Teens for Change: Daniel's Changemaker Journey
Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, Daniel learned from a young age how to navigate challenges he and his friends experienced every day because of where they lived. Born and raised in a slum community, Daniel, as well as his family and neighbors, faced constant barriers to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities.
“One of the challenges I faced was the societal beliefs among African communities, specifically amongst slum community dwellers. The belief that once a child is unable to go to school due to his/her parent’s inability to afford tuition fees, they are expected to engage in early hard labor like hawking to provide and support the family. This has done more harm than good in the lives of these kids on the streets.” With limited access to formal schooling, Daniel observed his peers struggle to find jobs near their homes and, as a result, several turned to crime to provide for themselves or their families.
Frustrated, Daniel started to scrutinize the problems his community faced. He learned that his neighborhood was not alone; in fact, the United Nations found that half the urban population of sub-Saharan Africa lives in slum communities.
Daniel paused. He quickly recognized that his experience was shared by millions of young people across his city, country, and region, and was unsettled by the sheer scale of the challenge.
Shortly after, Daniel received free graphic design training and mentorship from a professional in his community. For the first time in years, Daniel felt emboldened. This experience widened his imagination of his potential as he felt more control of his career and excitement for his future. “What if everyone was exposed to the mentorship and guidance from professionals?”
Daniel wondered, thinking about his friends and former classmates. Daniel decided to write an article in his local paper about the necessity of a formal education for children living in slum communities. Calling for immediate action, Daniel wrote, “every child is your child, and every out-of-school kid is our collective responsibility.”
At 15 years old, Daniel took on a part of that responsibility. He rallied together eight of his friends and, together, they launched a social venture called Teens for Change Foundation. Their mission was to keep students living in slum communities in school and increase the quality of education in untapped potential of young people in neighborhoods like their own.
They dreamed of providing every student in Lagos access to vocational skill training with the hopes of also reversing unemployment rates for longer term prosperity. The goal was courageous, so the team decided to investigate the challenge of youth unemployment and education attainment further. “Why are students dropping out of school? What is missing from our education?” Daniel questioned.
The team carried out a community research project, surveying families and students about the causes for rising dropout rates. Analyzing the results, the team found that many young people in slum communities did not go to school simply because they were unable to afford the tuition and other school-related costs like uniforms and textbooks. A one-time fundraiser felt unsustainable to the team, they wanted a solution, not a temporary fix. “If we can’t pay for everyone to stay in school,” Daniel reflected, “then what can we do?”
The survey also presented a powerful, but unexpected, perspective of the challenge. They learned that “aside the risks of doing hard labors on the streets by the kids, they were in turn being taught resiliency and the ability to survive under tough pressures. A lot of the kids learned how to feed themselves without fully depending on their parents, and this to me was an eye-opener.”
Daniel and his friends recognized that education should not only be about academic or vocational knowledge, but also equipping young people with the skills they needed to navigate their uncertain reality. Young people were craving choice; they wanted to drive their own future.
The team mobilized – they sought out the support of community leaders, educators, business owners, friends, and family members to be allies for change. However, when Daniel began to pitch his idea of Teens for Change to adults, there were numerous rejections from parents and community leaders.
When facing rejection, Daniel kept his greatest inspiration in mind: his grandmother. Spreading positivity, “she always had a smile on her face no matter how hard she worked, and she loved everyone. She was respected and always gives more than she received. I try to live like she did, as much as I can.”
Daniel, undeterred by adults’ disapproval, continued to present his idea to his community. Instead, he and his team felt “the joy of speaking as young adults and being heard.”
Over several years, the team recruited mentors to teach vocational skill training and acquired a facility that they transformed into a community learning center. So far, the team has encouraged 2,500 young people to return to school, equipping them with new skills and mentorship through vocational workshops and leadership seminars by local professionals. And with graduation in mind, the team has supported over 150 students to compete secondary education and prepared 100 students to pursue higher education.
Hoping to expand his impact, Daniel plans to collaborate with his state’s government to implement vocational training as a part of school curriculum. Bright-eyed, he and his friends aspire to open Teens for Change centers in all Nigerian states, which would benefit young people in his community and beyond.
“Success for me will be a world where inequality faced by children from slum communities is erased. A world where young people’s voices are heard.” Along with inspiring young people to continue their education, Daniel believes education will be a necessary step toward enabling the next generation of young leaders in his community.
Through education and mentorship, Daniel is uplifting young people who may not recognize their potential as changemakers. And by increasing access to opportunities in slum communities and encouraging young people to determine their own future, Daniel’s journey demonstrates to young people everywhere that they too can make a positive difference.
This story is part of the #EverydayChangemaking series, amplifying voices and journeys of people across Sub-Saharan Africa driving positive change in their communities.
This story was written by Arianna Mosqueda and edited for length and clarity.