How to Create Communities of Change Agents

While it may take a community to make a change, it is possible for a single person to change a community. Might you be that person?
 
I grew up in a small rural neighborhood in Nigeria. I lived in a community with many less privileged children and families. It was a community that it difficult to cope with the social, environmental, and economic crises of the time.
 
I watched my co-students leave school to defecate in the bush due to inadequate toilet facilities. They would walk miles through the forest paths to drink from a stream because of the school’s lack of potable water. Many schoolchildren wandered in bushes to search for fruits and nuts to eat because they needed calories to stay active while at school.
 
Our community has traditionally relied upon agriculture and land for its livelihood. However, the village has frequently experienced drought or excess rainfall, affecting the quality and quantity of crop production. Smallholder farmers are finding themselves dependent on the vagaries of climate and climate change.
 
I watched politicians walk into my community to campaign for votes. They promised to construct roads, build electric and water facilities, create a primary healthcare center, and improve the education system. These promises have gone unfulfilled.
 
I have watched many youths who neither attended school nor had jobs. Instead of becoming upstanding citizens, they enter into lives of criminality. An idle mind is said to be the devil’s advocate.
 
These are local problems with a global impact. They are a problem that affects both the community and the world. The problems are exacerbated by climate change and land degradation, which impacts global food systems and nations’ economies.
 
Change is possible. But it will not come from any one person, place, or process. We cannot simply look to others to solve our problems for us; and we cannot solve our problems alone. We need to become communities of change agents. Here is how we are trying to do this in our small community.
 
Mobilizing Community
 
In Africa, mainly rural Nigeria, vulnerable people suffer social, economic, and environmental injustices due to a lack of education, awareness, and skill sets needed to address their challenges. Communities require citizenship advocacy to help them understand the enormous powers bestowed on them to drive change. They need the right strategy to engage, collaborate and partner with one another, including governments and businesses, to bring genuine and lasting change.
 
Building a community of change agents requires patriotic and courageous minds. It calls upon people with the passion and the desire to create the same in others through advocacy and demonstration of leadership capacity. While it may take a community to make a change, it is possible for one person to change a community.
 
This is the idea behind my quest to bring people together irrespective of profession, language, religion, and geography to solve a common problem – people who think about how their social, economic, or environmental investment can transform a community.
 
Many fail to understand that every local problem, regardless of size, has a potentially global consequence. A government that fails to provide education, job skills, and startup incentives to its youth may have to invest its resources in fighting insecurity due to negligence.
 
Change agents do not simply discuss problems. Instead, they leverage their skillset, office, profession, contact, knowledge, and more to solve problems.

 

Planting Trees, Building Lives – And then a Tragic Fire
 
In 2018, we worked to empower some people from our local community to become change agents. We sought local people to empower economically, socially and environmentally. We did this by helping them plant “economic trees” – a project that allows locals to build a livelihood while simultaneously helping to make their local environment sustainable.
 
Youths Trained in Erosion Management Working with Donated Equipment
 
Uzor, a middle-aged man living in Ugiri in southeastern Nigeria, was among the people selected. Uzor and Oma, his wife, are deaf and unable to speak. As of 2018, they had five children. At this point, all seven members of the family lived in a single room.
 
During the peak of Covid19, I received a report from a resident in the community that Uzor’s one-room apartment had burned down. The fire left his wife and five-year-old daughter (Ugo) with third-degree burns. At the time of the fire, Oma was nine-months pregnant. Both Oma and Ugo were severely impacted. This was horrible news about a family whom we had selected to help.
 
At a time, the world was in lockdown due to the global Pandemic. Many people were suffering. I found it challenging to find support for this family. The hospital rejected them because they lacked money to pay any medical bills that would accrue. We began a campaign to raise funds to help pay the family’s medical bills and to purchase food and clothing.
 
Although she was in pain, Oma delivered a baby boy. But then, we were confronted with yet another challenge. Oma had lost both of her breasts as a result of the fire. She would never be able to breastfeed again. The Doctor confirmed she would have to rely on baby formula to feed her newborn. Baby formula is expensive. And when the affected family members were discharged, they had no house to accommodate the family of seven.
 
