My Oilfield African Story
My name is Ifunanya (Ify) Anyaegbu. I am an Engineer with the world's leading provider of technology to the oil and gas industry. By the grace of God I have lived in the United Kingdom (UK) for over six years. I am also African, 100% Nigerian and the founder/convener of the Foundation for Advancement of Child Education and Youth Empowerment (FACEYOUTH), a red and white charity organisation. And this is ‘My Oilfield African Story’.
I am sharing my story; not because I want to brag about my accomplishments which I am proud of by the way, but because it has all the elements of inspiration for today’s youth, especially the youth from my part of the world. The youth out there needs to know that where I am today was made possible by my talents and skills. If this can be my story, then it can be yours as well.
Even better. I had an amazing upbringing by the way, so don’t expect a grass to grace tale. This is just a demonstration that life is a cycle of peaks and troughs, which is why I am motivated to give other young African talents the same opportunity I had to showcase their talents to the world.
With FACEYOUTH, my vision is to empower young talents using the best basic elementary education and vocational skills, which will guide them towards their future goals. They need to understand that life can throw anything in one’s path and thus, should be prepared.
I was prepared or so I thought; a common Nigerian girl, coming to work offshore in the UK for the first time, on a short-term assignment. What a thrill! But there was nothing thrilling about the first time I landed in the UK. I had left Lagos that day while it was 32oC and landed in 0oC Aberdeen, with showers of snow. There was hardly enough time to adjust to this change in weather conditions because I went straight for my offshore survival training where we were briefed on the day’s activities, which included underwater survival training in a pool. Are you kidding, in that weather? I thought there was no way I would get into the pool in that cold. I was briefed on safety measures and allowed to ask questions which I did and was reassured Anyaegbu’s daughter will not die in the pool that day!
Well, I eventually did my underwater survival training and passed, after so much persuasion, and I realized the water was actually warm, although you still feel the cold once you got out of the pool. The next day I flew to the deep water oil drilling rig offshore; my first time seeing near frozen sea. Although the people I met offshore were nice and I admired their work ethics, I couldn’t still adapt to the cultural and environmental shock. I came back after surviving my three weeks hitch and told my Manager that I would like to return back home to Nigeria, no no, that I wouldn't want to work in the UK anymore.
Wow! Six years later, I’m still here, and also naturalised as a British citizen, I have had the most awesome time and met the most amazing friends and colleagues in the UK. My patience, tenacity and determination paid off.
Coming back to FACEYOUTH, the conception was shaky because I didn’t get the thumbs up, when I told family and friends about my plans. NGOs in Nigeria are usually associated with politicians, philanthropists, super rich, celebrities, public personalities etc. I was discouraged by people I believed will stand behind me because I obviously didn’t fit into the ‘group’ despite the brilliance of my vision. But I had God and my integrity and decided to target like minds, so together, we can go and impact our various communities.
I researched NGOs when I visited Nigeria and discovered the word ‘Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO)’ is being misused or highly over rated, because NGOs are not properly regulated. A lot of people do not even know the difference between non-profit and not for profit as everything is registered under the umbrella of NGO. Also, many miscreants use this medium to exploit people. Amazingly, before I landed in Nigeria, some miscreant had already printed a letter headed paper in my name with an organisation’s name on it, with fake signature and had written a Nigerian senator soliciting for assistance, without my knowledge or approval. And at this stage I had not even decided on the name to use nor have I registered my organisation.
So I changed my strategy and adopted the lean principle poka-yoke; mistake proofing, to minimize fraud (Teach us how to "fish", don't give us "fish". Support young African talents to be great "fishermen"). I also decided to self-fund the start-up of this project because I didn’t know who to trust. It wasn’t that I was scared of sharing my ideas or strategy – my intention was to get people to embark on similar impact projects in their various communities –however, I was weary of the wrong people adulterating the vision and using it to cause mayhem. Indeed there are so many genuine NGOs out there in the midst of the fake ones. You just cannot be too careful. In the past, people went on missions to help communities build homes, volunteer at schools and develop the community. Today we are all selfish, only thinking about ourselves and wards, forgetting the genuine act of selfless giving without expecting anything in return.
In funding the start-up of this charity alone, I intend to show young people that you can all make a difference and impact your communities no matter who you are. You can go and build a toilet in your alumni or community and name the project after yourself; the children there will pray for you.
