By Kolapo Olarewaju
My name is Kolapo Olarewaju. I am an Architect and Interior designer who volunteers with the youth empowerment group of JDI (Jela’s Development Initiatives). I am the Project Manager of the Youth Empowerment Team of JDI.
My JDI story is incomplete without the visionary, Mrs Angela Ochu- Baiye.
My first encounter with her was on Instagram, when she organized a training to help young Nigerians to learn how to write a proper curriculum vitae. I felt she was doing something laudable and I am naturally drawn to people who engage in the betterment of Nigeria, and anyone who engages young Nigerians wins my heart.
Volunteering, for me, has been an age-long engagement, and I will share two significant stories of my life that endeared me to being a part of JDI.
The first encounter was when I was about six years old in the city of Kaduna, where I was born. Growing up there was fun; those were the times when with a fifty kobo note, you could go shopping and have your polythene bag filled up with groceries at the then-Leventis or Kingsway superstore. Those were the days when a flight ticket from Kaduna to Lagos was less than ten naira; those were the ‘’good old days’’ when we (our generation) were being prepared to create the ‘’best days’’ for the generations ahead.
My mother had a chain of businesses which comprised a supermarket and a tastefully furnished restaurant, all within our dwelling which comprised of three bungalows and two large parking lots.
We enjoyed the best of life though my dad who was an electrical engineer, was quite busy and constantly travelling. Every Friday after school, my siblings and I who had not gone off to boarding school would have lunch and siesta then my mum would engage us (myself, my immediate older sister and my younger brother who happened to be the youngest) in a funny exercise.
She would take us into her supermarket ask each of us to pick a stainless-steel tray. Next thing, she would put some key soap and toilet rolls on each tray and ask us to walk two or three streets within our locality and sell the wares. We did this dressed neatly with our socks and Cortina shoes.
She always asked her steward to quietly follow us behind while our neighbours were simultaneously amazed and irritated because they believed we didn’t have to do that since we were not from a ‘less privileged’ home.
However, we did it happily because it was mum who asked us to do it and it was fun because we had a loving and caring mother. But then, we didn’t have to do this for long as some neighbours went ahead to report to my dad who asked mum to stop it.
Sadly, about two years afterwards we lost mum to the cold hands of death but that valuable lesson of entrepreneurship is not lost and comes in handy for my siblings and I. By having us help her, we had learnt to help others which for me. This is volunteering, to me. And that singular act is what has sustained me to date.
My second major encounter was about nine years ago here at Abuja. I was staying at my elder sister’s boy’s quarters at Union Homes (Wilbahi) estates. Opposite the estate was a village called Kuchingoro and I had always believed that the express way was the divide between the rich and the poor.
There was a common occurrence at night where the people from the other side of the divide always attacked the estate residents at night and stole from them whenever they went to the village to buy groceries.
One morning, while I was having my quiet time, I was reading the story of the widow and Elisha which is in 2nd Kings Chapter 4. For me, the story was all about the oil and the empty barns. The oil didn’t become dry until there were no more empty barns. I did a quick recall to what was happening around me and I realised that the people on the other side of the divide engaged in their nefarious act because they felt deprived and lacked education. I believed that with proper information and education, a change would happen. I saw the oil in the passage as my gift that was within and I saw the empty barns as the people on the other side of the divide who needed to be filled with something positive.
The next day, I went to the headmaster of the LEA primary school at Kuchingoro and I introduced myself, explaining that I wanted to come around 3 times a week and engage all the classes in Mathematics and Computer Training. The headmaster was very excited and asked if I would like to record it, to which I answered ‘no’ because it was something I wanted to do without anyone taking notice or rewarding me for it.
At the end of the term, I organized a prize-giving day for them, something which had never happened in an LEA school. In a short while, other social groups began within the village and cases of theft and attacks on the estate residents reduced.
This experience gave me an upward turn, in terms of my business and trade, the kind of people I met, quality of ideas on how to engage young people and interact with them. I became better with the act of organizing events within stipulated deadlines. I got my life long slogan which is practice makes perfection. I became spiritually informed and understood that the reason our politicians are not able to do the basic things they need to do is because they never practiced it.
Therefore, JDI is providing me with a platform to practice what I love to do from another perspective and dimension. Coming for the volunteers training, I realised that JDI is actually a training ground for leaders, not just leaders but servant leaders who are the defining factor for the present-day Nigeria, the people with the template to create the ‘’best days’’ for the generation ahead.
I chose to be a volunteer with JDI, specifically under the Youth Empowerment team, because of my natural love for my country and the zeal to see Nigeria as bright as it was when we were growing up and this is only possible through a shift in the mind-set of leadership which is what JDI is teaching and promoting. It is also an avenue to improve my networking skill which in turn improves my net worth. JDI is the place to learn and churn my skill for the endeavours that lie ahead, and I will personally admonish anyone who has a dream of leadership within them to join the train and be a part of those with the template for a better and ‘’BEST’’ Nigeria that is becoming a reality.