Putting Literacy on the Map in Nigeria

Iheanyi and students at the New Haven Primary School in Nigeria
Iheanyi and students at the New Haven Primary School in Nigeria

When Iheanyi Igboko, a volunteer with Agents of Communication and Development in Nigeria, visited a school in the southeastern district of the country in 2010, he was stunned by the dilapidated facility.

“Everything in the school was decrepit,” Iheanyi says. “There was no roofing, no seats for the students. It stays with me.”

After working with fellow volunteers to rebuild the school, Iheanyi was delighted, and reassured, to see the students’ reaction.

“Seeing their smiles, their joy, when they saw their new school,” Iheanyi says. “I’ll never forget it.”

Iheanyi with students at the Amaetiti Community Primary School in Enugu, Nigeria
Iheanyi with students at the Amaetiti Community Primary School in Enugu, Nigeria

It’s that hope that drives Iheanyi today, namely in his work with Project Y2L, a literacy campaign aimed at children across the country.

“It’s like walking into a dark room,” Iheanyi says when asked why literacy inspires him so. “Books are the light that illuminates the room.”

“Most people are struggling with one issue or another,” Iheanyi says. “With books, they can see things in new ways and develop new solutions.”

Iheanyi brings this to bear by first conducting a baseline study of local schools. It’s in those sessions that he talks to students about the books they’ve liked and about new titles they might enjoy.

Iheanyi then works with other volunteers to read books to school groups and to assign students independent readings.

Iheanyi with fellow volunteers at the launch of Project Y2L in Enugu, Nigeria
Iheanyi with fellow volunteers at the launch of Project Y2L in Enugu, Nigeria

“It’s important, too, to run your volunteer project like a business,” Iheanyi explains. “You must see the end from the beginning and prepare the labor, the materials — everything, as you would in a traditional organization.”

“You have to remember: Your profit is helping people, often in profound ways.”

Equally important, Iheanyi stresses, is believing in the mission of a community service project.

“Once I believe in a cause, I am willing to sacrifice my time and my skills,” Iheanyi says.

In his work with volunteer teachers and classroom assistants, Iheanyi stresses the importance of making his fellow volunteers feel valued.

“I hope to instill a kind of gratitude and kindness among my peers,” Iheanyi says.

“It reminds me of Maya Angelou’s conviction: ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’”

“If I’ve done my work well, I’ll be remembered in the good they do, in the actions they take,” Iheanyi says.

Interested in Iheanyi’s work? Learn how you can volunteer to serve Africa on our #YALIServes page.

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