Damilola Oladeru might have just turned twenty-one, but don’t expect to see this Yale undergraduate out in bars until the wee hours of the night. This Nigerian-born young woman who is set on giving back to her country opened the Read at Peace library in Erin-Ijesa, Nigeria a year ago – the public space provides youth and adults with myriad books and a safe environment to learn. Now looking forward to creating a computer lab that will provide essential skills for struggling locals, Damilola is determined to go back “home” and become a Minister of Health. Back home for the holidays, the physician-in-training reflects on the state of her country, the importance of technological advancements in regards to unemployment and medicine, and her personal fight against brain drain.
2010 was a big year for you. What do you look forward to in 2011?
I look forward to greater things. In terms of the library, I count on expanding it into a computer lab. I sent out a letter to donors requesting for funds for educational software, computers… Within twelve hours, just by email alone, I got three pledges, a desktop, printer, and six months internet subscription in addition to the three I already purchased during Black Friday.
Obviously, you are shifting your focus to computer skills. Why is this important to you?
My goal is to teach a few computer training courses when I go back home in March. It is such an essential skill for high school graduates, especially for those who don’t immediately get admitted to the university. It’s something we take for granted here in the United States, where we learn from elementary school onward. In Nigeria, people as old as you and I cannot write an essay on a computer or make a PowerPoint presentation. Most people will have to go to a special school to learn these things.
When the library opened, there were five hundred books available. Are you also planning on expanding that number?
Part of the proposal to donors was to double the amount of books currently in the library. The idea is to either have people donate money to buy new books or collect used books that can be shipped. In order to avoid shipping costs, I put the books in the back of trucks that were being shipped to Nigeria.
You used the word “home,” even though you haven’t lived in Nigeria since you were ten years old. Do you still feel very strongly about Nigeria and would you eventually like to go back?
We left on December 6th, 1999, because my mom won the Diversity Visa Lottery. That’s how we came here – over the years, I have had a tremendous amount of opportunities here in the United States. In my entire lifetime in Nigeria, I wouldn’t have found 10% of it. That said, a lot of immigrants come here and start all over, forgetting about their native country. Lots of people send money home, but Nigeria’s main issue is infrastructure – if we continue with this method of handing out funds, it doesn’t assist anyone in the long-term. If we look at it from a hands-up approach where we give our time and resources, it has a lasting impact.
Do you think that expats have a responsibility toward their home country, even if they can find better opportunities abroad?
Through my undergraduate years, I’ve become this anti- “brain drain” student. [laughs] Nigeria has lost so many professionals and I fear that I will become part of that statistic if I become a physician here. There aren’t many people who say they want to come to United States and then move back. In a way it’s digressing. It’s not progress. You’re giving up comfort, security… But I know that if I stay here, there’s only so little that I can do. I want to make some type of lasting impact in Nigeria without having to wait until I’m older or retired. So yes, I do think expats have a responsibility toward their home country if they want to see changes and if they truly love their country. Instead of complaining of the state of affairs… as Gandhi said, “you can be the change you want to see in the world.” The change begins from us.. our mindset and hopefully we can translate that into action.
You’re on the BR!NK of graduation – tell us about your future plans.
One of my dreams is to become a Minister of Health in Nigeria so my immediate plan is to receive a medical education. I want to improve Nigeria’s health care system which is ranked 187 out of 191 countries according to the last WHO report in 2000. With the financial resources in Nigeria, there is no reason why our health care delivery should not serve as a notable example for other developing countries. I want to bring technological advances to Nigeria and provide physicians with better resources.
According to you, what is the very best thing about Nigeria?
Oh, it’s the people! Despite everything that they have to deal with and face everyday, they’re the most tenacious people on this planet. They still wake up every morning and give life another shot. Their hope is enough to carry me through any academic struggle I go through here. But there’s only so much a nation can take, especially now when there is such a gap between rich and poor.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
Trying to imagine such educational disparity throughout the world is very painful and available resources such as a library serves as a solution to this basic human right issue. That said, I implore readers to spread awareness about this issue, collect gently used or new books in their local communities and send them to the address on the Read at Peace website. Donations to build more libraries in the neediest regions of the world are also appreciated.
books, computers, donations