Inspiration behind FACEYOUTH
Prior to FACEYOUTH, I co-founded a non-registered charity with a few friends and colleagues in the oil industry which took care of underprivileged talented young girls in Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). Promoted/championed more oil industry opportunities for women. Taking FACEYOUTH public was a decision I made because I could no longer cope with the burden of taking care of underprivileged children in my care. Some of my partners and co-founders were affected by the down turn in the oil industry. I also took more than a 40% pay cut when my contract was changed from expatriate to local status without the normal three months prior notice. Obviously I was disturbed and demotivated because I wasn’t prepared for the shock and I had these children in my care I didn’t want to disappoint. I unsuccessfully negotiated for a different package and thought about quitting because I didn’t want my mood to affect my productivity or track record, but I really didn’t want to lose my job. It was at this point I decided the time was ripe for my charity work. I knew I could juggle it; after all, it is still the same me who did the interior decoration business as well as sold stuff just to support myself while I was in the university and I still graduated with very good grades. Not even once did I have a carryover or repeat any course. My entrepreneurial skills eventually inspired me to go to business school and learn being an entrepreneur the smart way. This skill is now useful for the cause I am promoting.
I promised God that while I didn’t save much due to the number of children in school that I am responsible for, everything I have earned and learned in the UK in the past six years will be used to make other young African talents dream come true. I am dedicated to this cause and it has become a part of me because till date, I run currency conversion in my head before any purchase and I have been teased about patronising bargain/charity shops despite the reputation of my employer which affords me the ability of a luxurious lifestyle, but I have chosen to use my resources to impact on people’s life and give another child the same opportunity that I had to show his or her talent.
So my mission is:
1. To teach young Africa talents the genuine act of giving by creating an enabling environment, instead of giving money.
2. To empower a child through the best basic education, and the youth by supporting and sponsoring young talents to take vocational training and realise their full potential
3. To promote the use of Lean Principle Poka-yoke; mistake-proofing, to solve a lot of inherent issues in Africa because we are not all corrupt. Some of our leaders are and this affects the reputation of our young talents.
4. My mission is also to promote our values and heritage in order to boost confidence to show our beautiful culture to the world.
I do not have to be a politician or super rich personality to achieve this. I just want to preach the true gospel of love according to 1 Cor 13: 1-3.
My childhood story
I really want the youth to believe that anybody can become anything in future.
I had the most memorable childhood and we were all confident and fearless, ready to conquer the world. I was born and grew up in Enugu (Nigeria) around the 80s and early 90s. There was no distinction between the rich and the poor in our small civil service town. My parents were civil servants. My dad had a Ph.D. from the University of Ibadan and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka respectively. He worked as Director and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and facilitated the African Development Bank (ADB) Rural Electrification projects that gave electricity to most rural communities in old Eastern region of Nigeria, and most countries in West Africa. He also worked with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in the World Bank assisted programme, he trained and supported his siblings and other people not related to him and travelled wide and far. My father had the opportunity to have most of his children abroad, but didn’t bother because he was a firm advocate of home grown talents and developing Nigeria as a great nation. He also had the opportunity to siphon government funds but didn't, because he believed in dignity in service. I remember introducing myself to Ngozi Okonjo Iweala at one of the conferences we co-attended a few years ago, and all she said was your dad was a good man. Mum went to the Teachers Training College before gaining admission into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to study Agricultural Sciences. Now you know why integrity matters to me.
As a child, I went to Ekulu Primary School, the best government funded primary school in Enugu in the 80s and early 90s; I was in the same class with the son of Nduka Eya, the then deputy Governor of old Anambra State. Today, you probably wouldn’t find the children of Nigerian top government officials or politicians in government funded schools as it is common here in the UK and other developed countries. If our government patronise our public education, it would create an enabling environment for our children by setting the same standard for both public and private schools. Unfortunately, you only get a better opportunity in Nigeria if your parents are rich and can afford an excellent education for you. Here in the UK, I had the choice to either enrol my son in Kingswells School (http://kingswellsprimary.co.uk/), a public school, which is free but only limited to children from 3 years and above and open 4hours a day, or a private schools nearby (http://www.greatwesternps.co.uk/ ) which is open to children (0-5years), from 7:30am to 5:30pm with fees ranging from £30/day to £49/day and everything is transparent online. So it is the parents’ choice of an option most suitable for them, depending on their time, earnings and budget (we do not have that choice anymore in Nigeria as private schools are on the increase yet our children and youths are becoming more of illiterates).
Going back to my childhood, I knew I wanted to be an engineer when I was five years old. President Babangida had visited our school in 1986 and asked me what I wanted to be in future; NTA, please find that clip for me. You see, military presidents visited schools outside the country’s capital often and sometimes on short or no notice, to carry out inspections and all. Today civilian governors/politicians are too busy to even appraise the commissioners (Some of them are by the way their friends or business partners) that report to them, much less of visiting government owned schools.
As children, we also played at common parks. The Polo Park I used to go to often has now been converted to Shoprite. The existence of common parks for us made it difficult to commit crimes because everyone knew everyone’s parents and it was easy to get your child’s odd behavioural report during the play dates at the parks or common play areas. Today parents will rather leave their wards at home with video games than going on play dates with other children. Today in Nigeria, if you cannot afford an expensive private school that has sports facilities, then your children will not be able to explore their sporting skills.
To be continued…… My Oilfield African Story © Ify Anyaegbu copy right reserved 2016.