By now, almost everyone has heard about (or seen) the movie, Slumdog Millionaire. Not only did the movie win 8 Oscars, 87 other awards and 27 nominations, it’s directors, actors, actresses and India will remember the experience for a long time. Just as the heaviness of the global economic meltdown was about to sour our new-found underdog story, Susan Boyle arrived on stage. Now with over 100 million hits on YouTube, the 47 year-old revelation’s performance has become the fifth most-watched online video of all time. The two examples speak to the power of tucked-away talents, a phenomenon that should teach everyone never to look past any individual or people-group simply because their switch is in “off” mode at the moment. In fact, still pictures from videos should teach us never to judge anything based on the snapshot of the present situation because videos often reveal how crying children (in still pictures) eventually have laughter break through their facial skin (few scenes later).
Watching Slumdog Millionaire, all I could think of was Ajegunle, Nigeria’s most popular slum. The urban slum has produced many stars in sports and music (including Daddy Showkey, Baba Fryo, Samson Siasia, Taribo West, etc) and boasts of 3 million more potential newsmakers — but that is far from how AJ City is viewed even by those who live few minutes away from the community. I can never forget the feedback I got from many people when I announced that Paradigm Initiative Nigeria will be starting a new project in Ajegunle, now known as Ajegunle.org. Many potential partners could not hold back their reaction each time I mentioned the project’s location but we were determined to start the implementation of the model in Ajegunle based on research and clear needs. Thanks to the earlier efforts of Praise Fowowe‘s Uncommon Man Network,Â and support from partners like Afrinvest West Africa, DHL Nigeria, FATE Foundation, HiiT Limited, Junior Achievement of Nigeria, Korean Agency for Digital Opportunity & Promotion, London Metropolitan University (Nigeria Office), Lornamead Africa, Standard Chartered Bank, Teledom International, UK Trade & Investment (UK Deputy High Commission, Lagos), UK High Commission Abuja, our team of volunteers and individual supporters, we are weaving fine stories by the day.
Like Susan Boyle, we see many tucked-away talents coming up for air — and staying up. Some have worked their way into global corporations, some have built small businesses while others are working hard at creating their own unique stories. Seeing graduates return to assist volunteers during the capacity building sessions always remind me of why we started off in the first place — relay training that allows the few we’re able to reach connect many others to life-changing opportunities. On Saturday, I was close to tears when some of the graduates offered to pay for application forms for other youth in the community; that’s what we’re talking about! We had gathered on Saturday to discuss the new Graduate Loan Scheme made possible by Microsoft Nigeria’s Community Technology Skills (CTS) grant and it turned out to be more than that. I sat there, listening to the passion in their voices as they discussed how to use the loan to improve their businesses — pastries, leather shoes, beads, hand-made cards and more.
It was a great way to end the week, and it felt like we were hosting our own edition of Ajegunle’s Got Talent. We can never predict how far these young people will run as we daily seek to open doors of opportunities but I am sure that as they continue to improve their lives, they give their neighbours, friends and others the permission to spread their wings and fly. I agree with Marianne Williamson: “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” It’s high time we allowed the tucked-away lights across Nigeria and Africa to shine! Later this week, I will take the same message to the Road to the Top seminar holding at the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, where I will be sharing thoughts on Securing the Future.