos prison officers/controller, a skill acquisition session with the female inmates (they were taught how to make candle, batik etc), recognizing the need for young people not to be left to swim in the ocean of ignorance, they did an educational project which reached about 300 students in secondary schools who were encouraged to take action on issues that are of major concern to them, teaching them step by step plans on how to go about it.
The programme enabled the young volunteers to gain valuable skills and experience, while achieving international understanding and inter-cultural awareness. The beauty and pain in working in a team (eighteen people) was well felt by Volunteers. Life long friends were made within the team, host home, work placements and host communities. Careers were changed as some volunteers developed a keen interest in volunteerism, community development work and related issues.
Most importantly the city of Birmingham and Jos will never be the same again due to the little drops of significant impact the Global Xchange Youths made during the six-months volunteering programme through project initiatives. While living in Nigeria, some of the British volunteers confessed that Nigeria was a lot better-off than they anticipated as one of them thought Nigeria was all rural, likewise the Nigerians discovered U.K to be as organized as they expected (thanks to the fact that their government care about the least in the society) but was shocked to see it was not all rosy and honey. The Global Xchange 2 as they are fondly called indeed rounded up their activities with a debrief session after which the British volunteers flew back to the U.K and the Nigerian volunteers went back to their different communities, all with a different mind-set; better informed global citizens committed to working for a positive change.
Nigerian youth participation should be encouraged in all organisations. As only empowered youths can make a positive difference.

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