THREE THINGS I LEARNED AT THE REUSE CONFERENCE IN SOUTH-WESTERN NIGERIA
Oghenechovwen Oghenekevwe Christopher
- 1 Post
- Age 18
Learning how to make income and generating jobs from waste was the overarching topic on the table this month in the Southwestern region of Nigeria, at the Making A Difference Foundation (M.A.D Initiative) Reuse Conference – the inaugural edition. About 150 people, who were mostly students from both private and public schools, converged on a city whose life is mixed with history and ancient traditions. Akure is the largest city in Ondo State, South-western Nigeria. The city prides itself as the discovery site of the oldest Homo sapiens fossil ever found in West Africa thus far, dating back to around 11,000 years ago.
Due to political tension in the state and for other logistical issues, just a mere 2 days before the conference, it was postponed with the proposed venue changing to another in a smaller residential district that lies at the far end of the city. And because of this, first-timers and conference visitors like me found navigating through the city to the new venue a herculean task. I believe this was also the reason majority of delegates showed up late.
From the captivating keynote by Tony Joy; an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society and Founder of M.A.D Initiative, to the above-average presentations of two or three of the speakers, and the pitch competition on waste innovations by different secondary school teams which happened back-to-back, it was an exhilarating conference. What did I learn?
1. Lined-up speakers are willing to share their knowledge and energy even just before they step up to the podium. Many times at events, people only have brief, one-on-one access to speakers after their sessions are over or when the main event has ended usually for Q & A’s or networking. At the end of the Reuse Conference, I did not want to be among the many participants jostling for time with these speakers — who were probably exhausted already. So, I garnered courage and decided to try something new and I was happy it turned out well. First, I keenly waited whilst hoping that some of them would stand up and leave their front-row seats for some possible reasons: review of ground-rules with the host, an incoming important phone call, a visit to the toilet, or just a walk around the hall to catch a deep breath and see the audience size! All of a sudden, my first opportunity came when the only female speaker, Jumoke Ogunrayi, stood up and began to make her way to the back of the hall. Since her tee-shirt showed she had affiliations with the state’s Ministry of Environment and UN Environment, it formed my conversation starter when I met her. Before Mrs Ogunrayi reminded me that it was almost time for her to step up the podium, we had talked about her field jobs, waste-induced environmental problems, Nigeria’s government commitments to flooding, and even the images on her slides and the song she anticipated teaching the audience. The result of our conversation was double-edged: we had connected on an authentic personal level and she was more relaxed on the podium as her energy level was balanced — it was not the case of the fizzing that occurs when a can of soda or Coke, after being shaken, is cracked open!
2. Secondary school students attending such conferences do not want complex information — they want lots of multimedia, especially images. Boxed away in classrooms and continuously fed theoretical knowledge in texts, I noticed that the attending students were eager to learn. But they stopped jotting points, listening, or asking questions when any speaker pointed to ‘scientific jargon’ on his/her slides. They had just had enough. The lead-speaker, Owoeye Abolade, who is a public health specialist with the Federal University of Technology in the city, understood the students. Abolade’s presentation was simple, full with cartoons and real images, and they told powerful stories about waste, health, innovation and action. With these, the students were engaged and gleefully participated.
3. Quality of education in public secondary schools has advanced from the 19th Century. Stiff, old and unchanging methods and curricula have been the crux of educational problems and backwardness in Nigeria for a long time. Yes! On the surface it does not appear so, but when one peruses the most patronized source of basic and secondary education – public schools – he quickly finds the true situation. On the other hand, private primary and secondary schools have ready access to relevant and innovative education, facilities, and environments – all nearly 21st century rating. That students of Ijapo Public High School won the inter-school waste innovation pitch competition during the conference is an indicator that the quality of education in such schools are improving and that the educational divide between the two groups is bridging. The Ijapo team won with their marketable tile prototypes that were made from discarded PET bottles.