Slow and steady progress will eventually conquer environmental challenges in Nigeria, insists Ms Tony Joy, the national coordinator of “We Are Making A Difference,” an NGO based in Lagos, the capital city of Africa’s most populous nation.
“Every day, if I do something little to contribute to creating a solution to the big problem,” she says, “some day it will all count.”
The NGO, dubbed “WeAreMAD” (shorthand for “we are making a difference”), promotes sanitation in a country where waste looms with perilous implications for millions of the country’s residents. Tackling environmental eyesores opens a gateway to still bigger problems. Unmanaged dumpsites are ugly, to be sure, but more importantly, they spawn cholera, diarrhea and typhoid that sicken and kill children, women and men. Languishing waste sites also signal poverty and substandard education, especially in rural areas.
To promote a remedy in 2015, MAD enlisted hundreds of young people across nine states in Nigeria to start cleaning up refuse that marred the countryside. Urging all Nigerians to become more mindful of where trash should go, they named the program “Hold it till You Can Bin It.” Their goal: make Nigeria one of the world’s cleanest nations by 2020.
Volunteers get down and dirty, literally, The Guardian newspaper reported:
At Ijoka, the volunteers with gloves in hands, cutlasses, rakes and other tools worked enthusiastically to take off the mass of dirt and refuse from the gully upward to the waiting incinerator of Ondo State Waste Management Authority (OSWMA) heavy truck for safer disposal.
Mobilizing young people is a priority for Joy, who invites their creative solutions to environmental problems. “The big vision for this organization is a future where young people are connected and act together as agents of change,” she says.
Her determination to encourage creative expression has deep personal roots. Until her late teens, Joy recalls, she faced cultural oppression. “I was not allowed to be me,” she says. “I was not allowed to do things that I would have loved to do.” Talking freely about people or issues was not an option. “That is what kept anger within me. You can’t always tie me down. I need to see who I am going to be.” Today her numerous professional credits include membership in the Royal Commonwealth Society; associate director, Kids & Teens Rsource Centre. She was named a Queen’s Young Leader in 2015.
Joy’s rebellious spirit informs “We Are Mad.” She rejects the message that anyone is too young to make a meaningful difference in causes that matter to them. “I push hard to get more young people to believe that no matter how old they are, as long as they are guided properly they can do something with their lives.”