In the heart of the following lines will lie one of the most memorable and enriching experiences that I have got to be a part of this summer. It all happened in a country that is part of a continent of a very distinctive geographical space that is big enough to cover both the northern and the southern temperate zones of our globe, a continent that is home to almost 17% of the world’s population: it all happened in Nigeria in the west of Africa. All too often, its reality has been defined and framed under the influence of eurocentrism stemming from Western colonialism, consequently giving rise to a historical bias in the way all of Africa, including Nigeria, has been looked at.
It was this summer that four of my colleagues and I got to experience the multiple tastes this country upholds, as we were fortunate enough to deploy our efforts in carrying out the STEAM summer camps in different cities and villages of Nigeria; STEAM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics, for children whose ages varied between 9 and 16 years. The discipline was aimed at presenting children with interdisciplinary applied knowledge that mainly spurs on adopting teaching methods promoting student-centred, and thus defying traditional teacher-centred, approaches; which usually eliminate the space that children get to revel in by expressing themselves and satisfying their curiosities. The camp’s core value lies in helping light up the children’s minds as it worked as a compass, guiding them in the various paths of science, and presenting them with skills that may eventually allow them to deploy experimental knowledge in solving dilemmas in their local realities.
It also invites them to adopt a “hands on” approach towards learning; to be able to make a mistake and try again.
The STEAM summer camp was made possible through collaboration of many different people, which I would like to mention before further exploring the challenges and complexities of our experience. The Program was initiated by Professor Hauwa Ibrahim, the director of the Peace Institute, an internationally acting NGO, and collaborated with the University of Rome Tor Vergata and Wellesley Centers for Women, Boston.
From the border control to every single house we have stepped in, we were welcomed with so many smiles, incredible hospitality, beautiful wise words, and amazing food of course! Yet what this experience has brought to me lies beyond that.
The month I have spent engaging with the children and the locals was truly hectic and exhausting, yet it has been the plot twist that has reshaped the vision I have always had when talking about Africa in general and Nigeria in particular. Candidly, I have realised how blind most of the world is about the potential that lies within the Nigerian youth, and how absent our efforts and our discourses are from their context. It’s as if we have sunk into the venom of our own stereotypical creations. This point in itself is, one of the major drivers that has brought the country’s probable youth- development down to its knees.
The workshops we have developed in STEAM were purely based on cherishing the potential in the students. Indeed, STEAM was perfectly fitted to the context in which we were operating, as it was formulated to develop low-cost sustainable “labs in-a-box “ to teach hands-on science experiments in elementary and middle schools without using many resources, as well as other environments. We were mostly aware of using materials found in local communities; in order not to strip them out of their own cultures. Every day of the camps we have conducted encompassed different topics and activities for each area of knowledge. Science for instance covered different topics of biology (genetics, fingerprint comparisons …), physics (frequency, period of pendulums…), and chemistry ( oobleck exploration, density , blood typing kits..). Mathematics included several activities as building dices, memory games, scavenger hunts, paper cup puzzles and many more. Technology and engineering proposed engaging activities as building electric circuits, pulley systems, building “da Vinci” bridges, and constructing vinegar rockets. Lastly, arts enabled the children to create individualised and collective art pieces that show who they are as learners and thinkers, as they have customized their own laser-cut wooden cubes, beaded, and drew!
One of the biggest challenges was the large number of participants to the camp. Between 200 and 500 students per camp we reached over 1000 students in total. While having the participants divided into a morning and afternoon session to ensure qualitative learning, providing enough materials for all the activities remained challenging. I was astonished of how they managed to be so actively engaged despite the material shortage, and the language barriers (as not all were familiar with the English language; the majority of them only spoke their local Hausa language). Indeed, enormous potential, plausible creativity and great passion were revealed.
Frankly speaking, all of this on the one hand has made me wonder why there is so much persistence on viewing “them” as the “other”? One thing I know is, if true development shall occur one day, the eradication of this vision is inevitable, as I find the continuation of this vicious cycle quite alarming for the future of these children. On the other hand, it has made me realize how critical it is to sustain projects holding the same nature as STEAM.
During our stay, we have done multiple visits to public offices and traditional title holders, and have encountered innovative youth, who were advocating contemporary entrepreneurial projects in diverse fields, such as agriculture, business…etc.
One of the things that I admired the most in these encounters is a phrase that was said by one of the public office title holders that we visited, that is, “if this world was ever to foster peace, then accepting and respecting the rainbow of cultures that resides in it is inevitable.” Indeed I have always believed that what shapes us, humans, at core lies within the intrinsic value of our differences. Out of this mere stream of thought , one must realize, we should not demolish our differences for the sake of uniting into one similarity , as our differences are what formulate the only similarity that brings us ‘all’ together ; we are all similar since we all are different.
Lastly I would say that, the need for opportunities in Nigeria far outweighs the need for aid and foreign intervention. What these children need is not only someone to teach them how to believe in themselves, or someone to help them widen their horizons, but someone who can bring out what already lies in them. As Professor Piga, the director of Global Governance, always says “we are looking for students who have something golden inside of them “. All of these children have something golden inside of them, they just need someone who is able to “see” it. It’s true that we might all have the same sights, yet constructing our subjective visions remains a choice. We shall not perceive what is apparent to be what shapes our narrative; there is always a concealed reality. Nigeria, beyond doubt, serves as a fulfilling vivid evidence that testifies for this principle.