How I restore hope to 500 households, 50 schools in 154 days – Corps member

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His is a story of a patriotic Kogi born Nigerian youth, fired by the zeal to contribute his qota to ensure happiness of other members of the community where he served as a corps member in Kwara state.

He ensured his dogged determination record success and got rewarded with automatic by the local government where he served. Indeed, he is a shinning example for Nigerian youths to emulate in their contribution to the development of the country in all facets of life.

A global change maker and multiple award winner, Emmanuel Oluwasayomi Ahmadu, popularly known as Mr Voiceover, is a Nigerian Voice-Over Artiste, Writer, budding Nollywood Actor, Brand Ambassador, and an SDG Advocate as well as a Volunteer. To add to credit, he is a 2019 Batch B, Stream II Corps Member who used his talent and resources to restore hope to 500 households and to 50 secondary schools across three local government areas of Kwara State. His impact did not go unnoticed as got a recommendation letter from NYSC State/National awards and employment by the Ilorin East Local Government Authority, where he served.

In this interview with our correspondent, he shared his thoughts, impact and aspirations.

Can we meet you?
My name is Emmanuel Oluwasayomi Ahmadu, professionally known as Mr Voiceover, a 2019 batch B, stream II and serving corps member in Ilorin East Local Government Secretariat in Oke-Oyi Community and a graduate of Mass Communication from University of Benin (UNIBEN). I hail from Kabba-Bunu Local Government Area of Kogi State. By God’s grace, I am a multiple award winner honoured on national and international scene, based on my innovative solutions to career and societal development. My recent viral success story before NYSC mobilization was a great motivation for me to further contribute my problem-solving skills and passion toward the advancement of my state of deployment.

Did you have anything in mind to contribute to your state of deployment, prior to your mobilization?

Ahmadu:Yes, I did. I had written plans to solving the problems affecting national development right from my final year in the University and seeking opportunities to solve them right from the community level. One of the major problems on my list is tackling the global menace of depression which has emerged as a predominant challenge in Nigeria, leading to young persons and adults taking their own lives and indulging in societal vices. This I believe is due to their inability to cope with societal pressures, thereby giving rise to hopelessness, cultism, examination malpractices, drug abuse, rape, robbery.

Others are; trafficking, prostitutions, school dropouts, teenage pregnancy, internet frauds, suicide and other societal misconducts prevalent among adolescents and youths in the country.

From the study I made, I discovered that depression is a mental illness that occurs in different stages which ranges from the mild stage to the moderate stage and to the severe stage. In the mild stage of depression, the individual experiences some symptoms of which is the best time to seek help or professional counsel before they get worse. I discovered that most people don’t speak up to get help from the appropriate professional quarters or they do not know where to go when they face mental distress. They rather prefer to endure the pain and die in silence. This continues unless they are able to find trust to share their pain with someone who won’t judge them or better still, someone who have gone through similar or worse experience and have come out strong. So I planned to make it one of my personal community development projects to host ‘Mental Health Awareness And Sensitization Programmes’. This , I am optimistic wi serve as platform to bring together survivors, relevant NGOs, agencies, mental health advocates and free professional mental health services to the people at their door steps; in schools, campuses, communities, mosques, churches and other social institutions in order to meet the psychological and mental needs of these people and give them a reason to be joyful once more.

Were you able to execute these projects before the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic?
Ahmadu:By God’s grace, I was able to successfully execute the “Mental Health Awareness and Sensitization Programmes” before the covid-19 pandemic started thereby restoring hope to thousands of young people in 50 most populated selected secondary schools spread across 3 local government areas of Kwara State in a bid to tackle the menace of depression and suicide prevalent among young people. The project was executed in 153 days, aside the 1 day community project that I embarked on during the pandemic themed, “Tackling the global menace of covid-19 in Kwara State” which launched in Ilorin East Local Government Secretariat in Oke-Oyi community where I am serving my fatherland. The entire projects restored hope to more than 120,000 young people and adults spread across the community and across the 50 selected secondary schools in the state capital.

During the period of the pandemic till the end of your service year, did you carry out other projects?
Ahmadu:Yes.The negative impact of the covid-19 pandemic on the lives of the community dwellers where I am posted to serve drew my attention and made me think of problem solving plan to alleviate their pain.

