Faculty voice:

Chinwe Effiong: Maintain a social gift-stance

Chinwe Effiong is the assistant dean for the Global Youth Advancement Network within Michigan State's International Studies and Programs. She is a recognized leader in the field of youth education and entrepreneurship, and has served on the Global Agenda Council of the World Economic Forum and the Clinton Global Initiative. The following is repurposed content from a letter written by Effiong to members of the Global Youth Advancement Network.

COVID-19 is changing the way we live, learn and even love. Unfortunately, not necessarily for the better. The need to observe appropriate health and hygiene protocols, while absolutely critical, has inadvertently created a fear, even phobia, that may be making us less humane at a time when we need to be the exact opposite.

During my recent trip to Nigeria, I got caught up in the international border closures following the outbreak of the coronavirus in Lagos and Abuja. I was unable to fly from the southeast region of the country, where I had gone for my mother’s funeral, back to Lagos to await an evacuation flight to the U.S. 

My family and I eventually rented a bus and embarked on the nine to 10-hour drive by road to Lagos. We arrived safely and were fortunate to have some friends offer their vacant home to us for shelter. Then, the wait started.

The flight we were supposed to be on had been postponed twice over a period of three days and after seven hours of waiting at the airport for the third attempt, the flight was postponed indefinitely and all 400 plus prospective passengers on the two flights were asked to return to their respective places of shelter until further notice.

We were tired, frustrated and disillusioned, but we also realized we had a choice to make and a stance to take — between pity and purpose. So instead of retreating behind the concrete walls of the compound where we were sheltering, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity of being “stuck” in Lagos to coordinate a small mission to “no” income neighborhoods in the surrounding slums.

Armed with our medical surgical masks and nitrile gloves and with logistics support from our hosts, we purchased, packaged and delivered care packs to families unable to stock up during the government mandated COVID-19 curfew.

The communities we visited were in Mafoluku, one of eleven wards in the Oshodi Local Government Area of Lagos, a 45 square kilometer territory with a population of over 1,000,509 people. Using the resources at our disposal, we were able to purchase and deliver a week’s supply of food and basic cold medicine to 20 families. However, the need was so much greater than that.

As we drove away from the first community, we watched, saddened, as men, women and children ran after our van pleading for more care packs. “What if every family who had the means delivered a care pack to another family in need?” I thought to myself. How much more efficient we could be in making sure no one was caught without food during this crisis!

I started contacting friends and colleagues across Lagos and other parts of Nigeria and challenged them to do something to support the distribution of care packs. I challenged them to take a stance — a Social Gift-stance! To my delight, several of them took on the challenge.

I hope this message spreads, not just across Nigeria, but to other under resourced countries and indeed across the globe. We are in unprecedented times and as we hide behind closed doors waiting for the pandemic to pass our community or wear itself out, people are dying from hunger and unmet basic healthcare needs. 

From all indications, the pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better, so there is still much work to be done and the demand for support is not being met, even by the most “stable” of economies.