In a pursuit for greater being, a lot of people try their best possible to make ends meet to carry on the legacies of their families while others strive to thrive in order to not just enjoy the fruit of their labour, but mostly to help better the lots of others and be the voice of the voiceless.
They become the lead to pave way for others as they shine on. Such is the life of Chimezie Judemary Udechukwu, who is fondly called “Ojisi”. He is an albino saturated with a goal to dispel the notion that albinism is a form of disability. As a motivation to a broad array of young Africans like him, Udechukwu has gone extra miles to embark on change projects both in Nigeria and West Africa at large.
In this interview with Eustace Dunn, a US-based Legit.ng contributor, he reveals his journey into tapping from his talent and helping the society despite being an albino.
Read excerpts from the interview below:
Recently you shared one hundred dictionaries at a school located in Lagos, what prompted this innovation?
Growing up, I have always been fascinated with the Dictionary. I grew up learning words on my own, enjoying Dictation classes. For me, learning new words was a new strategy for building confidence and not letting the many snide remarks and taunts I get about my skin color weigh me down. Call it my own way of getting back at the world and you won't be wrong.
Sometimes in 2008 while in second year of my university days, I went through a Youth Leadership Programme with LEAP Africa and it taught me more about confidence and importance of self-awareness. For me self-awareness comes from self-knowledge. I have always had the idea of doing this because it improves learning but I have been running away from it because I sincerely don't know how to ask people for something. The fear of rejection rather than pride stops me. But now I have learned that I can't always get things done all by myself.
It is quite appalling when you speak with kids these days and their grammar and sentence construction is nothing to write home about. Chatting with them is even sickening owing to wrong tenses and silly abbreviations. Last year, with the Rotaract Club of Awka GRA, District 9140, we were able to give out 20 dictionaries, math sets and over 200 exercise books. We raised funds through the support of friends.
This year, I was ambitious! We got a school in Ajegunle in Ikorodu, another in Agboju, old Ojo Road and we are looking for 3 more schools. The goal was to give at least 30 Dictionary to JSS students to aid them in their written and spoken English.
Through Vweta Chadwick, Global Programme Coordinator at www.projectasha.org the school in Ajegunle was secured. All I did was ask friends and family to give me a Dictionary at N1,000 each as their gift to mark my 30th birthday. People choose to go to Orphanages for their birthdays, I chose to spend my 30th birthday anniversary helping kids dare to dream and also show them how to cream their dreams by empowering them with the right resources.
What can you say about your family and growing up?
I am the sixth of seven children. From Umuezeawala village, Ihiala town in Ihiala local government area, Anambra State, Southeast Nigeria. Growing up was interesting as well as challenging. I grew up with my siblings and parents in a one room and parlor flat in Festac Town. Daddy was once a police officer and mum was a teacher. Ensuring that seven children were raised and educated wasn't a mean feat. We couldn't leave on their meagre earnings so we had to support.
Everyone except my younger brother hawked and sold things to make ends meet. Right from a tender age, we were introduced to street life. We sold vegetables, yams, fruits, pap (ogi). We had a shop in front of the house and we all took turns in staying in the shop after school.
On Saturday mornings, I hawked pap. After school in the afternoon, I sold food items. It was notna wonderful experience, but when you think of the fact that if you don't make sales, there won't be food, school fees and other upkeep. So we had to put in more efforts. There were times when we had to eat once. Mum made tremendous sacrifices for us to all grow up well.
I never believed I would turn out this way. When you consider all the challenges, taunts and limitations. But here I am, though I miss both parents, I am glad I had that rugged childhood because perhaps I wouldn't appreciate the level of service that I give today.
When can you recall becoming an ardent change agent?
I started out in 2002. When I first joined my youth group, the Catholic Youth Organization of Nigeria (CYON) in my local Parish at FESTAC Town, Lagos, Southwest Nigeria. I would then be more inspired after undergoing the Youth Leadership Program (YLP) organized by LEAP Africa in 2008, since then I have never looked back. I have gone on to offer my volunteer services in different organisations across Nigeria.
You have belonged to several groups in Nigeria in pursuit for better generation of Nigerian youth and Africa at large, can you mention these groups and the positions you’ve held.
I started out with CYON in my parish as PRO II, 2002-2004; I was head of my class in the department of political science, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, as the class representative for 4 years 2006-2010. In 2008-2009, I represented my department, in the Students Representative Council (SRC). There I was chairman, House committee on media and publicity.
Prior to that time, I was elected Director of Socials, Nigerian Federation of Catholic Students (NFCS) Unizik in 2007. Elected Treasurer of the Rotaract Club of Unizik from 2009-2010.
Founding Secretary General, Nigerian Model United Nations Society, Unizik Chapter, 2008-2010. I received the most influential and most popular awards for the political science Department Students Association. In Rotaract Unizik, I received best inducted, Most Outstanding Awards. In 2010, I attended the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards Program where I received the Man O' War Blue Badge for Most Outstanding Participant and also Best Director for our Drama.
