In 2013, Ugochi Obidiegwu’s mother was standing on a street corner in Lagos, Nigeria, when she was hit by a car. Though community members arrived on the scene, few knew what to do; others avoided helping altogether. When a handful of people finally got Ugochi’s mother to a hospital, they were told the facility did not accept car-accident victims. By the time they made it to a teaching hospital nearby, it was too late.
Ugochi, a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow and founder of The Safety Chic, is now working to make safety a priority in Nigeria, both to prevent accidents like her mom’s and to keep children and adults across the country safe.
Today Ugochi hosts training sessions in schools across the country, educating Nigeria’s youth about first aid and basic road safety, among other topics.
“Adults are generally set in their ways,” Ugochi says. “If you teach children when they are young, the training stays with them.”
Ugochi noticed in her work with local schoolchildren the popularity of stories to translate key safety concepts. With this in mind, she wrote a children’s book series titled The Adventures of Muna that captures the most vital safety measures in an accessible, inviting format.
“It was especially important that the book feature a girl who looked African,” Ugochi says. “So many children’s book characters don’t look like the kids in our schools. We wanted someone these children could relate to.”
In one recent session, Ugochi shared a story about a girl who had been abducted from a church a few weeks prior. One girl in the class said, “She should have asked for a family password before following the stranger,” one of the practices Ugochi teaches in her book series.
“Knowing that she had read the book, was making connections, and felt empowered to speak out touched my heart,” Ugochi says.
It’s a passion for safety and for making an impact in the lives of Nigeria’s children that drives Ugochi to design and organize new programming.
“You have to be passionate about the work,” Ugochi explains. “You’re not getting paid, so you need to pick a problem that you are interested in solving, regardless of the reward.”
In her work with volunteers, too, Ugochi makes a point of understanding volunteer needs before planning her training sessions. These volunteers, namely teachers and classroom assistants, are instrumental in scheduling the workshops, engaging with children throughout the training, and reinforcing Ugochi’s safety advice long after the training sessions.
“It’s important for volunteer coordinators to know what is important to their volunteers,” Ugochi explains. “In my case, some volunteers were motivated by safety incidents in their city, others just wanted the experience.”
“When volunteers see that you have their interests in mind, they are more likely to go the extra mile,” Ugochi says. “That could be as simple as asking how they are doing, advising them, or providing opportunities for growth.”
It’s that genuine care about a volunteer’s progress, Ugochi explains, that makes all the difference in designing meaningful training sessions.
“People are interested in working with sincere leaders, individuals who have the right heart to serve.”
Interested in Ugochi’s work? Learn how you can volunteer to serve Africa on our YALIServes page.