By Joseph Maicibi Latimo (YES 2011-2012, Nigeria, hosted by AYUSA in Greeley, CO)
My name is Joseph Maicibi Latimo. I am currently in my final year studying biochemistry at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Kaduna, Nigeria. Looking back on my high school days, the YES program was the most transformative experience I’ve had in my life. YES connected me to the world through diverse friends and a new family. During my exchange year, I volunteered as an algebra tutor, through which I learned leadership and volunteerism – virtues I grew to appreciate and nurture over the years. This calling to lead and volunteer, in addition to workshops and leadership trainings offered by my recruiting organization, IRIS, and placement organization, AYUSA, unlocked my potential to lead others in giving back as well.
Poverty prohibits people from making needed change in our present world. In Tula, Gombe State, poverty is a limitation for many people. Most permanent residents are small scale farmers and traders who often cannot afford to send their children to school or purchase the required textbooks. Teachers use whatever outdated textbooks are available, resulting in a poor academic foundation with which to pursue a career.
In 2017, I met Issaka Yunana, President of the National Association of Tula Students (NATS), who told me of their plan to provide tutoring to disadvantaged high school students and potential college applicants who were fighting barriers to pursing higher education. I had personally met several college applicants who had the zeal to pursue higher education but were limited by their poor educational foundation and lack of resources. Meeting the NATS community and seeing their eagerness to reverse the narrative motivated me to act. I received a YES alumni grant to start a community library equipped with textbooks, providing a safe space for local youths to learn. The library also serves as a resource center for NATS volunteers to offer tutoring.
My project, Library for Sustainable Development, created a center for high school students, teachers, college applicants, and undergraduate students to read and learn about natural and physical sciences, management, technology, languages, history, government, and civics. Our library also houses books for business skills acquisition, entrepreneurship, and the history and culture of Tula, as well as motivational texts and novels to feed the curiosity of any reader. Our library currently has over 400 books and can accommodate 24 readers at a time.
The project started with a visit to the palace of His Royal Highness Abubakar Buba Atare II, Ruler and Chairman of Tula Chiefdom, to seek permission for the project. Our NATS partners secured two rooms in the Tula Community Development Secretariat in which to establish the library. And through the collective effort of many volunteers and donors, we equipped the library with shelves, tables, chairs, and books.
On January 2, 2019, Tula’s first public library opened with a small ceremony to celebrate and raise awareness in the Tula community. A total of 100 people from the project team, the YES and YALI alumni community, and the Tulu community attended the opening. A representative of HRH Abubakar Buba Atare II attended, as well as representatives from the Gombe State Library Board, who brought additional book donations and gave a lecture on how to use the library effectively.
The event was captured by Gombe State Media Cooperation. Esther Isah Bila (YES ’15), Daniel Clinton Ishaya (YES ’10), and our YALI representative Micah Bello also shared with the public their experiences in the U.S. and talked about available opportunities for youths through the YES program and YALI network. Following the opening, YES alumni and NATS officials carried out a school awareness campaign about the importance of education and announcing the opening of the only public library in the Tula community.
Seeing the influence quality education had on my host community made me wonder whether it was possible to extend that to my home community. And it was! The words of optimism and excitement from parents in the community made us feel proud and fulfilled. An excited parent said to me, "Our children that didn’t have the chance to travel to the U.S. [like you] can travel the world through these books."
I offer my thanks to IRIS and AYUSA for their support before, during, and after my exchange program. A huge thanks to my fellow YES alumni and non-alumni volunteers for their resourcefulness and hard work. I sincerely appreciate the National Association of Tula Students (NATS) and the Tula Community Development Association (TCDA) for securing the building space and staffing for the library.
Finally, my profound appreciation goes to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for sponsoring both the YES program and the YES Alumni Grant program that enabled us to touch the lives of the people of Tula.