Between 2011 and 2012, I went for National Youth Service, in Taraba, Northeast Nigeria. During the three weeks orientation camp in Wukari, I was the duty continuity announcer cum on air personality of the orientation broadcast service. As a Catholic Youth, I joined the National Association of Catholic Corps Members, Taraba, and was elected the state choir master.
Upon my return from NYSC the following week, I was invited by my youth chaplain, Holy Family Catholic Church Festac Town, Lagos Nigeria, Rev Fr Simon Okelezo, to come help rebuild the youth group. I was to serve as deputy chair of the caretaker committee. This was in March of 2012. In June of that same year, I was elected the Assistant Coordinator of the Badagry Deanery CYON. It was a much bigger responsibility. That same June, I had gathered some young people, charged by the Rotary club of Amuwo to establish a Rotaract club in the Amuwo community.
On the 4th of June, 2012, we received our charter certificate and I was elected vice president, president elect and the chair of the charter presentation and fundraising committee. Later that year in November, I was appointed the chair of second edition of the Lagos Archdiocesan Youths Award, by the then president of CYON Lagos Archdiocese, Mr Babatunde Smart. 2012 ended on a high note for me as I received SLAM youth heroes award for youth leader of the Year. There I was described as “a hope for Nigeria”.
In January of 2013 I was elevated to the position of the coordinator of Badagry deanery CYON. My duty entailed providing leadership, supervision and guidance for over 3,000 Youths in over 27 Catholic parishes within the deanery.
That same month precisely on the 20th, I lost my Mother to the cold hands of death. After her burial in February, I commenced my Master of Science degree program at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). I enrolled in for peace studies and conflict resolution. I finished my MSc in December of 2015. 2013 was my most challenging year. I had to juggle CYON, Rotaract and School coupled with personal commitments. I was Deanery Coordinator, Archdiocesan Committee Chair, Rotaract Club President and student.
By June 30th 2014, my tenure as both Deanery Coordinator and Club President had been concluded. My Rotaract Club was among the 4 Clubs out of over 40 within the District to receive the Rotary International Presidential Citation Award. We were just in our second year and got over 10 nominations in the District Awards.
In July of 2014, I was appointed the Chair of the District Editorial Committee. My team and I did our best to bring back the District Representative Newsletter back in circulation. That same year, I received news of my election as Vice President, Mobilization, LEAP Africa national alumni body.
In January 2015, I attended the Ghana International Model United Nations. It was the Sixth Session. I represented France in the simulation of the Security Council. I received the Honorable Mentioned Award. I was also given the service-above-self-award by the Rotaract district 9110. I would then be appointed as president of the Security Council, at the first session of the
International Model United Nations Nigeria (IMUNN) Conference. I presided over a committee of 15 amazing Africans. In Rotaract, I was chair of the district editorial committee as well as the vice chair of the district investiture and fundraising committee. Same year saw my appointment as an assistant district Rotaract representative in charge of four zones with about 24 Rotaract clubs. I also double as the chair of the editorial committee.
The year 2016 began with my appointment as the Secretary General IMUNN 2016. My 2016 just got more interesting with my election unopposed as the Provost, Unizik NFCS national alumni body.
How do you manage your functions in the various organisations you belong vis a vis other responsibilities especially with the demise of your parents?
I have always believed that my purpose on earth is to serve as a conduit pipe, connecting people to their purpose. The passion for service drives me. It's not easy but I am emboldened by the success of the little efforts I make to change the environment around me.
I have been called names, some people see me as the guy who doesn't want to make money, but I believe that the best language of peace is service. By my service, I develop myself, I make impact. My dad died in April 2004 and one of his greatest legacies to me is living the life that counts. He taught me about the value of having a good reputation. He was a peaceful man who taught me firsthand, the essence of service above self.
Both wouldn't have objected, although dad would frown at the late night meetings, the projects that took me travelling. But if he sees that it develops and builds up educationally, then he wouldn't mind. My mum was a teacher for 33 years before she retired. She also understood the importance of service and personal development.
You have functioned in most of these (if not all) groups and organisations without the monetary value, how has it been for you?
Truth be told, I spend personal funds I get from donations and also doing some small jobs here and there. I like to say I speak, I compere, I volunteer. The compere (MC) jobs don't come often, but I live by the grace of God.
I believe that we must add value first. The Igbos have a say that Oge 'Chukwu kam mma" - God's time is the best. I have never doubted. I believe I have to do these things first, then the pecuniary gains will follow in the near future.
What would you say is your most cherished talent?
My ability to speak... to speak eloquently with elocution
Talk about your United Nations programme and recent travel to Ghana.
In the 1920s, the Model United Nations used to be conferences reproducing the League of Nations’ model. Such opportunities were created to show students the importance of learning peace, dialogue and cooperation in order to avoid war, so as to learn how to defend their country’s interest. Since then, MUNs have started becoming more popular, and are now one of the most important exercises of diplomacy.
