Home for the Holidays: Mixing Christmas with Advocacy

I often tell young people that when we learn to support the progress of others, we quickly notice that we are not easily intimidated by their success. Instead, we learn that collaboration is the new way forward; we form partnerships where we learn from each other and not envy each other.

In Bob Proctor’s book, You Were Born Rich, he writes “ truth, the only competition you will ever have is with your own ignorance... [and] envy is ignorance.”

During my teenage years, I learned that envying other young people and what they had only made me feel terrible and ungrateful. I wanted what they had even though I didn’t need it. I wondered why my life wasn’t like theirs. I’m not sure how I overcame that envious period of my life, but I believe it was when I decided to focus on God more, focus on appreciating the gifts and talents I had. That’s when things began to change, not lightning-quick per se, but things began to change.

My circle of friends began changing. It was like finding a new life. My friends and I would pray together and encourage each other. We would volunteer at community-based outreach programs to provide relief materials to those in need. By engaging in these activities, developing my skills and deliberately being more self-aware, I slowly found my way into the world of social and civic engagement in Nigeria.

Nigerians love to throw parties and celebrate every small and large event. We love festivities and celebrations, so this December I decided to spend Christmas in my home country, shuttling between Lagos and Calabar. Calabar is in the southernmost part of Nigeria. It’s the small, green, beautiful city I grew up in. Lagos is the opposite of Calabar with its monstrous population and nearly unbearable traffic jams.

I spent the first half of 2019 mostly in Calabar and in the summer, I moved to Salzburg, Austria to work with the communications team at Salzburg Global Seminar, an international organization challenging current and future leaders to shape a better world. In October, I was off to the Social Enterprise World Forum in Ethiopia to speak about innovation in youth engagement and the importance of my role with BlankPaperz Media in amplifying youth voices. I began BlankPaperz as an online platform for young Africans to write and share their stories about the societal issues that affect them. I would host physical workshops and programs to teach young people about communications, writing skills and the power of storytelling.

After my work in Ethiopia, I flew to Accra for a workshop with the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) for a youth-policy project called the Common Futures Conversation Project, which we’ve been working on since 2018. The goal of this project is to launch a new forum in 2020 for young people in Africa and Europe to discuss major global challenges with policymakers.

I came back to Calabar after this work with the hope of spending the last few weeks of 2019 in rest and quietness, thinking ahead for 2020 and my ongoing work with BlankPaperz. But before I could relax, there was one final trip I had to make for 2019 - a 16-hour road trip to Lagos.

A colleague and I co-hosted and organized the ChangemakerXchange Global Co-Creation Summit (CXC) in Lagos, where we gathered some of the best and brightest West African social entrepreneurs for a two-day intensive summit. In retrospect, hosting and spending time with these young change-makers was the best way for me to end 2019. I think of it as an early Christmas gift.

During this summit, we learned from each other and encouraged one another. We shared our vulnerabilities, asked questions, spoke about our biases, how we could increase our impact and how we could be better people and leaders. No envy, just co-creating with love and mutual respect for each other.

When I was that younger kid who wanted to have what other kids were having, I failed to look inward and see my own potential, my own calling and my own gifting. I didn’t know what I had to offer then, but  today I am  grateful I had people who encouraged me and helped to nurture my light so I could live my best life and give my best talents to the world. I continued to focus on building myself up and breaking through my limitations because if I had not, I doubt I would have co-hosted this transformative summit, spending crucial time with other young Africans advocating for gender equality, building inclusive societies for children with special needs, promoting agricultural sustainability, and so much more.

The summit allowed for participants to get acquainted with other youth leaders in the CXC network, while discussing key topics on how to increase the impact of the global ChangemakerXchange community as a whole. I’m grateful for this early Christmas gift, the gift of spending time with a community of young, burgeoning leaders who inspire me to be better, and the gift of spending time with my family and loved ones who support me in being my best self. It feels great to be home for the holidays, mixing Christmas traditions with activism and advocacy.

As children, some of the fun and interesting things we did during Christmas was to throw bangers and knock-outs (fireworks) on the streets with our friends. We would go to our friends’ and neighbors’ houses to eat their special Christmas jollof rice and chicken. Chicken meat is synonymous with Christmas for Nigerians. If you didn’t eat poultry during Christmas, no matter how many times you had poultry during the year, it would feel as though Christmas was incomplete. On the 25th of December, we don our Christmas clothes - brand new dresses and shoes specially bought for Christmas and we head to church with our parents, singing church hymns and lovely Christmas carols.

Presently, my church hosts a special love event on Christmas Eve for those in need and I find that a beautiful Christmas tradition to be part of. Sharing love around the city with our friends and family, and also with those we don’t know is very special indeed.

This reminds me that while Christ was born and raised up to do so much for humankind, we also have obligations as we grow older. We must do the necessary work in order to leave stronger, more inclusive, socially conscious societies for the coming generations. It’s important for us to unpack our purpose, figure out what the world needs most and use all we’ve been given to positively impact the lives of others. This is my hope as we celebrate the birth of Christ and look toward a new year filled with possibilities. A very Merry Christmas from Nigeria.

Mirabelle Morah