Families, the blueprint for stronger communities
The simplest and probably the most accurate definition of a family is “a unit of society”. Every community – regardless of its size – is a product of different groups of families living together in a given geographical location. You will most probably agree that the quality of our immediate and global communities is inevitably linked to the belief systems, ethical and cultural values passed through to us from our families. These, together with our personalities, form the foundation of the quality of contributions we make to the success, growth and development of our communities. Hence, individual families are the building blocks of successful communities.
While we often focus on the responsibilities of governments to provide the necessary infrastructure and basic amenities, it is the responsibility of families to ensure that their members are well-equipped with the right skill sets and resources to make for a stronger community. It is expected that the family will foster the attainment of an education, build socialization skills, a sense of belonging in the society and provide financial, emotional and psychological support for the entire well-being of members. People and communities are more likely to succeed when they enjoy the stability of a loving home.
It is for this important role of supporting the wellbeing of families that many individuals have migrated to other climates in search of opportunities. Remittances are an important and major source of financial support for some families and often for maintaining our societies. According to findings in the 2020 World Migration Report, these migrants continue to be important agents of positive change as they make significant sociocultural, civic and economic contributions to their home and host countries.
Wole Soyinka in one of his writings described the human family as being centred around and concerned about the total well-being of communities: one’s own self-worth is tied to the worth of the community to which one belongs, which is intimately connected to humanity in general… That’s what the human family is all about”. Coincidentally, our Muslim brothers and sisters are observing the Holy month of Ramadan, a season when family ties are celebrated and especially strengthened, it is an opportunity for families to bond, instil important values for the community while they break their fasts and feast together.
For those with family and friends in the diaspora, while physical interactions may be impossible or delayed, technology has provided many innovative ways to bridge distances. Over the years, instant voice and video communication has been helping families to stay in touch, providing a means to inspire one another, bond and instil values. Also as important, it has provided a means through which funds can be sent easily, quickly and in some cases instantly. This means that family members can continue to support each other especially during spiritual observances and festivities like Ramadan.
In the 1980s, while Ismail Ahmed, the founder of WorldRemit who is originally from East Africa, was a student in London, he found that sending money home to family was very inconvenient and slow. It was on this basis of keeping family connections strong through financial support that the technology-led cross-border money transfer company was created. Since then, the organization has been keeping families connected by providing a platform through which funds can be sent home from the diaspora.
For Ada, a WorldRemit customer living in the UK, she has been able to leverage the digital platform to provide financial support to family back home in Nigeria. She uses the WorldRemit app to transfer money into her own bank account in Nigeria and then transfers that out to her parents or her siblings depending on who needs it. She moved to the UK, with sponsorship by her parents and upon completion of her education programme she has been able to secure a job and is able to support family upkeep. In her words: “I send money to my parents. My mum is quite unwell, and the situation in Nigeria means that my siblings, who are also graduates, have not been lucky enough to find work, so I send money to them when I can.”
According to a popular Akan (Ghana, Ivory Coast) proverb, the old woman looks after the child to grow its teeth and the young one, in turn, looks after the old woman when she loses her teeth. This provides a very suitable description of how families are designed to work; members should be able to help and care for one another when they have the capacity as it plays a major role in preserving communities.
Ada was 25 when she moved to the UK, and returns home to Nigeria fairly often, though she’s not been able to for several years, because of moving house, having children and now the pandemic. She says, “in Nigeria, parents invest in their children and hope that their children will look after them when they’re old. When you get a salary, you have to share it. It makes a lot of difference.”
Ada’s brother is living in the UK too with his wife and children, and he shares some of the responsibilities of looking after their family at home. “I don’t tell them what to spend the money on, but I ask their budgets for food or medication, or how much they need.”
In the spirit of Ramadan, a period when family and community ties are especially strengthened: families, regardless of religion, must not forget their role in building sustainable communities and should understand that they can only be truly successful when members can contribute meaningfully to the collective success of their immediate and wider communities.
Gbenga Okejimi is the Country Manager, Nigeria and Ghana, WorldRemit
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