If there’s one story that stays with Melva Uguru, it’s that of a young woman in Amagu, Nigeria.
The young woman, now 17 years old, wanted more than anything else to stay in school, but her parents were intent on marrying her off to receive a bride prize, one that would provide for her brothers and sisters.
“The girl told them, ‘I’ll do anything for you, but I want to go to school,’” Melva says.
The girl began selling jewelry and perfume to make extra money; she even worked on neighbors’ farms to make ends meet and to stay in school, Melva explains.
Melva, who worked with a team of volunteers to eventually pay the girl’s school fees, has long been impressed by the girl’s tenacity, a drive that inspires her today.
“She lives among people who live for now,” Melva says of the girl. “But she has a dream.”
Today Melva, a practicing lawyer in Nigeria, volunteers with the Kachem Young Initiative, a nonprofit aimed at helping the nation’s youth to realize their potential through mentoring and educational programs.
Melva noticed, for instance, that the young woman’s case was not a unique one and that many young adults were dropping out of school, most with limited educational and social support.
“I knew that something had to be done to keep these people in school,” Melva says. “But I knew we couldn’t approach them in an aggressive way. They needed mentors.”
As a volunteer, Melva works to plan mentorship programs across the country, often starting with a meeting with village chiefs, then visiting local villages.
“It’s important to meet with village chiefs first to get their support, to explain to them the importance of mentorship programs,” Melva says. “If you make the case for your project, they’ll take it on as their own and help you to reach new audiences.”
Melva also works with a team of volunteers to present to children across the country. She first solicits topics from her fellow volunteers then plans presentations accordingly. For instance, she recently planned a talk on art appreciation led by a local artist.
“We meet weekly on Saturdays,” Melva says. “Every fourth Saturday is an activities session to reflect on the lessons learned throughout the month.”
For Melva, the success of the mentorship program hinges on her humility and her desire to put the needs of others ahead of her own.
“My view of wealth has shifted,” Melva says, reflecting on her volunteer work. “My wealth now is how many people I’ve helped, how many lives I’ve changed.”
Interested in Melva’s work? Learn how you can volunteer to serve Africa on our #YALIServes page.