Saater Brenda Ikpaahindi
Walking up the stairs to Connected Development’s (CODE) office, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The first thing that caught my attention as I reached the door was the graffiti and pictures sprawled on the wall that instantly told me this was going to be a cool place to work. As I sat across from Hamzat Lawal (Chief Executive of CODE) telling him why I wanted to volunteer with CODE, honestly, I was clueless about how I was going to be of help to the organisation. I knew I wanted to volunteer because at the time, I was newly out of a job and felt that I could do some pro-bono work for an organisation and I was referred to CODE. The conversation was at best awkward as I grappled with what to say.
I remember Hamzy (as he likes to be called) saying that the organisation needed someone to support the communications team, especially around social media. Wow! Social media was not really my thing I thought. Although I knew enough about social media, I hadn’t jumped on the bandwagon of using it daily and just caught up with it from time to time (I love technology but social media… let’s leave for another discussion). But, after much inner turmoil, I agreed. I was determined that I had something to give and determined that I would add value to the CODE team. And to be honest after seeing that cool graffiti, who wouldn’t want to work here? I had to be that ‘someone’!
On reaching home, I started to think about all the things I believed I could bring to the team. I listed all my strengths and how I thought these would benefit the organisation and so began my journey with CODE. I started off by working with the communications team at CODE, supporting the team to draft and edit documents. The programme’s team also asked me to support in drafting project proposals, from this, I was given the opportunity to lead an application for the 100 million & Change MacArthur grant. A task that not only challenged me but enhanced my perseverance and team skills.
Working at CODE also helped me to tap into my creative side. New ideas were welcomed and celebrated, and this was one of the best things I loved about volunteering with CODE. The air felt light. I was unaccustomed to the idea of an open-door and easy access policy with senior management in a workplace. I remember walking in on a Monday morning to pitch an idea to Hamzy and he said go run with it, I was taken aback, but I ran with it. The focus here was not really on bureaucratic processes or not making mistakes, it was about how what we do can positively impact people’s lives across Nigeria and Africa.
At the heart of CODE’s work is a determination to bring social change to marginalized and vulnerable communities and this drives the people who work here. It was palpable, I felt it in the way each staff member worked, their drive, their passion, young people, who are determined that public funds work for the people; young people who are determined that Nigeria becomes a better place; young people who are ready to go to the most remote and hard-to-reach communities to empower them to demand for essential public services. Their words, their pictures, their videos of work in communities across Nigeria says it all and more. What they want, what they work for, what they fight for, what they envision is for every community in Nigeria to have access to quality schools, health care centres and WASH facilities in order to end extreme poverty and inequality.
One thing I realised from this experience is that, it is important to challenge yourself. You may be at the start or the pinnacle of your career but there is always something new to learn. It also reinforced in me that it is important to do what you love because your passion will drive you to excel and be excellent. Find you niche and slay at it.
For many young people out there, my advice is to actively seek out volunteer positions, not only do these roles help you gain new skills, help you to meet new people and expand your world, they can also be a pathway into an exciting career path. For organisations, I encourage you to take on volunteers. What many young people need especially in a country like Nigeria with a myriad of challenges is an opportunity.
If given another opportunity, I will gladly volunteer for CODE again as I immensely enjoyed working with the organisation.
Although as they say in CODE, no one ever really leaves CODE, so, I’m still a CODER!