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Victor Ugo: The Heart Of The ‘MANI’ Movement

Victor Ugo is a medical doctor with over two years’ experience in Health Advocacy with a special focus on Mental Health. His role at the forefront of Mental Health Advocacy in Nigeria is evident in his position as the Founder/President of one of Nigeria’s leading mental health NGOs, Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI). Guardian Life had a quick chat with him about his work, plans for the coming year and other projects.

Can you tell us about yourself?
I’m Victor Ugo, a medical doctor who graduated from Igbinedion University, Okada in 2014. I’m a huge fan of books and music, and I sing and play the piano a bit.

Tell us about the Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative?
The Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) is a non-governmental, nonprofit organisation working to improve the dire state of mental health advocacy and care in Nigeria and Africa. We started our campaigns in June 2016, with the sole aim of driving awareness towards these issues identifying social media as a viable tool for advocacy, especially in cases where resources are limited. Our campaigns so far have proved to be successful, and we have grown beyond what we thought possible.

Mental awareness is a very touchy subject, especially in Nigeria. How have you been able to deal with these sensitive subjects like depression, bipolar affective disorder and suicidal thoughts in your line of work?
Well, we have tried to simplify these sensitive subjects. We addressed each of these common mental illnesses per month, starting in November 2016, using series of chats on Twitter, graphic representations on Instagram and Facebook, as well as prompt campaigns over the three major social media platforms. We shared stories of members of our community, which had the effect of encouraging more people to share their stories as well. It became “cool” to talk about your insecurities, because we made people very comfortable to share, and assured them of a community of people that will understand them and teach them.

What are your biggest achievements so far particularly in the past year?
I’d say my biggest achievement was pitching MANI forward for the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards 2017, which we eventually won in the Civil Society Organisation category, selected from within 300 applications. Also, being chosen as one of the 30 under 30 creatives in Africa by the C. Hub Magazine, being nominated for The Future Awards Africa prize for Advocacy and being selected as one of the Orange Active Citizens of the year by Orange Insider TV in collaboration with The Insider. More importantly, setting up and running our distress/suicide hotline, which has since successfully intervened in over 2000 calls and messages and is stably run by trained counsellors.

What are your greatest challenges?
As funny as it might sound, I [sometimes] have issues with maintaining my motivation to keep going. My decision to take a step back from clinical practice and focus on MANI sometimes doesn’t sit well with folks at home, although now they are fully in support. Also, most of my intended ventures are resource intensive so obviously I have to deal with that.

What can we expect from MANI this year?
We are focusing on projects that are more physical and will be building a student network across tertiary institutions in the country. These student networks will form the basis of what we are trying to achieve in the next couple of years, with the training of young people in recognition of mental health symptoms and help-seeking.

Beyond MANI, tell us other ventures you’re working on?
I’m working to set up and publish a magazine, Strength in Disability Africa, which focuses on highlighting the achievements of disabled people in various countries in Africa. I believe it will inspire other disabled people across the continent. I’m also working on setting up a coalition of young people to tackle the United Nations SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) with an upcoming initiative of mine called SocialAid4Dev (Social Aid For Development).

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