Today marks the anniversary of our first arrival in Nigeria, a milestone that at times we thought we would never reach. Has it been worth it, giving up 1/60th of my life for? Giving up time from a relatively trouble-free existence to try to make a miniscule difference, improvement, indeed, to the lives of a few of the children out here? I remember thinking when we first applied for VSO that I would be prepared to go anywhere in the world – except Nigeria! There had been , and still is a lot of bad press concerning this country, most of it well deserved on the political front. I knew Nigeria was going to be a tough place to live and work in but I have got to say that yes, it has been worth it, not least because it has taught me the fundamental truth that the vast majority of people here as elsewhere in the economically developing world are decent, hard-working, law abiding people who want little more than a fair deal in life, but who are frequently let down by those who are supposedly elected to lead them. This is where anger and frustration set in and you come to the conclusion – well I have – that people are looking for any small advantage, any hint of an opening that will enable them to move on and hopefully upwards. This is why we are constantly asked for money, asked what I have got for them, asked if I will sponsor them, asked for my pen, for my shoes, asked if I will take them with me when I return. And a year on, they know the answer I will give but they ask anyway. That corruption is ingrained here is beyond doubt as is the fact that is descends from the top. Nobody is under any illusion. Posters printed and presumably sanctioned by State or Federal organisations exhort people to say no to corruption and malpractice whilst in all probability their fingers are as coated in guilt as anybody else’s.
But as you travel and you meet people and listen to them telling you their stories and their hopes and dreams, you come to know and respect them, and yes to love them in the way that you earnestly want them to prosper and for the children to grow happily and have a fraction of the life chances that children in the UK spurn.
So, yes it has been worth it – even the bad times – and they’re probably not over yet!