ELP 2015, the beginning of my story and vision for sustainable Environmental change in Africa and the world

by Binta Iliyasu, Nigeria, ELP 2015
Written on July 17, 2015.

As a 2014 Fellow of the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), I set out from Nigeria feeling extremely lucky to participate in the 2015 Environment Leadership Program on “Sustainable Environmental Management” during its 15th year anniversary! I came with great expectations to learn and also interact with renowned professors and faculty members and fellow participants and in addition, develop partnership and collaboration.

My story began from Northern Nigeria where I was born. This is a part of the world where women are denied the opportunity for education. I was lucky. My parents were enlightened about the importance of education by the missionaries. Therefore, they risked sending me and other girls to school. At the age of nine, I was selected to write an entrance examination to a boarding primary school when some women from my community who knew I might succeed tried to discourage me. They advised me to write the wrong answers in order to fail and be denied education. I ignored them and did the right thing. The heads of the institutions I attended encouraged me as I persevered, giving me the push in the right direction.

I secured admission into the university immediately after my secondary school, but social pressures emerged again. My parents were persuaded to get me married. Among all my suitors, the man who would become my husband was the only one willing to allow me to further my education after marriage, even though he was advised against it. Today, I stand before you as a biochemist, the best overall student at my graduation! I am the first female university graduate from my community of hundreds of households. At present, I am a Principal Research Officer with the Nigerian Institute for Trypansomiasis Research and also a 2014 Fellow of the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development. I am committed to improve the livelihoods of rural sub-Saharan African smallholder farming communities by addressing our greatest challenges.

African trypanosomiasis, commonly known as sleeping sickness in humans and ‘nagana/sammore in animals, remains one of the greatest constraints to agricultural development in the region. The tsetse fly vector of the disease inhabits fertile areas, causing farmers to migrate, abandoning their land. Global warming and the political crisis in the region only worsens the situation so the disease now exists in areas known to be free. Chemotherapy, which is the main control option, is weak and unsatisfactory. I am exploring the difference between the parasite and mammalian host as potential target for DNA vaccine. I want to prove that women can make a big difference in improving the lives of our people. In doing so, I hope to become a role model to the women in my community.

My expectations were met. The three-week learning experience was great and rewarding. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about a wide range of topics suitable for interdisciplinary learning, networking, collaboration, conflict resolution and negotiation. I had special coaching on communication and in building “My story,” resulting in the creation of my vision to reach out to the women from my community who are still not as lucky as I am – educated.

It is obvious, and there is no controversy; education is the path away from poverty and other environmental problems and the doorway to sustainable livelihood. The ability to make the right decisions in life hinges on empowerment through education. I therefore envision Africa to rise up to the current challenges of food insecurity, poverty, maternal and child ill health, gender inequality, and socio economic under development through the provision of quality education to all - men and women alike. Education should be embraced and integrated well into the culture. My vision for Africa and the world is the phasing out of restrictions on education by ensuring gender equality.

To the world, I am saying:
No to gender discrimination!
Yes to quality education!