A Journey of Discoveries
JANUARY 16, 2023
Caroline Obiageli Emeka-Ogbonna, IIE Rodman C. Rockefeller Fellow 2022-2023
IIE selected Dr. Caroline Obiageli Emeka-Ogbonna as a 2022–2023 Centennial Fellow to conduct field research in the Kaduna State of Nigeria, where thousands of young people are internally displaced due to security challenges and natural disasters. Her goal is to build a center that equitably bridges higher education opportunities with young people in an internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camp in the region. Dr. Emeka-Ogbonna is among four of fellows leading projects designed to support refugee and displaced groups, including those from Afghanistan, Nepal, and Ukraine.
My IIE Centennial Fellowship project, the Bridging Center for Internally Displaced and Barrack Youths, has evolved to a short-term educational access initiative for fostering education for early financial independence and social cohesion in Nigerian youths. Though there is special focus on internally displaced and barracks youths, the Bridging Center provides digital and artisanry skills combined with critical thinking and socio-emotional coaching to a number of Nigerian youths. The Center serves as a short term post-secondary school for entrepreneurial and peace education. The skills learnt at the Center foster transformational socio-economic growth for youths to become champions of inclusion and peace in their society through social justice and industry. The motto of the Center is Education, Growth and Inclusion.
On November 1st, 2023, the first set of 54 beneficiaries who completed the curriculum’s three core components graduated from the Bridging Center. A graduation and advocacy event was held to celebrate the successful result of this innovative model of higher educational opportunity. The Bridging Center model addresses the inadequacies of Nigeria’s general public education by concretely preparing the students for entrepreneurship and inclusive citizenship. The graduating youths were ecstatic with the skills they achieved and felt much closer to realizing their dreams than when they joined the program. Participants displayed their products at the event and attested to receiving patronage for their artisanry skills. The Commandant of my institution, the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Maj. Gen. JO Ochai, was the Special Guest at the event. Maj. Gen. Ochai commended the need for various skills acquisition as an important tool in becoming self -reliant. He further stressed that trade and skills are the greatest enablers to help people navigate in life, because white collar jobs are difficult to come by. Furthermore, combining these skills with digital know-how as taught by the Bridging Center made success even more likely.
The advocacy component of the event entailed sharing the Center’s efforts and success with governmental and non-governmental organizations, including military authorities considering the inclusion of barrack youths in the program. The call for support attracted good will donations amounting to ₦3,600,000.00 and six pre-used desktop computers. This generosity from patriotic and well-meaning Nigerians in private, government and military organizations demonstrated a collective societal yearning for empowerment support for displaced and barrack youths. The most significant outcome of the process was the invitation to have the Center registered with the Kaduna State Ministry of Human Services and Social Development. This grants the Bridging Center eligibility to be considered for future development partnership programs. As a result, the Center is now registered with Kaduna State and with the national Cooperate Affairs Commission as the “Education for Growth and Inclusion Foundation”, a non-profit foundation focused on youth development and empowerment. This foundation is positioned to extend and sustain the gains of the Bridging Center.
This Fellowship has given me the impetus to further embrace and pursue a life in community development and humanitarian services. Most importantly, it has led me to the discovery of an ‘unconventional’ school I had always wished to found. A long-term aspiration for the Education for Growth and Inclusion Foundation is to establish a mega comprehensive training center with boarding and educational facilities, where related classes of socially challenged and disadvantaged youths could attend for high quality digital and artisanry training. A well-established and welcoming facility would enable the extension of the training period to nine months to ensure deep mastery of both digital and artisanry skills as well as the development of business and entrepreneurial acumen. Until such a time, the Bridging Center is getting ready for another round of enrollment of the second set of students to begin classes in February 2024. Forty forms have been distributed with the intention of screening applicants down to a manageable number of 25. Fundraising efforts have intensified for sustainability funds to support these students. Efforts by the Foundation and external parties indicate a structure that will outlive this fellowship and has led me to discover a new life path. This is a reality that has a far reaching impact than I ever expected when embarking on this adventure last year.
The project has exposed me to working within communities, liaising and mediating between internally displaced persons, their host communities, government agencies and ministries and individuals and non-governmental organizations. I have, in the process, garnered a wealth of knowledge about the working affairs of government in a state I have lived in for more than 20 years. The graduation event publicized the project in the city and many attended to acknowledge my institution’s contribution to the state. The difference the Center makes in youth capacity development and efforts to curb insecurity are well established. It is for this reason that an official as prominent as the Commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy attended the graduation with his principal staff officers and donated the generous sum of ₦1,000,000 to the project. The Bridging Center had an immense impact on the lives of the young men and women who were transformed through the education and training we offered. Now, I am even more optimistic that the Education for Growth and Inclusion Foundation will have a far more reaching impact on me and on humanity.
The Foundation and I are most grateful to IIE for the Fellowship with which this venture was established. I had the privilege of partnering with talented digital and artisanry experts to train our first set of students. These experts joined the journey as we evolved to our current state. Our highest gratitude goes to the generous donors who trusted our commitment to the empowerment of Nigerian youths and granted us the support for continuous existence. Education for Growth and Inclusion Foundation will continue to seek support from national and international agencies and organizations to empower more Nigerian youths to achieve financial independence and to serve as champions of inclusion and peace in our society.
To support the second cohort of Bridging Center students, visit https://gofund.me/94e5a862.
Dr. Caroline Obiageli Emeka-Ogbonna serves as an Associate Professor and the Director of the Center for Critical Thinking, Teaching, and Learning at the Nigerian Defence Academy and has been with the institution for more than twenty-five years. Dr. Emeka-Ogbonna is an Associate Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy and was a 2020–2021 Fulbright Visiting Scholar to Kent State University in Ohio. She holds a doctorate in critical and entertainment education from the University of Exeter in England.
Named in honor of IIE’s Centennial and association with the Fulbright Program, the IIE Centennial Fellowship seeks to help enhance Fulbright as a life-long experience and recognize alumni whose work embodies the program’s underlining values of mutual understanding, leadership, global problem solving, and global impact.