I led my team to embark on an awareness and sensitization campaign to back government’s efforts in curbing the spread of the rampant Corona virus across the state. With the recorded number of 151 cases. I thought it would be wise to create a sensitization campaign to aid efforts of reaching out to my host community who are vulnerable and lack awareness.
The campaign was tagged ‘Tackling the Global Menace of COVID-19 in Kwara State’ which was launched on the 13th of May at Oke-Oyi Local Government Secretariat in Ilorin East, Kwara State. My team collaborated with the COVID-19 team in Kwara state alongside the State Government and other advocates to launch the distribution of COVID-19 preventive kit (face masks) to 500 households within the Oke-Oyi community and its suburbs.
The sensitization campaign was readily supported by NYSC, advocate groups, NGOs, youth and community leaders which happened to be a success. Beneficiaries, community leaders and local government authority acknowledged and applauded my team for the commendable initiative.

What inspired the projects you carried out?
Ahmadu:Firstly, God is the greatest source of my inspiration and secondly, my story of being a victim of broken home from early age and was enrolled into 16 primary schools, attended 14 secondary schools, suffering changing of schools within shortest intervals, thereafter loosing my father during the life threatening ordeals. The repeated changing of schools from early age made me to
write the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) five times and writing O’level Examination 17 times in 5 years before I secured admission into the University, yet, I did not quit.

Despite the pain of family challenges, academic failures, setbacks and societal expectations that bewildered me, alongside the depression that submerged me which led to thoughts of suicide, I summoned up the courage to face these setbacks squarely which has helped me muscle my way through the crowd. By God’s grace and mercy, I have represented the University of Benin, Kogi State And Nigeria to win several national and international award competitions and honours, thereby being celebrated by the University’s Vice Chancellor and by Nigeria’s Presidency. As if that is not enough, my story equally gained global attention, reportage and interviews from several national and global media channels, including on “Great Stories” on BBC, “Great Big Story” on CNN (ongoing) ITV News, GALAXY TV, TVC Nigeria amongst other numerous national newspapers, TV and radio stations globally.

Being a serving Corps member, despite all I have faced, it is a dream come through for me and I vow to give everything it takes to touch lives and restore hope to people, especially adolescents and youths during my service year and afterwards. This is because they are the most hit with mental health issues. I am glad God help me to achieve the project.

How did you get sponsor that helped in facilitating these projects?

Ahmadu:”I started pushing for sponsorship and partnerships with unstoppable zeal while I was undergoing the three weeks orientation camp. I could remember that I never ceased to approach Mrs Esther Ikupkolati, the then State NYSC Coordinator, on my project plan and she gave me the full support through her office. I volunteered with The Red Cross Society Of Nigeria, Kwara State chapter while I was on camp and they gave me great support that got me featured on the World Suicide Prevention Day, Kwara State, which I attended a day after leaving the camp. I approached several government and private organizations, seeking for partnership. All resources and funds needed were contributed from different organizations and individuals. Most of them were peopl readily committed to the cause of suicide prevention. One of them is Suicide and Depression Awareness Foundation (SADAF) which linked me up, freely, with what my money could afford.
My call for volunteers ushered in UNILORIN students, KWASU Students and others with burning zeal for humanitarian services. At this point, I could use the power of collaboration with energetic youths to achieve the global goals. The Nigerian Red Cross Society was of a great assistance with their volunteers, technical advice and resources during the outreaches. The Ministry of Education also provided me with easy access in reaching out to the management of the 50 most populated selected secondary schools across Ilorin East, Ilorin West and Ilorin South and the schools we visited released their halls, classes, public address system and everything necessary to successfully hold the sensitization programmes that impacted the lives of the students and members of staff positively. Also, linkage from volunteers gave us free airtime to use NTA in Kwara, Midland Fm, Sobi FM, Harmony FM, Kwara Radio, for suicide prevention sensitization through sharing my experience as source of hope. The outcome of the whole event was pushed to feature on the State NYSC Batch A Magazine, Leadership Newspaper, National Pilot Newspaper, ALAROYE Newspaper, Vanguard Newspaper, People’s Daily Newspaper, Duaglobalnews and of course, several others, all for free. Thanks to Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) which gave professional and technical assistance to my team.
I was triggered with empathy for the vulnerable community dwellers in Oke-Oyi community and surbubs who were living unprotected and uninformed about the global pandemic. I swung into action to provide protective kits (face masks) for 500 community households and sensitized the community dwellers on safety measures. The Ilorin Local government authority, National Volunteer Group advocates, Voiceover Foundation, Drith Solutions NGO, NYSC, Kwara Covid-19 support team, community traditional rulers and leaders all greatly supported the success of the project.