In 2018, this family had joined our nonprofit and volunteered to plant trees in their community. By 2019, the fire changed the plans we had made for them. They would not be able to support our mission. What should we do? It was a complicated decision. Our mission is not to build houses; it is to help communities create livelihoods and sustainable environments. Should we abandon this family because building houses fall outside of our mission?
 
Of course not! We started the task of constructing a home.
 
Ugo and her Mother in Front of their New Home after the Fire
 
Addressing this tragedy did not so much deviate us from our organizational mission as much as it clarified it. It made us realize that we were in the business of caring for people and caring for the people who preserve our shared earth. Between 2020 and 2022, through crowdfunding, RUWAI and its volunteers raised funds to build, complete, and turn over a new two-bedroom house with a modern toilet and kitchen facilities to the fire survivors.
 
I was informed it is one of the best homes in the Ugo rural community.
 
We didn’t just build a house for this family; we also established a new business for the middle-aged Uzor to help create a livelihood opportunity for his family.
 
Uzar with his Donated Kernel Cracking Machine
 
It is not easy to leverage social media and storytelling skills to bring people together to solve a problem – especially when the world is facing a pandemic and the nation’s economy is in distress. But it can happen. It is possible – even amidst hardship — to build a community of change agents. We didn’t have money. But we did have passion and people. People are the most important thing that we need to solve a problem.
 
Building a “We”
 
In founding Rural Watch Africa Initiative (RUWAI), we seek to inspire, teach and prepare people to take ownership and drive change. RUWAI, of course, is not about any single person. It is not about me (Uche). It’s about us – you, me, and the people of our communities. Our nonprofit is about making the process of bringing change possible and accessible for people and institutions who desire to make a change — regardless of race, sex, income or geographical differences.
 
Uche and a Group of Change Agents
 
None of us can be who we are alone. I cannot be me alone. You cannot be you alone. We come into being through each other. We become persons through other persons. Each of us becomes a person by being a part of a “we”. It is through community that we become who we are. This is why it is so important to build communities of change agents.
 
 
From Planting Trees to Harvesting Bees
 
We live in a technological age. Our technologies offer us new ways of building communities. Social media has been a useful resource in achieving our desire to serve and make a change in our community.
 
It was through social media that I found Tobias. Tobias has owned a honey production enterprise and has been practicing sustainable (modern) beekeeping for over ten years. It struck me that Tobias was the very model of a potential community change agent.
 
I approached Tobias and told him about our vision to inspire and help vulnerable local people learn how to solve their problems. I wanted him to help us help people lift themselves out of poverty and climate crises. Tobias became interested and agreed to help develop our nonprofit beekeeping program using the aggregator method.
 
Working with Tobias, we identified local communities who we thought would benefit from our assistance. RUWAI provided the logistics and training that helped beneficiaries start their business. We donated beehives to local individuals so they could establish their own bee farms. They receive long-term technical assistance from Tobias, our program coordinator.
 
Traditionally, bees in the tropical region of Nigeria form their colonies in tree trunks. Before introducing this improved method of keeping bees, farmers set trees and bushes on fire to harvest honey. The locals use this method for fear of being stung by the bees. The locals would visit the bush at night and light fire to trees housing bees to avoid bee attacks. They would then harvest the honey. Of course, this practice was unfriendly to both the bees and the environment.
 
Although this is a local problem, it has far-reaching environmental consequences. Such practices endanger and reduce the bee population in the community and the world. Burning trees contributes to deforestation, erosion, food insecurity, habitat loss, and climate change. Above all, it impoverishes vulnerable rural people.
 
Training locals to solve their problems for themselves is another example that shows how it is possible to create communities of change agents to make a difference in their local areas and the universe.
 
