Young people need a solid ground to influence them. “I was inspired by the hard work my grandmother put in her life, which ensured that the opportunities my mother got trickled down to me. My grandmother would take me to orphanages where I had first-hand interactions with the challenges children my age were facing. When I was in primary school, my best friend was from a humble background. She barely had enough to eat at lunchtime. I secretly put food in her school bag. Unfortunately, she got into trouble with the school administration and was accused of theft. I tried to defend her, but people wouldn’t believe me. It was then that I realised that society has been tailored to favour those who are privileged,” Stepha narrates.
Experiences like this motivated her to start the P.E.E.G Initiative, a registered non-governmental organisation in Abuja, Nigeria. It creates opportunities for young people through Peace, Equality, Empowerment and Growth. “The four umbrellas focus on the issues that affect Africa. For example, Xenophobia affects peace in Africa, while promoting gender equality brings equal opportunities for men and women. Many young people lack access to education. We gather resources to assist those who don’t. Growth is very important in every stage of our lives as we are constantly changing and partnerships enable us to do more,” Stepha expounds on the back story of her organisation.
“When I was putting together a team for the organisation, I looked for young people who had gone through the government-sponsored Nigeria Youth Service who I could add value into their lives and were committed to serving the country. Like many African countries, Nigeria has a high unemployment and underemployment rate. Engagement through mentorship and service in communities is what brings me fulfilment.” she adds.
Meaningful youth engagement
“The most profound lesson I have learned about youth empowerment is that the fire within the youth is fanned by the availability of information. Young people are taking advantage of the information to be positive advocates. When I moved away from my comfort zone, I gained a broader understanding of the challenges young people go through,” she elaborates.
“We as Africans need to stop selling ourselves short. We need to be ready to open the doors to other people on the continent. Our society tends to beat down our fire and determination. When we are ready to create solutions to challenges, we go through restrictions like patriarchy. We can excel through our innovations, and it starts from appreciating our potential. Let us view ourselves with a positive mindset. You are good enough.” Stepha says.
Stepha’s advice to young people on starting similar initiatives is that the space is not for the faint-hearted. They shouldn’t do it for the money but because they are hungry for change. “Once you start, you need to shut down the negative comments from society. Create a vision board and state precisely what you want to achieve in your initiative. Align your work to global priorities like the Sustainable Development Goals. Partnering with other organisations will also enable you to expand the scope of your work.”