What were the personal CDS Projects you executed?
Ahmadu:Firstly, I executed a personal community development service project on Mental Health Awareness And Sensitization Programme, focused on tackling the rising problem of depression,a major contributor to societal vices and suicide in Nigeria, especially among young people. The project was held across 50 selected secondary schools in Ilorin East, Ilorin West and Ilorin South of Kwara State.
Secondly, I launched the distribution of COVID-19 preventive kit (face masks) to 500 households within the Oke-Oyi community and its suburbs. I also embarked on a safety sensitization campaign, teaming up with NYSC, Kwara state Covid-19 technical team, advocates and NGOs, Red Cross Society, National Volunteer Group and community leaders. With this,we were able to support the running of the safety and awareness campaign from house to house across the community on tackling the global menace of COVID-19 in Kwara State.

How about volunteers, How did you get them to be in sink with the Projects?
Ahmad:Indeed, getting volunteers to facilitate the sensitization projects was one of the easiest part of the project. My team was able to judiciously use their social media networks, WhatsApp groups, corps members networks, campus students networks and community dwellers networks to effectively drive the projects home to achieve our objectives. At first, I created a group on WhatsApp for volunteers, stating the relevant fields where volunteers are needed as part touching the project execution. In less than three days, we had almost 250 volunteers as mental health professionals, survivors, NGOs, Mental Health Advocacy agencies, medical doctors, anti-depression advocates, campus students in medical and public health, social workers, family councilors residing in the various local government areas and readily available before the project kickstarted. Although we got more volunteers when the project was ongoing. We wrote letters and posted them on the ground so that volunteers can print and submit them to the selected schools in their neighbourhoods while we expect feedback on the date to visit.
At first, the mental health awareness and sensitization project was designed to reach selected schools and communities across the 16 LGAs. I was later informed that the project scope was beyond what NYSC can approve. So It was limited to 3 local government areas within Ilorin metropolis where I’m serving.
The support I got from Suicide And Depression Awareness Foundation (SADAF) team, Red Cross Society, World Health Organisation (WHO), National Orientation Agency (NOA) team, Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) team, World Suicide Prevention Day organised by Samuel Dike Omaka and many other NGOs and agencies that eventually served as a boost to the project.

How would you describe the impact of the projects?

Ahmadu:The project can be likened to a rescue project that served as a ray of hope to thousands of adolescents and youths going through different categories of probs.

These range from mental health issues ranging from depression, despair, suicidal thoughts and attempts, hopelessness, low self-esteem caused by social and economic pressure, broken homes, failure, traumatic experiences, rape to abuse amongst others.

Having opened up on my life threatening experiences to the students and how I came out strong from it, they were touched by the story. With the pieces of evidence, they saw and we received lots of written questions from the students afterwards of which the mental health experts and agencies handled professionally.l did a follow up on them with support of the school management. It was at this point that I realized young people face a lot of pressure daily, leading to stress, hopelessness, depression, failures, abuse, suicide thought, fear, despair etc. These people usually do not like to talk about their problems or are scared to open up on their mental health conditions and as a result, the much attention required is not given to it.
Relevant stakeholders should rise up and team up with survivors of related mental health conditions to address this menace, reach out to schools – elementary, middle and tertiary, religious organizations and social institutions with the goal of saving the vulnerables. The aim for doing this is to give ears to victims as well as provide solutions to their problems through restoration of hope.
Also, the level of joy and appreciation expressed by the beneficiaries of the COVID-19 preventive kits distributed to 500 community households in Oke-Oyi community and suburbs was indeed a massive impact. The community dwellers and leaders showered prayers on me for taking up the initiative. Many community members thought the gesture was shown by the government to them, not until they were told that it was from a corps member. I was really happy that I was able to solve a problem. I wish I could do more.

How were you able to manage the responsibility of being a CDS President and your personal projects?
Ahmadu:Well, being the President of the Service Delivery, a Community Development Service group, saddled with the vision of sensitizing the masses on the danger of drug abuse and other prevailing societal problems at schools, communities, market squares, motor parks, radio, TV and other media on under the NYSC scheme was a great opportunity for me to serve diligently. I also sought support for my personal project from appropriate quarters. The office enabled me to allign with other CDS Presidents and seek volunteers to facilitate my project.
I ensure my time table wasn’t clashing with that of the CDS programmes and I also delegated responsibilities where it’s required while I supervised closely. I discovered that the most important thing in working with people from various backgrounds is understanding, humility and establishing team work. I made the CDS group look more like a big family, where everyone can have his or her say and share opinions on my performance and on the progress of the CDS group. I was able to initiate innovative programmes and outreaches that would be benefiting to lives, especially on sensitizing people on safety measures against the COVID-19 pandemic, via media and CDS projects which were commissioned under my administration. In a nutshell, I was able to marry both my personal project and being a CDS president by God’s grace.

