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‘We must intentionally groom future generations to make safe choices a way of life’

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Obidiegwu

Ugochi Obidiegwu is a Safety Education Advocate. Her Safety Movement focuses on creating unique safety education products and events for African children and educators in order to intentionally groom safety conscious children. Using ‘The Safety Chic’ platform on social media, she engages in safety advocacy. The Train Them Young Initiative (#2TYI), one of the projects of her social enterprise has taught safety skills to over 5000 students in Nigeria and Ghana. She is the author of the illustrated child safety storybook series – The Adventures of Muna, self-published on Amazon. It has sold in 11 states in Nigeria and 8 countries. There are currently three books in the series. She convenes the annual School Safety Summit where relevant stakeholders proffer solutions to safety challenges affecting school children. Obidiegwu is a YALI Regional Leadership Centre Fellow for Emerging African Leaders. In 2017, she was a finalist for the McKinsey Next Generation Woman Leader Award. In 2018, she became a Tony Elumelu Entrepreneur and a Mandela Washington Fellow. She sat on the 2018/19 West African Regional Advisory Board to IREX and USAID on matters relating to the Mandela Washington Fellowship. She is a member of the World Safety Organisation and recently made a presentation at the organisation’s Symposium in Las Vegas on Grooming the future workforce. Obidiegwu in this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA shares her plans to keep introducing innovative safety programmes and drive to enhance safety consciousness.

As a safety education advocate, what message do you preach?
I believe that if more people had a little bit more safety education on different areas of life, they will make better choices and it would reduce avoidable injuries and death arising from safety incidents. Therefore, I preach about safety consciousness using easy language, pictures, videos and stories.

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How can more people key into being safety conscious?
It starts with our attitude. We live in a religious part of the world and people would rather say ‘God forbid’ or ‘It’s not my portion’, than put safety systems in place. We also have the category of people who think safety is only for sectors such as oil and gas, aviation and construction.

Therefore, they are not exposed to anything serious. We also have those who want to take shortcuts, which are unsafe because either no one is watching them or they are trying to meet a deadline. We need more people to become conscious that their action or inaction can affect their life and that of others. Once, we get our attitude and mindset right as a people, it becomes easier for training, use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety systems to work seamlessly.

Tell us about some of your programmes and projects aimed at driving the message of safety?
Our programmes are aimed at two categories: children and adults. For children, we run the Train Them Young Initiative (#2TYI) where we use our in-house curriculum to train the children on different aspects of safety so that regardless of the safety situation, they can act. For students in the primary school, we use my child safety storybook series; The Adventures of Muna. For secondary school students, our curriculum is presented through PowerPoints to make it interactive. In addition, once a year, we organise a Movie Day With The Safety Chic for teenagers where we see a movie that has safety lessons and learn other safety tips. Directly, we have impacted over 5000 young people in Nigeria and Ghana. For adults, there are two major aspects: School Safety Summit and Community outreaches. For the past three years, we have organised the annual School Safety Summit where stakeholders come together to identify the safety challenges affecting school children and proffer solutions to them. We are already working towards the 4th edition for educators slated for 30th May 2020. Our second programme for adults is our community outreaches where we are sought to train diverse groups on different aspects of safety. So, we can be found training at events targeted for educators, residential estates, associations or even places of worship. We also leverage social media to share safety information in simple ways that can be understood by non-safety professionals.

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What has been their impact so far?
The impact has been amazing. The children go home and share what they learn with their parents, siblings and friends. For the adults, I keep getting feedback from people who used information from one of our sessions to save lives. There was a case of a lady in our first aid session who used her knowledge to revive a fellow passenger in a bus few weeks after. Another was able to set up a safety system in her home for children with special needs. And yet another was able to prevent a fire. These are just a few examples. I have also noticed that on social media when a safety case comes, I get tagged a lot with people saying things like, ‘this is what Safety Chic is always talking about’ or ‘I learned about this from The Safety Chic’. That shows me that people in non-safety professions are beginning to pay more attention. They now see that truly, safety is everybody’s business and accidents can happen anywhere, any time regardless of the sector.

How can individuals maintain and take safety precautions in their homes?
There are so many things we take for granted in our homes because our situational awareness is very low at home. Everyone must periodically take a good look at their homes. Are things in the right place? Are there obstructions on walkways? Where is the gas cylinder kept? Where is the generator kept? Is the home properly child proofed to reduce incidences of children falling from stairs, falling off open cabinets, drinking cleaning fluids, playing with sharp objects or hot fluids spilling on them? Is the plastic bag (a.k.a nylon) that contains other nylons away from toddler reach? This can actually be a suffocation hazard to them. Once we intentionally assess our homes, we will begin to see the hazards present. After spotting the hazards, we must begin to put control measures in place. I realise that the way some houses are built might make things difficult but, we owe ourselves the duty to improvise and suit our unique context. For instance, I know a family who cannot keep their gas cylinder outside because of the way the house is built. Therefore as a rule, after cooking, they turn off not just the gas cooker but the gas cylinder too. Hence, safety rules at home must be communicated to all otherwise errors can happen. The important thing here is ensure your home safety system suits your peculiar context and eliminates or reduces the risk of harm.

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Do you think Nigerians are safety conscious?
For the most part, those who work in the sectors I have mentioned above are a bit better than the general population. But in the general population, there is still so much work to be done. Due to advocacy, more people are getting enlightened but there are still so many people who have not heard this safety consciousness message.

This is why I keep speaking, training and sharing on social media so that others can learn and pass on to their sphere of influence. Today, we have more safety professionals speaking up and using their social media platforms to share the safety message.

What informed targeting most of your programmes at young people?
To a large extent, adults are set in their ways. It takes a lot of intentionality for them to change habits. Young people on the other hand are still malleable. You would agree with me that a lot of habits we took into adulthood where learned as children either good or bad. Therefore, I decided that we must intentionally groom the future generation to make safe choices as a way of life. If we teach them this consistently, they will grow with it. The implication for the future is that we will have more adults who see making safe choices as a normal lifestyle and this will reduce accidents attributed to human error. This is why we have the child safety storybook series and we made sure the characters looked African so the children could relate. I’m happy that the books in the series are now translated to French so that children in French speaking African countries can also access it.

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What key safety message should Nigerians imbibe?
Think safety before taking any action.

What endeared you to being a safety advocate, any experiences, growing up?
Initially, when I got interested in the safety profession, I wanted to work with one of the organisations in the oil and gas sector. But a combination of factors made me become a safety education advocate. The first was the loss of my mother to the careless habits of a driver. The second was a fire outbreak at a major supermarket on the island. The third was reading a series of newspaper reports of a family dying from generator fumes and factory workers dying in a fire due to absence of an emergency exit. When I connected these events and so many others I researched, I saw that in most of the situations more education or preparedness could have salvaged the situation.

Therefore, I decided to do something about it. I am glad at the progress made since 2016 and I look forward to working with more organisations that want to raise safety consciousness in Nigeria and Africa.

What is your philosophy of life?
Whatever your hands find to do, do with all diligence.

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