Growing up on the streets in Imo State, Nigeria, Jacinta Chioma learned early the value of strong communal ties.
“My parents passed away when I was ten,” Jacinta says. “I remember standing on the street corner trying to hear what other parents were telling their children, trying to gather some information.”
There was one place, though, where Jacinta felt at home: the hospital.
“I loved the hospital staff’s white uniforms,” Jacinta says. “I saw it as purity. And their tools were, to me, just fascinating.”
Years later, when Jacinta couldn’t afford proper medical-school training, she thought to herself: How else could I serve those around me?
“I noticed a lot of people, a lot of children, on the streets in the same situation I was in,” Jacinta says. “If someone was harmed, she wouldn’t know what to do. They needed to know their rights.”
To address this, Jacinta decided to partner with Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI), a nonprofit aimed at teaching the youth about human rights, specifically the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, inspiring them to become advocates for tolerance and peace.
Jacinta first reached out to YHRI to get T-shirts, booklets, and other materials for her sessions. She then looked for an appropriate venue for her workshops — among them, schools and public parks.
“It’s important, too, to meet with village chiefs and other local leaders before your event,” Jacinta says. “They will be the ones to help gather people and to convince them to attend.”
Jacinta also requested a letter from a government official allowing her to present in schools across the country, a practice she recommends to others interested in organizing volunteer events.
With official approval, Jacinta turns her attention to planning engaging informational sessions for participants.
“The topics range from education to human rights to gender equity,” Jacinta says. “We try to give participants real scenarios to consider: ‘If people try to stop you from going to school, what can you tell them?’”
“I’ve learned from these workshops that I need to play an active role in society,” Jacinta says. “I have the boldness now to talk to people.”
That earnestness is paying off, too. To date, Jacinta has trained more than 200 people in her human rights workshops and is looking to plan still more events focused on women’s empowerment.
“Volunteering is meeting people from diverse backgrounds,” Jacinta says. “It’s learning from them. It’s making change.”
To Jacinta, human rights are fundamental and sharing those rights with others is how she is making change in society.
“If I can see someone on another team as my sister, if we can begin to love each other, that would be a perfect world.”
Interested in Jacinta’s work? Learn how you can volunteer to serve Africa on our #YALIServes page. The views and opinions expressed here belong to the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.