Tobias Introducing Bee Keeping Methods to Locals
 
At first, our intention was merely to solve a local problem. Soon, however, our passion grew. We had a desire to do more. Tobias felt inspired. He believed that he has the skills needed to increase the impact of sustainable beekeeping beyond our local community. As a result, between 2018 and 2022, through our beekeeping program, we have trained and empowered over 400 beneficiaries. The program has helped youths, women and men create jobs, increase food production, improve the local economy, and prevent nature damage.
 
 
Spreading the Word about Bee Keeping
 
By teaching these local farmers sustainable beekeeping, we have saved over ten thousand trees from being cut down and preserved more than 10 hectares of farmland from degradation. These women and youths are happy that they now have jobs and can continue to support their families and contribute to developing communities.
 
Leaving School in Search of Food?
 
When I saw primary school children leaving school to search for fruits and nuts, I knew there was such a huge problem begging to be solved. They were not in school and were performing poorly. What will their futures look like? How will this affect the future of our community?
 
These children leave school not because they choose to, but because they are hungry. When they enter the bush to forage, they expose themselves to a suite of dangers, from wildlife attacks, kidnapping, and even sexual assault.
 
How could we address the needs of these children? It is tempting to think of the situation as an intractable problem with no clear solution. Or we could think of it as an issue to be solved by others – by school officials, churches, or faraway governments. To be sure, such constituencies have important roles to play. But what if we were to think of the situation as an opportunity for local problem-solving? What if we were able to catch children when they were young? What if we can teach them to be part of the solution to their own problems?
 
Students Becoming Community Agents by Planting Trees in their School
 
RUWAI is helping students and others plant fast-growing fruit trees right in their primary and secondary schools. The trees bear fruit that improves children’s nutrition and prevents them from venturing into the hazards of the bush. These young people are learning to become future leaders as they plant trees. As schoolchildren learn to think for themselves and come up from behind, they simultaneously create passion, patriotism and opportunity. They are becoming instruments of change within their local communities.
 
Some students who plant trees do not directly benefit from them. Nonetheless, they are leaving a legacy for their community. We are further preparing these children for leadership through our Student Young Climate Action Ambassador Club. These students help to bring the practices of planting self-sustaining trees to other schools and communities. So far, we have been able to cover five schools serving communities of thousands.

 

People Are Our Most Important Resource
 
Planting fruit trees helps to solve a community’s systemic social problems. This simple act stimulates social, environmental, and economic change. In so doing, children learn the many benefits of planting trees, leadership, environment and citizen advocacy. Children learn to transform themselves and their communities.
 
The above examples are a few among the programs the nonprofit (Rural Watch Africa Initiative-RUWAI) is promoting to raise happy people who care for themselves and the planet.
 
Rural Watch Africa Initiative (RUWAI) was founded in 2016 and has reached 29 communities and more than 20 thousand people with impactful programs focusing on inspiring people to become change agents and build inclusive communities.
 
Our mission is to alleviate poverty and reduce ecological damage by teaching marginalized people living in rural areas to enhance their resilience, incomes, and living standards through agriculture, skills development, and new business ventures.
 
The achievements did not come without challenges. We live in communities that lack basic amenities — roads, water, electricity, schools, healthcare and more. Each remains a critical challenge facing rural people.
 
 
A Community of Change Agents
 
 
The solution to these problems begins with people. Finding people with passion and commitment is difficult – but key. Many may wish to support our efforts but may not understand or believe that genuine change is possible. But change is possible. Change can come when we adopt a change mindset.
 
Yes, we need material and human resources to help in the expansion program. But more than that, we need people. We need people like you to say, “Yes, it is possible.” I will learn how to make it possible. I will do something. If I can’t help in far-away places, I can certainly help within my own communities. I can start there, and perhaps widen my sphere of influence.
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Visit the RUWAI official Youtube channel for inspiring videos and documentaries
 
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAK1W8DGxhfM6P3TV0384iA. For inquiries about support, partnership or monthly/one-time donations visit our website at www.ruralwatchafrica.org. If you wish to write a check, you can do so through our Fiscal Sponsor, Fertile Ground Institute, USA or Global Giving Foundation. If you need more information or have any difficulty in doing any of these, send emails to info@ruralwatchafrica.org.

 

 

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