The Nigerian activist has been honoured by Theirworld's network of education activists for his inspiring work with vulnerable children.
Samuel Adewumi’s primary education in Nigeria stalled almost as soon as it had begun. At the age of five, his parents removed him from school because of financial instability - and for the next five years he was taught by his clergyman father.
“The church was my classroom and I saw only the empty benches and my dad for all those years,” he said. “He had no curriculum to guide my teaching, so I was only taught mathematics and moral lessons.”
When the family finances finally improved, he was sent to a lower primary school class to improve his literacy and other learning skills. The teachers were so impressed by his advanced numeracy that they promoted him past four classes to the most senior level.
But that proved to be problematic for Samuel, who came from Alimosho in Lagos State. He explained: “I struggled to relate with other learners in my class, as I was not used to interacting with peers. This affected my communication skills and confidence to speak in class.”
Those struggles continued until he went to university in Lagos, where he strived through personal training to overcome the issues. Today, Samuel is a successful and inspiring education advocate who helps children with similar fears to overcome their lack of communication skills and low self-esteem.
He has just been named as Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassador of the Year for 2019. The Global Youth Ambassador (GYA) programme is a network of nearly 1,000 young people from over 90 countries working together to end the global education crisis. It is the go-to network for youth campaigners who want to be at the centre of the future of education.
The Global Youth Ambassador of the Year is chosen by their fellow activists. One of them said of Samuel: “He is a very resilient, vibrant, relentless and a determined young man.”
Still only 30, Samuel’s achievements are certainly impressive. As well as his own agricultural biofuel startup, he has:
- Worked as a teaching fellow with Teach For Nigeria
- Been an advocate of mindfulness in schools
- Helped children displaced by violent extremism through his Teen4peaceEducation project
“I decided to become a Global Youth Ambassador just after my university education because Theirworld’s vision aligns with mine - to facilitate quality education, thereby creating a brighter future for all children,” he said.
Samuel’s activism is inspired by the conditions he sees around him in Nigeria. More than 10 million of the country’s children aged five to 14 are out of school, according to UNICEF. That’s one in five of all the world’s children who are denied an education.
“More than half of children who are currently out of school in Nigeria is as a result of violent conflict,” said Samuel. “I see a lot of displaced children on the street, who prefer to beg for money to take care of their mothers than go back to school.
“If nothing is done to save their education, I see a future where these children grow into indoctrinated violent extremists, drug addicts, fraudsters, cultists and so on.”
He started the Constructive Peace Initiative to use education as a peacebuilding tool in conflict-prone communities. He said: “Becoming a GYA helped me to fortify my goal of helping 600 children in three Nigerian states learn peacefully in schools. We give them practical steps about why they should go back to school.
“Also, with the rise of terrorism and children kidnapping in Nigeria, the platform has helped me to raise my voice in resonance with other ambassadors from Nigeria.”
Apart from high-profile school kidnappings, including the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls in 2014, the insurgency by Boko Haram has devastated large parts of the country’s education system and led to a massive humanitarian crisis.
Samuel said his own childhood experiences have helped to give him an insight into what children affected by conflict face when they are deprived of education.
“I decided to be a change agent to curb the menace, such as attacks in schools and against schoolchildren,” he said. “A burning passion in me kept pushing me to think of solutions. This stemmed from my childhood experiences - thinking about how to help that one child facing similar challenges or prevent a conflict situation that will hinder learning.”
In 2018 and already a successful entrepreneur, Samuel joined Teach For Nigeria to fight educational inequality.
“I was trained as a teaching fellow and was placed in one of the most underserved primary schools in Ogun State,” he said. “This was where I escalated my peacebuilding work in four communities and schools. My learners have grown in wisdom, numeracy skills, literacy and basic science skills within the 18 months since I became their teacher.”
Samuel has been an advocate of mindfulness in schools - a psychological process which focuses on bringing a child's attention to the present moment as a means to reduce symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety.
His Constructive Peace Initiative started a mindfulness-in-schools project - using role play, activities, and visual and pictorial displays.
He said: “This is helping to create empathy among learners and curb hate speech. They are now responsible for one another. We have trained 210 learners in mindfulness, which is helping them to communicate better, mediate and seek dialogue first in a conflict situation.”
Teen4peaceEducation (T4PE) is a project from Constructive Peace Initiative that is targeted at children in underserved community schools who have been displaced by violent extremism or conflict. Launched in 2016, it has reached 399 children in Nigeria’s southwest region using 105 trained community health workers.
Samuel has also provided financial support to a health facility and training centre in Lagos aimed at curbing maternal mortality.
This wide range of activities contributed to him winning the Global Youth Ambassador of the Year title. Theirworld’s Youth team said: "We are extremely proud of Samuel for being nominated and voted by his peers. He is a worthy winner - inspirational, dedicated and always encouraging his fellow GYAs."
For Samuel and other youth activists, there is still a long road ahead - with more than 260 million children out of school around the world. Within Nigeria, he believes it will take a huge collaborative effort to end the education crisis.
Samuel added: “There must be a conscious effort to increase budget allocation for the education sector at local, state and federal level. Also, individual business owners, civic actors, and public policy-makers must do all within their workspace to promote quality education.
“They need to do this by acknowledging and addressing overcrowding in schools, making education funding a priority, addressing the school-to-prison pipeline, raising standards for teachers and putting classroom-running and curriculum-building decisions in the hands of the community. “
Investing time and effort is key, said Samuel. One small example of this came through his work with Teach For Nigeria.
“There were three learners in my class that couldn’t identify or write the alphabet. I began to work with these children, giving them special classes, extra tutors and following them home to understand their learning problems.
“I discovered that they hawked petty goods after school and had little or no time to revise the daily lessons taught in schools, by themselves or with other experienced persons. After talking with their parents to encourage more reading and learning time for them, plus visual and practical-oriented learning efforts, we were able to achieve a 33% improvement in their literacy and reading skills.
“Really, it takes a community to teach a child. However, charity begins at home. For servant leaders like me, education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.”
Why Samuel was named GYA of the Year
Here are some of the reasons given by fellow Global Youth Ambassadors for voting for Samuel.
"He is a peace ambassador and recently become a US consultant fellow out of 3,000 eligible Nigerians."
"He is a very determined leader."
"He has been establishing peace clubs in elementary schools."
"He has been a great inspiration to youths."
"He is a very resilient, vibrant, relentless and determined young man with a difference."
"He is mentoring me under the sponsorship of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme."