PhD Researcher Oladapo Ajayi is improving the lives of underserved children through his NGO AfRIIIdes Ofune 1st October 2020 0 COMMENTS
Desert Bloom initiative is designed to support outstanding Non for Profit Organizations (NGOs), Activists, social movements, social entrepreneurs and outstanding individuals in Africa. This set of individuals and organizations do great work and also improve the lives of people in their own spheres and communities. We support them by amplifying their voices online through storytelling and hosting their content on all our social media platforms. Today, our focus is on Oladapo Ajayi. His initiative helps underserved communities in Nigeria and have successfully held past projects. Continue reading to know more about this.
Please tell us a little bit about your self – educational and professional background.
My name is Oladapo O. Ajayi, I am 35 years old. I grew up in the beautiful Agrarian town of Ilora, Oyo state Nigeria. I obtained a Bachelors of French at the Department of Foreign Languages, OAU, Ile-Ife, Nigeria in April 2010, after which I participated in the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Lagos state between April 2011- March 2012. Subsequently, I travelled to Germany in May 2013 to commence a Masters’ Degree programme. In April 2016, I obtained a Master of Arts in the Intercultural Anglophone Studies (MAIAS). I was admitted for my current PhD programme in October 2017 in Literature in African Languages. I am carrying out my research under the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS). My PhD research focuses on the contemporary Yoruba popular music genre known as Fuji. I am interested in the experience of Fuji in the everyday life of urban Yoruba/Nigerian space. In this regard, I identify as an early career researcher. I am a fellow of the African Good Governance Network (AGGN), which is a network of Young African scholars facilitated by an initiative of the Deutscher Akademische Austausch Dienst (DAAD) and Arnold Bergstraesser Institut Freiburg Germany.
How did the Africa Rural Intervention initiative (AfRII) come about?
In fairness, Africa Rural Interventions Initiative (AfRII) is and can still be many things. So, allow me to start talking about it from the premises of being an NGO I co-founded with a good friend, Charles Ikechukwu Okoli in 2018. I met Charles during my Master’s degree programme at the Bayreuth University. Charles and I gravitated towards each other and closely so in early 2017. During that period, we found ourselves expressing and deliberating on views about topical social issues in Nigeria, and particularly articulating solutions to the identified problems. We were fond of telling ourselves how tired we were complaining about issues without commensurate effort towards lasting solutions. We agreed that there is no general sense of urgency to build a society of our desire. Therefore, we wanted more from and for our society and we believe we can do our part.
It is easier to imagine the dynamics of the usual conversation I had with Charles during that season. Charles being an Economist researcher and me a literature and cultural scholar – The implication on my part is the eagerness to engage and imagine probable scenarios. At the same I have also become wired towards being alive towards the questions of ethics and responsibilities on many levels. In these regards, I have a feeling I eventually rubbed off on Charles as we began to identify our interest and emphasize on Rural/Agrarian communities. Charles on the other hand brings order to my “flying” ideas.
So, we registered the NGO with Nigeria’s Corporate Affair commission (CAC) in December 2018. For us, the aim of AfRII is to focus on multiple strands on interventions. We do not think of one project as exclusive; we always look at linkages. At the center of our vision and activities is always the question of human dignity. In lieu, we are deliberate in our focus on the rural and disadvantaged communities (of course, our idea of rural and disadvantaged communities is not entirely rigid or fixed to certain social space).
As an individual, what motivated you to start this initiative?
My formal or official community project can be dated back to 2012 (8 years ago) when I started a project-TACT (Train A Child Today). Project-TACT is an educational/mentorship project for disadvantaged/vulnerable children in public schools. It is unequivocal and unexaggerated to state that the category of children in the public schools in most rural communities of Nigeria are disadvantaged. Most especially in past say two decades, the public-school students in the rural are almost naturally prepared by the system to not be able play big or move up the social ladder. So, Project-TACT goes to this space and identifies the most vulnerable amongst them to support them through their studies. Every child deserves an opportunity to be loved and protected. Adults have responsibilities to ensure that every child do not lose their self-confidence irrespective of their social class or other “limiting” conditions. For it is more difficult to rehabilitate an adult with low self-esteem/self-worth, self confidence than protect a child from falling into the excruciating and delimiting effects of poverty which crushes the self-dignity of an individual.
So, why did I start project-TACT, I started because I was and may still be to some extent an angry child. I was angry with life, family situation, society and many adults around me. I thought and still think people could always do better. I believe many of us adults are not doing enough. We mostly prefer the convenient option while glossing over problems. I figured quite early in life that many adults simply lack empathy, especially to children and to the vulnerable around them. We are always insulated in our “quest” and “insecurities”. What this means, for example, is that even we (the adults) usually lack the ability to imagine and get into the condition of other even through imagination or empathy. And yes, in this case the vulnerable children around us (even when they exist in our neighborhoods, family, churches and mosques or having shared the same experience). Needless to say that children are just children, they do not contribute to the world and the conditions they inherit. Thus, I was and perhaps still afraid of being an adult that is so focused on my existential quests (which never ends) and not acknowledging my current relative privilege and luck.
I know I have a rough childhood; the trauma still haunts as an adult and I simply wanted to live out a better version of my missed childhood in/through younger kids. It is selfish and therapeutic for me. I wanted to be one of the people that encouraging those in doubts due to their family background that they can, and they will succeed especially through education. There is an underlining quest for purpose and meanings of my existence and modest opportunities. Yes, angry and ambitious enough to believe 8 years ago that I could change the world and change the course of many hopeless children/individuals.
Very interesting and touching. Who would you say will benefit directly?
Sincerely, there is nothing I started that I consider the question of audience as important in the first place. I am first my own audience. I want a better society and a better living condition for people, and I can relate with their stories and conditions. So, when I step out to intervene, I think of how I will be able to sleep well at night, justifying that I did what I should. This is how humanity should perceive interventionist projects. We are all interdependent and connected by fate and conditions. So, for the direct beneficiaries of project-TACT, we have had several beneficiaries between 2012 till 2017. We started with 6 beneficiaries that were selected from 3 different public primary schools in Ilora town. Over the years, we expanded the scope and the reach. Since then, the numbers have increased. The implication now is that the first set of Project-TACT beneficiaries are currently concluding their Senior Secondary School final examination. We usually select them at the end of their 4th year of the primary school and we support them annually with essential educational necessities. Until 2018, we provided school uniforms, school sandals, bag packs, T-shirts texts books, stationaries and in some cases examination fees for the beneficiaries.
I see you have been raising funds for a community resource center and you have set up a GoFundme page. Tell us more about this center.
Yes, in 2019, AfRII adopted project-TACT as her flagship project due to the experience and success we have achieved in the past years. So, we unveiled project-TACT 2.0 with a free summer school for students of 3 public secondary school in Ilora town Nigeria. The success rate was commendable. We recorded an attendance of over 80 participants and the project ran for 4 weeks. As a result of the feedback and the evaluation we conducted during the summer school, we realized the need to be more involved in preparing these young chaps for their final National examination. We are aware that a great percentage of the kids are bound to fail their examination due to several factors which we do not need to reproduce here. So, we know that we need a space to follow-up with the kids and provide the mentorship and support we envisage they need for their personal development.
Coincidentally, my parents’ (now late) and our family house has been unoccupied since 2017 after the death of our mother. So, you can imagine how everything culminate into a desire to have our family house converted into a Community Resource Centre whose operation will be managed (of course with regards to the family) by the AfRII team. So, we shall work with the community to make my family house available for public use. Considering the scale of renovation and activities we envisage for the property, we embrace the crowdfunding option via gofundme option https://gf.me/u/yksrxg and we made the Nigerian AfRII account details available to the public as well. I should seize the opportunity to mention two friends who volunteer to be part of the fund raising drive ( Timo Gerhadt and Valerie Gruber) – The two individuals have been highly supportive with the crowdfunding drive and thinking about the future of the CRC.
How has funding been for these projects?
Yes, I would say that for the past 8 years, Project-TACT and Project-TACT 2.0 have survived largely on personal contributions (save for some valuable support from friends when they can) and I emphasize the word valuable support from friends. This is not our first project even as AfRII but lets say the first capital project. Unlike the past project(s), it is almost impossible for us to conceive self-financing the CRC project, we simply do not have the means yet. Hence, our call for help! This is our attempt to seek public support for an AfRII project. However, we conducted a free summer school for public secondary schools last year and we funded it privately like the past Project-TACT projects. You will recall, we mentioned ethical concern initially, it is still the question we will always reflect on. How to get help and not put our beneficiaries in a vulnerable situation is always one of our concerns. How to remain true to our agenda and not compromise the standard or ourselves. So much ethical censor we subject ourselves to all this while.
Where do you see AfRII in the coming years?
AfRII is a testimony of practicality, growth, focus, convictions, and sacrifices. By my modest assessment, it is taking off boldly and confidently despite being a young NGO. I must admit that I am also curious at what the result of our past and current efforts would yield, especially if and when we continue to plant the seeds and nurture our tender plants with much vigor and passion. It will indeed mean years of impact and encouraging results lie ahead. We are eager but very patient.
Generally, how would you want the society to assist your initiative?
The society, friends and potential donors should trust what their sixth senses is telling them about us. I am sure they will be positive to donate or collaborate with us. We are a group of people interested and dedicated to making tangible efforts to drive a collective societal growth rather than lament. We acknowledge our anger and disappointments and we do not claim to be experts or magicians, we have evolved, and we are evolving. We have conviction and, discipline Hence, people should know that there is a place for them to be part of our platform to support the aforementioned goal.
To contribute financially and support the community resource center through their gofundme page, click here. To know more about Africa Rural Intervention initiative (AfRII), visit their website at https://africa-rii.org/. You can reach AfRII via africariing @ gmail dot com.
This is wishing Oladapo and his team success in all their future endeavors.
Ides Ofune is currently a PhD Student at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on civil society and accountability in improving the quality of education. She is the founder of Desert Bloom Initiative and editor of Desert Bloom Advisory. Ides is very passionate about education and creating an inclusive society. She speaks French and English fluently. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org