Beyond School Community Challenge and the Young Leaders Assembly – Remarks by CAO Sterling D. Tilley

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to be here today to witness yet another edition of the Beyond School Community Challenge and the Young Leaders Assembly.  Last year’s event had me looking forward to the next edition since the beginning of this year.

One of the most fulfilling things about our work at the Embassy is meeting and seeing young people, like most of you in this hall, defy the odds that surround you to make a difference for yourself and your community.  Our support for the BSCC project stems from our understanding that everyone’s contribution and efforts are important to address the challenges of our time, no matter how young they may be.

Like the Holy Book says: Let no man despise thy youth, but be an example in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, and in purity.  Therefore, while it breaks my heart to watch these young high school students take on challenges that they normally should not have to bother about, I take consolation in their courage and the prospects of what you bring to the table. Each of you all exemplify what it means to take action and not to fall for empty talk.

Let me mention two young ladies who have, and are still, contributing to addressing grand challenges in Nigeria and beyond.  You may have heard about Wadi Ben-Hirki – a young lady from northern Nigeria who started running her foundation at the age of 17 to promote education and discourage child marriage among girls.  Her advocacy led her to serve on the African Union Regional Youth Consultation on Human Rights in 2016 and continues that advocacy today.

You’ve probably also heard of Elizabeth Talatu Williams.  She is a sexual health and rights advocate from Nigeria, educating young girls and boys about gender equality and knowing their rights.  In 2015, Williams was invited to the International Center for Research on Women, just before the United Nations National Assembly, and spoke on a panel about the importance of helping young women succeed and thrive globally.  She was also recently recognized by BBC Media Action Naija for her work in using the media in promoting and advocating for the sexual reproductive health of young people. One more thing, Ms. Williams is a YALI member and a Regional and Leadership Center Alumnus.

These two ladies may have found world recognition while on their quest to making their community a better place, but not everyone will end up finding this level of recognition in the course of their work.  I say this to remind everyone, especially the students competing here today; do not to get caught-up with the bragging rights of winning this competition or the benefits of the cash prize. Your motivation should come from ‘seeing a need, meeting that need, and solving the problem’.

I also take consolation in the fact that BSCC affords these students the opportunity to put their learning to good use early.  The purpose of education is sometimes misunderstood for acquiring a certificate that gets you a job to earn a living.  No! That is not the purpose of education.  Your education is meant to equip you with the right skills and tools to make meaningful contributions to solving challenges and creating new opportunities that, in turn, helps us all to live a better life.  So, beyond this competition, please continually strive to put your education to good use outside the walls of the classroom.

While I am on the topic of education and learning, I encourage the youth in this hall who have been working to make Nigeria a better place either through volunteering, entrepreneurial ventures, or your work in the Nigerian Civil Service to apply for the Mandela Washington Fellowship program.

So, write this down – and Visit mwfellows.info/apply to see the selection criteria and submit your application.  You should also seize this occasion to connect with alumni of the program and get some help with preparing your application.

Before I return to my seat, I want us all to give a round of applause to the Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni Association of Nigeria for putting together a beautiful event. [applause]

Well done.

Ladies and gentlemen, let get this show on the road.