How did you cope with your Place of Primary Assignment (PPA) while running your projects?
Ahmadu: There is a popular saying that when there is will, there is a way. My first day in office gave me an indication that I was in the right place. About 5 days to when I resumed work, I had a vigil where I sincerely prayed that God should create an instance for miracle on my project and story. To my greatest amazement, immediately I resumed office, I prayerfully opened up on my story and my project and letting my boss know how depression is on the increase, leading many adolescents and youths to suicide and other vices, which I cited recent cases of suicide in Kwara State at that time. Her attention was drawn and her insterest gained. Immediately she held my hand and took me to meet her boss and I was further taken to the local government chairman’s office where I shared my story and how my project would benefit the 16 local governments of the state in tackling mental health issues. The same minute, I was taken to Kwara State Government House on a schelduled meeting with the Deputy Governor, on the project execution across the 16 local government areas of the state. Although I must say that there are still some delay till now on the part of the state government on the execution.
In a nutshell, my PPA gave me the support needed in terms of time, fatherly and motherly advice and encouragement. Whenever I go to work, I was usually asked about the progress of the project and I was always granted permission to embark on any of my outreaches.
In the long run, the Ilorin East Local Government authorities handed over a letter of recommendation to NYSC state and national awards as well as recommending me for placement in the state’s public office so as to encourage the good works to thrive in the state, thereby reducing mental health issues among adolescents and youths which is undoubtedly becoming rampant.

What is your advice to other serving corps members and prospective Corps members?
Ahmadu:It is important for a serious minded corps member and prospective corps member to make him/herself relevant to the society while still serving, through whatever problem solving ideas he or she has. The world is no more bothered about whatever number of degress you have or the world class institutions you attended, but the problems you are able to solve with all that you have acquired over time.
All that is needed to be done by corps members or prospective corps members is to think outside the box and find problems that are peculiar to the people in their host communities, then strategically sketch out plan in solving the problems. Corps members need to realize that the service year is a symbol of the future they’ve dreamed about and should be taken as a stage to equip and development themselves with needed skills to solve societal problems in various industries that they eventually find themselves.

What are your aspirations after the service year?
Ahmadu:My aspiration is to be the hope in the mind of a troubled adolescent and youths in Africa and the world at large.
In recent times, millions of people have been thrown into hopelessness and depression in Nigeria, affecting both the rich and the poor due to the impact of the global pandemic (Covid-19). It has been predicted, by World Health Organisation (WHO), that depression will rise in 2020 to become the second most prevailing health problem in the history of the world. This will lead to increased suicide rates, societal misconducts and mental health issues.
Most Nigerians, especially adolescents and youths face a lot of pressure daily, leading to stress, hopelessness, depression, failures, abuse, suicide thought, fear of what the future holds, despair, low self-esteem etc. These people usually do not like to talk about it or are scared to open up and as a result, the much attention required is not given to it. They they need someone who has gone through similar experience or worse situation, who can understand their pain and help them to regain hope.
Hence, being a survivor of depression, whose success story has gained global attention and reportage and has served as a source of hope to millions of people globally, I can effectively contribute toward tackling depression and suicide menace. Toward this end, I have written a precise proposal ready for submission to identifying my story as a symbol of hope with any telecommunication brand that sees mental security of Nigerians as a priority, both during the COVID-19 and post- covid-19. I wish to contribute my wealth of experience by partnering as an ambassador on corporate social responsibility with any telecommunication brand to serve as a platform where peoplegoing through societal pressures, hopelessness and traumas leading to depression and suicidal thoughts can speak up to get help through professional support.
Of course,we know this will be profitable to the telecommunication brand and a huge win over depression and suicide. There are more innovative solutions which I have developed aside this, and seeking partnerships with National, International brands and stakeholders to effectively drive the solutions to the grassroots and communities Nationwide.
Take for instance, in the United States, whenever people are faced with feelings of insecurity and emergencies they call 911 and the same applies to fire outreak in Nigeria, people call 112 or 119. When we are having mental insecurity, whom do we call?

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