When Jennifer Agunloye was in high school in Kano, Nigeria, a representative from a local nonprofit visited her school to present on her work in the public health sector.
“During one of the small-group discussions, my classmates were all speaking up and sharing their ideas,” Jennifer says. “I remember I had a lot to add, but I stayed silent.”
“The presenter then asked me why I wasn’t speaking up,” Jennifer says. “She said, ‘There is so much inside each individual; if you don’t speak up, you are keeping that from the world.’”
“‘You are carrying so much,’” she told me. “‘You don’t have to keep it to yourself.’”
The speaker’s reassuring words resonated with Jennifer, who struggled with her weight as a teenager and faced a fair amount of bullying as a result.
“That interaction changed something in me,” Jennifer says. “It gave me the courage to speak up.”
Jennifer, who now runs The Girl Should Thrive, a nonprofit aimed at empowering female leaders, used volunteering as a platform to make her voice heard and to make a meaningful change in her community.
Jennifer noticed, for instance, that a number of girls, like her, lacked direction. Even those in school, Jennifer explains, had no plan in place for financial independence.
“Some of the women I met in university didn’t have a clear sense of what they wanted to do with their degrees,” Jennifer says. “I wanted to change things for these women; I wanted to tell them to be more.”
Jennifer began shortly thereafter launching a series of awareness campaigns in her school, initiatives focused squarely on a particular social issue and executed with the help of fellow students.
As part of one initiative, Jennifer gathered a group of volunteers to hand out brochures and lead small-group discussions on civic engagement.
“I was tired of young people complaining about the government,” Jennifer says. “We organized a walk and a series of discussions on the elections in Nigeria and what civic participation looks like.”
Jennifer noticed over the course of her work how much volunteering had changed her and opened her mind up to new possibilities.
“Volunteering doesn’t just change the people you are helping,” Jennifer says. “It changes you.”
For Jennifer, community service underlined the importance of understanding herself and what moves her.
“If you are doing something for a higher reason, you rise to the occasion in a new way,” Jennifer says.
When Jennifer questions the impact of her work, she thinks back on the bullying she faced in high school and the way one woman’s advice lifted her out of herself and pushed her to thrive.
“That is how you change the world,” Jennifer says. “It starts with one person.”
Interested in Jennifer’s work? Learn how you can volunteer to serve Africa on our #YALIServes page.