Meet our Beacon of Hope for today, Itodo Samuel Anthony , some of us call him Pope.
From his Facebook profile, we have followed his journey on changing the face of education and teaching in Nigeria, we got him to answer some questions and throw more lights on some of the projects he is working on.
Who is the most important person in your life? And why?
I have this special connection with her that I don’t have with anyone else. She is always looking out for our best interest, and she has always paid particular attention to me, you know…bothering about my fading shirts, my safety in the village and my penchant for keeping facial hair! When she starts arguing with me about shaving you’d think she was my girlfriend.
I am in my thirties but she still treats me like her baby. She still wants me sitting with her and talking about nothing in particular. She still wants me eating her food every day and telling her how sweet it tastes. She still teases me with things I did as a child. She is my most valued person.
What’s the distinct thing about you and about what you do?
I am a teacher, and I am passionate about teaching. Perhaps that isn’t something so common in our clime…so maybe that qualifies as “distinct”?
I want to see a better country and a better world, so I have vested interests in service to humanity. I want to see young people empowered enough to take charge of their own development. I want to see us as a people change our whole value system from one firmly tied to the acquisition of wealth, to one anchored to the collective development of our communities.
We believe everyone has an “against all odds situation”, if you do, please share yours with us?
When I gained admission into Uniport there was no money to pay for my registration. I was already in another university though, so there wasn’t that much motivation for my father to look for money.
In desperation I went to my bank, asking if they could help me with money to start school. The response was negative. I asked random folks in the bank too, explaining my condition. Some empathized, one man blatantly told me “My friend, leave me alone, I have my own problems!” Hehe
My uncle then volunteered to help me get into Uniport but when we reached Port Harcourt a friend of his convinced him against letting me change from my present school. I returned home and told my father my heart was set on going to Uniport and so he borrowed some money for me to start school.
My first semester at Uniport was hell. I had no money for accommodation. I slept in the classrooms at the mercy of mosquitoes, for months. I received dehumanizing treatment from certain students who knew of my situation. But I didn’t lose focus…my academics didn’t suffer. Towards the end of my first semester, I came 3rd in a national essay competition and got N25,000 for transportation to and from the award ceremony. With this money, I got myself accommodation and started living like a human on campus onwards.
Can Nigeria be better? What are some steps that need to be taken to truly make Nigeria better?
Of course, Nigeria can be better, but the task is Herculean. Nigeria needs a generation of leaders who are not only intelligent but also selfless.
Nigeria needs people who can put the collective good ahead of theirs, who can have the courage to follow through with good policies even in the face of opposition.
Nigeria needs leaders with a sense of shame, people sufficiently embarrassed by our state of underdevelopment. Particular steps to making Nigeria better will still be useless without the right value sets by leaders and followers. We should fix our values, our mindset; steps to greatness can be imported, if not home-grown.
Of all the presidential aspirant, which do you think can take Nigeria to greater heights.
I have been apolitical for a while. I do not know the aspirants. I do not know what they have to offer. My apathy has been forged by this seemingly endless cycle of hope before elections and the despair that follows months after. It is disheartening.
Sadly, in 2019 our aspirants will still be talking about mundane things like “constructing roads” and “providing electricity”. I will be looking out for that candidate who has a clear-cut blueprint to solving Nigeria’s problems and has a track record of personal achievements; enough of noisemaking.
What are some untapped areas in Nigeria you wish we can grow, explore and develop?
Agriculture is still mostly under-tapped. Nigeria is still importing tonnes of food, and that is a shame, given our potential. There are massive deposits of solid minerals buried under us, wasting away while we continue to focus on petroleum which is now becoming the past. We need to educate our people, invest in human capital, for that is the master key to our development. Our young people are coming out of schools without proper education, barely having productive abilities.
Tell us about teaching.
- a) why teaching b) what inspired you to do teaching as you do?
I trained to be a petroleum engineer, but I have always loved teaching since I first taught at the age of 17. Teaching is a deeply fulfilling endeavour for me; being a part of the educational development of anyone is an honour. In the past three-plus years I have been teaching and it has been an amazing opportunity to develop worthwhile values in young people. The teacher occupies a vantage position in society, one that can be harnessed to raise a generation of young people better than what our fathers left us. I want a better country, and I know at the heart of our underdevelopment is our value system. Changing this detrimental value system, one mind at a time is one of my biggest motivations for being a teacher.
I believe education should empower us to solve problems, not to become warehouses of knowledge which is mostly unused. That is why I emphasize on critical thinking; that is why I encourage my students to do volunteering and community service…to look beyond themselves and care for others. I believe it is dangerous to empower a man with knowledge without letting him have the right values.