A Model United Nations (also known as Model UN or MUN) is an educational simulation and academic competition in which students learn the art and act of diplomacy, international relations, and the operations of the United Nations. MUN involves and teaches public speaking, research, debating, writing skills, in addition to critical thinking, teamwork, and leadership, communication and presentation, negotiation, bargaining, consensus building skills.
Participants in the Model UN conferences are referred to as delegates, and are placed in committees and assigned countries which they represent in the General Assembly and specialised UN Committees and agencies. They are presented with their assignments in advance, alongside topics that their assigned committees will discuss. Delegates conduct research before conferences and formulate positions that will empower them debate logically with other delegates. Since it is also an academic competition, awards are given to best-performing officials and delegates in each committee.
This year, owed invited by the organizers of GIMUN16 to come serve as moderator for the special forum on the SDGs in conjunction with the United Nations University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA) located on the campus grounds of the University of Ghana, Legon.
It had 30 participants in the forum. We had guest facilitators and also debated on the theme “Natural Resources Management in Africa, should Africa focus on agriculture or industry development.” It was an amazing experience and at the end of it, we submitted our report to the GIMUN 2016 UNU-INRA Officials.
International Model United Nations Nigeria (IMUNN) is a platform that offers young people all over the world equal opportunity to build skills in diplomacy, international relations, public speaking and knowledge about the United Nations and world events. It involves deep research, critical thinking and teamwork, and further helps the individual develop the art of leadership and communication.
The IMUNN platform is committed to building world leaders capable of communicating across borders and compelled to find solutions for global good, because the world is traveling along a trajectory of interdependence. It is therefore our hope that the way and manner in which young people get actively involved in current global trends, especially when such efforts are poised towards proffering lasting solutions to the most pressing of solvable human problems, the better a place the world would be for us all.
In leading major change initiatives, what are different ways that you have overcome the natural tendency of most people to resist your change ideas?
First is confidence. I always exude confidence in whatever I do. People can easily get you to change your ideas if you lack confidence. So I always am confident especially when I know what I am doing. Knowledge of project is key. When you know what you want to do, you can't easily be influenced to let it go. I am naturally a stubborn person and my stubbornness boosts the confidence. This, people misconstrue for arrogance. I tend to blend my stubbornness with persistency and consistency and it helps me pull through. Sometimes too, I talk my way through, showing reasons especially with superior arguments on why my change idea should be accepted. You see, people need to know that there are other ways to theirs and this must be shown to them through superior arguments.
There may have been a specific time when one of the projects you embarked on hit a road block, how did you react and what did you do to overcome the impediments?
There was this time at the Rotaract Club of Amuwo Main when we scheduled a program called ASPIRE our flagship career mentoring program for Senior High School students at a particular school. We had got all the necessary approvals to come visit the students only for us to be notified less than a week that it wasn't going to be possible. It was a project we had planned for.
Of course the news was devastating but because I had long told myself that life would either give you a yes or a no and not a maybe, we quickly integrated into another project happening almost that week and it was a huge success. Lessons learned was to always have an open mind when planning a project. Anything can happen even at the eleventh hour.
As a graduate of political science, what do you think Nigerian government is not doing right at the moment?
For me, the political class are not being sincere. The government is made up of people who are only concerned about immediate gratifications. Once they begin to look at the future, the coming generation; understanding that politics in itself as espoused by Jeremy Bentham lays emphasis on doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people, then we won't make any headway.
Our government must put Nigeria first in all its polices. It's no longer about PDP or APC but about Nigeria. Our government must strategically begin to divest our economy. It must pay more attention to the needs of its Youths whose teeming population any right thinking government shouldn't ignore.
Our government must know that investing right in our education system is the best option for it, the most important gift any nation can bequeath its young. If we get our education right, then it would have a multiplier effect in other facets of our lives. This would lead in the value reorientation that is most needed at this stage of our national growth.
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As an albino who has worked against all odds to break the jinx of negligence and discrimination, what exactly would you like to correct about the notion people have on albinism?
Simple. That albinism is not a disability. This is one reason why I won't associate myself with the Albino Foundation. They operate from a point of weakness, seeking pity, rather than pushing forth the strengths of its members. The mentality they imbibed has a negative impact on them because they see themselves as disabled. When you operate from that perspective, then there is nothing you can achieve except those with abilities come to your aid. I refuse to accept that I am disable. I am not my hair, I am not my skin color, I am the soul that lives within; I am wonderfully and fearfully made. I can hold my own anywhere.
From your heart, speak to other change agents and albinos who feel that all hope is lost. Never say never! The glory days are ahead. The future belongs to those who prepare for it today and you can't survive alone in this world. We all need each other. Serving humanity by creating values is a sure means of building your reputation. To those like me, a lack of melanin isn't a death sentence. What we lack in pigmentation, we abound in intellect! You just have to reach within and discover the talents inherent.
Most times, when we bring change to a place, people refused not because they hate you, but because they lack the capacity to comprehend what you have. It is up to you to be confident.
There is a difference between confidence and arrogance, let them see confidence in you! Always believe in what you do and do what you believe in. Think it! Believe it! Work at it! Achieve it!