25 September 2015

#YALI2015: My Stroll with Nkem Azinge

“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves” ~ James Matthew Barrie

I feel so much peace after completing this stroll because, I didn’t want to break the “twin code”—if there’s anything like that—by strolling with Nkechi Azinge but not strolling with her twin sister, Nkem. Besides that, Nkem’s story just like Nkechi’s, is very inspiring and it’s just fascinating to see how both of them, with two different personalities, complement each other so well, and are soaring at the very peak; inspiring other young Africans to reach for their potential and shine.

Nkem is a 2015 Mandela Washington fellow, and being the major inspiration behind the establishment of the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation (SCAF), she has worked with her sister, family and friends to raise the awareness of sickle cell in Nigeria. 

In course of this stroll we discuss how she was able to conquer sickle cell, her experience at the 2015 Mandela-Washington Fellowship, the strides of SCAF, and much more. You can either choose to read this summarized transcript, or download the full interview on The Stroll Podcast.

2015 Mandela-Washington Fellowship

Nkem: My YALI experience was nothing short of amazing. I got to spend six weeks with 24 remarkable fellows from other parts of sub-Saharan Africa at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Other than the academic lectures on civic leadership and volunteering, I was opportune to meet, interact, and network with high profile individuals such as Nobel Prize Award winner Leymah Gbowee. I met with Mayors, senators, church clergies, and I visited several government and corporate organizations.

It was indeed a privilege to travel to cities in America that I had never been to before, and it wasn’t just to have a good time, but to also learn about the history of the people. The programme ended with a presidential summit in Washington DC, where all the fellows had the opportunity to gather for a town hall meeting with President Obama who not only applauded us for making a difference in our home countries, but he also encouraged us to continue to be the inspiration that we hope to see in others.

Being a part of YALI was once in a lifetime experience that left me with everlasting friendships, incredible professional growth, and part of a network of inspiring and talented positive individuals influencing change in their communities and countries. 

Nkem and other Nigerian Mandela-Washington Fellows 

Conquering Sickle Cell

Nkem: I will say I have conquered Sickle Cell by breaking barriers and stigmas attached to the disease. In Nigeria, persons with Sickle Cell are perceived to be fragile and weak with a short life expectancy. So, society does not demand or expect much from them. Though I struggled with health challenges throughout my college years, I have successfully completed a Bachelors of Science degree, and even went on to undertake my post-graduate degree at the prestigious Loughborough University. Right now I currently work with the civil service in Nigeria, and I think all of this is possible because I have learnt how to manage my health properly. This is not to say that I don’t experience setback but what I am saying is, even in my most-difficult moments I still remain hopeful. 

All of my achievements have been as a result of determination, a good support system from my family and friends, and increased knowledge and awareness on how to deal with my disorder. 

From Left: Yejide Bello (Vice President Admin, SCAF), Bashyra Hassan (Acting President of the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation) Zahra Buhari, Brand Ambassador and Simnah M. Sambo

SCAF’s Current Projects

Nkem: We are currently working on an annual fund-raising dinner that is supposed to take place next month in October, and we have successfully signed daughter of the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria, Ms. Zahra Buhari, as an ambassador so that she can help us take the organization to greater heights because through her, SCAF will attract more visibility which will therefore attract more funding, and more opportunities for the beneficiaries of the organization. So that is what we have been working on, and more importantly we are also working on the online blood donor register. It’s basically the first of its kind in Nigeria and we’re trying to attract thousands of people on the database, so persons in urgent need of blood transfusion including those with sickle cell can have quick access to people that can donate blood for them.

Nkem and Rutgers MWF volunteering at a food shelter in New Brunswick, NJ

Growing up with Nkechi

Nkem: (laughs) we’re very very close, although we have different personalities. We are the exact opposite of each other; she’s very quiet and I’m very loud, outspoken and extroverted. But my relationship with her most times depends on circumstances. Sometimes she’s my twin sister—we argue, we fight, and make up. But at other times she’s had to play the role of my mother especially during our college years in England because my parents were based in Nigeria at that time—actually were still based in Nigeria. —So she had to be the one to look after me and care for me and she did that all through my college years.

For me, being her twin sister is a gift and she remains my strongest support system and confidant. I think she will say the same for me. The good thing about us having two different personalities is that we try to look out for each other in places where one person is more flawed than the other, and we complement each other very well. It’s a very good balance.

Rutgers University 2015 Mandela Washington Fellows
Life after YALI 2015: a sneak peek into the Future

Nkem: First of all I plan to reconnect with the people I met over there for future partnership. I also plan on using my YALI experience, the knowledge, and the skills I have acquired to serve people better; to mentor people and educate people… My future plan with SCAF is to try to make sure that awareness is out there about sickle cell, and to enrich and impact lives of persons with sickle cell just like myself. I plan to use my experience from YALI to develop myself In order to attend conferences, events, gatherings, and meetings to give talks about sickle cell, as I believe that increased awareness will help reduce the morbidity and mortality rate of the disease.

Aside my professional career, where I am currently a network administrator at the National Identity Management Commission, my long-term aspiration is to become an efficient and effective project manager and I am currently working towards it.


Food for the Soul: “I was nobody, but I prayed, and the Lord saved me from all my troubles” (Psalm 34: 6, CEV)

(Images Credit: Nkem Azinge)

Remember you can listen to or download this interview or other 100+ inspiring stories from around the world on #TheStrollPodcast

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