Tell us about the Global Teacher Prize and how you felt qualifying for Top 50?
This is the biggest teaching prize in the world and it is sponsored by the Varkey Foundation. The prize was set up five years ago to recognize the great work teachers across the world do and to put the teaching profession in the beautiful light that it deserves.
Teaching is something I absolutely love doing and getting recognition for something you would do even for free is simply an amazing feeling. Do you have any idea how many teachers there are in the world? There were over 30,000 applications and I made Top 50…the feeling is indescribable.
I have always wanted to excel at anything I do, it is an obsession. That is why I give my all, because ‘regular’ is boring for me…if I have to do the arduous journey through life, I might as well do it as a star. Being in the Top 50 has made me a member of the prestigious Varkey Teacher Ambassadors Programme with loads of opportunities for personal, school and community development.
Tell us about the Agada ThankGod Trust Fund? New Frontiers Youth Forum and what their goals are.
In August 2017 we lost one of my favourite students, Agada ThankGod. He had a surgery and there were complications which were poorly handled and then he died. The Agada ThankGod Trust Fund was set up in his honour, to help students and young people in our community with funding for serious medical procedures that they cannot afford.
The New Frontiers Youth Forum which I founded in May 2017 is a community-based leadership organization for young people. Our vision is to raise an army of positive change agents who will lead transformations within their communities. The Youth Forum is concerned with enlightenment within the community, training, and charity, volunteering as well as community development projects. In the one year of our operations we have been able to set up a community library with over 800 books, train over 30 students on making certain catering products, provide a primary 5 class in a certain school 22 storybooks for an “in-class” library, provide relief materials to surgery patients in our local hospitals, provide primary school kids writing materials, adopt two indigent students who we are training through secondary school, among others.
Recently, the Youth Forum initiated “Adopt a Kid Programme”, to help take 10 kids who are out of primary school back to school by matching them with my Facebook friends who are willing to “adopt” them and pay for their education through primary school. The programme presently has 40 such kids on it, going back to school through the benevolence of my friends.
Can donations and contributions be made, if yes, how?
Yes, we welcome donations. I already set up an account at a hospital in the Agada ThankGod Trust Fund name so sick students can go straight to the hospital and get treated for free. This term 10 students have already benefited. And our New Frontiers Youth Forum is taking on a massive project – a community youth centre where we will be doing sports, skill acquisition, enlightenment campaigns, basic literacy and numeracy classes for people in the community, etc. We intend to renovate a derelict classroom block and this project will run into hundreds of thousands…so financial support will be greatly appreciated.
Donations can be sent to:
New Frontiers Youth Forum, A/N: 2032482733, First Bank
What’s that one thing you want from life?
A girl who’d propose to me with a Camry.
Okay, scratch that.
Fulfillment. That’s the one thing I want. I want to die a fulfilled man…drained of all I have locked inside me. I want to leave this space knowing I gave all I could to make the world a better place.
Tell us about one “ahaa” or “eureka” moment you’ve experienced in life.
Hmmm, this one is tough. I do not have these moments, I think. The closest to “an eureka moment” would be when I realized I was selected as a finalist in an international essay competition. I needed that win badly to launch me into the “international stage” in essay writing so when I saw that mail on the 13th of September, 2010 at a cafe in Onitsha, there was only so much I could do not to scream! That win also gave me my first international trip; the feeling in that moment was just amazing.
What is your most cherished possession?
My mind. The breadth of its imagination and its power of creativity. With my mind I can bring a lot of solutions to the problems I encounter daily. Nothing is more valuable to me.
Who is that one person you admire from afar but haven’t told them? Please tell them here and please can you tell us why?
I absolutely adore Temidayo Ahanmisi…but I have told her that before so that wouldn’t qualify now, would it? She’s a fiercely intelligent woman, one that has a keen perspective on socio-political issues. She’s a beautiful writer too…easily my favourite person on Facebook. Then of course there is Joy Isi Bewaji who I consider an iconoclastic thinker. That woman’s mind should be extracted and kept in museums for people to go and see and learn from. Both women are simply not regular.
Between your phone and your palmwine, choose one.
Hehe. See setup na. My phone of course. What can I do without this “girlfriend” of mine in an era driven by data and information? What would I do a day without Facebook sef? And about my endless palm-wine talk on Facebook, it is all rhetoric. Some months I go without taking a drop of palm-wine…it is not like I use it to brush my teeth in the morning, please.