Sahara Group has been carrying out various humanitarian projects especially under its Personal Corporate Social Responsibility (PCSR) initiative. In this interview with Ugo Aliogo, the Performance Manager, Sahara Group, Abibat Sunbola, speaks about her experiences as a humanitarian. Excerpt.
How would you describe the term humanitarian?
For me, the term humanitarian implies, going the extra mile as a ‘Human’ to make change happen without expectation of reward or recognition.
What would you say makes you passionate about being there for other people?
The opportunity to meet the immediate needs of people I don’t even know gives me fulfillment. I remember whilst growing up, we lived in an area where there were few comfortable homes and many struggling homes. Back then young children as little as 2 years of age would always run towards the cars of the average families to open their house gates just so they can be given N5 or less to buy biscuits, they were always very hungry and depended on the little they could get from these families. With such an experience as a little child, and still seeing that happen now with the same excitement people exhibit when their immediate needs are addressed, I am happy that I am able to contribute my quota to the society.
What can be done to address the proliferation of humanitarian organisations that are facades for other pursuits?
The first step should be that all operating Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) should be registered. In addition to this, there should be like a regulatory body that monitors and controls the activities of all registered NGOs and certificates issued, so that before donors donate the NGOs will make the certificates available. But as this doesn’t seem feasible in the next coming years, I will advise people who want to volunteer or donate to a particular humanitarian organisations to do their due diligence, ask for important documents such as audited financials, list of their partners/donors, check for details of their board members and other volunteers that have been a part and other things.
Can you Share Some Experiences You have had in your Humanitarian Work?
I have met all types of beneficiaries, donors and volunteers. The major experience for me would be that the vulnerable people are most times limited by their background and the resources available to them. These people are really smart and would thrive better if given the right opportunities especially the children. They are always very receptive, smart and are willing to grow unfortunately environmental and economic limitations are really taken a toll on them.
I have seen children fainting in a stampede to get relief packages from NGOs. The one I really can’t get over is that most times you see these beneficiaries on a long queue and they have no idea of what the relief package contains, they just know that it will address their immediate need which is hunger.
Life is in different phases. Some persons are in a particular phase in life, where they don’t believe that people can be hungry. Meanwhile there are people at different age brackets dying of starvation. There was a malnourished child I met at a slum in Iwaya Yaba. The child was over 2 years old and was weighing 4kg. Just a month of providing the right food items this child weighed about 12kg, you can imagine the joy of her parents who were already thinking the child was under some kind of spiritual attack. Regarding the issue of volunteers and donors, I still can’t get over how many Nigerians are really compassionate people and ready to serve and support others.
What does one need to possess to be effective as a humanitarian?
To be an effective humanitarian, you need to be compassionate. With happenings globally, it is easy to think about yourself alone. When you think of the long hours you drive to sometimes to fish out these impoverished communities, the risks involved sometimes in going into these communities to render service, when you think about work and family deliverables, you will prefer to focus on yourself only.
How can the message of ‘everyone can be a humanitarian’ be effectively propagated globally?
When people say everyone can be a humanitarian, it simply means that you have to be physically present to serve the needy. However, it is beyond that. We need to start communicating to people that anyone can be a humanitarian all it takes is a single act of kindness.
If you are an expert in a particular field you can teach a particular class of people for free, the bottom line is meeting a need. This is how we operate at the Sahara Group where a lot of emphasis is placed on volunteering and individual involvement in the Group’s corporate citizenship interventions across Sahara Group’s locations in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. For us at Sahara, it’s not just Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) we call it PCSR, the Personal Corporate Social Responsibility (PCSR) representing ‘personal.’ The part where you are empowered by the organisation to commit your expertise, influence and platforms towards bringing energy to life and energizing aspirations of those who may not have what it takes to dream. So, where you work and your alliances can also bring out the humanitarian in you; just like we say at the Sahara Group – every Saharian is a humanitarian.
If you had the wherewithal what is the greatest humanitarian work you would like to achieve?
I will like to engage in setting up of food banks and nutrition hubs in every Local Government Area in Lagos State.