By Kris Obiaje
Vivacious with an abiding tender smile plastered on her bonnie face, Tony Joy, an amazing social worker and changemaker with an uncanny love for rural development and its inhabitants is a delight to chat up. The graduate of English Language of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife runs Durian Ng, an organization set up to empower communities in order make them self-sufficient, through transforming local waste to valuables.
Durian trains self-help groups on how to make a livelihood from reclaimed local waste. A full-fledge eco-village training center made entirely of bamboo and salvaged materials is currently under construction. The novel idea is to serve as a model entrepreneurial hub and a place of business innovation for people in Imafon, Akure and the surrounding communities.
In this chat, Joy speaks about her passion for ‘dirts’ and how if people give it a second look, valuable materials could be created thereof.
At Durian: What We Do
We focus on rural communities. What we do is to go to them and asses what they have. For instance, you have cocoa pods, how can it be transformed to a source of livelihood? If you have bamboo, how could it be used to provide shelter? How can waste fabrics be used to make school bags for children so that they don’t have to buy bags again? How can used vehicle tyres become shoes? The idea is that rural community are poor and marginalized but people don’t see the uniqueness in them and in what they have which can become a means of empowerment. So, we are looking at it from that angle.
Durian has different arms, we have the children’s phase, where they learn school work, how to create things, how to appreciate the environment and learn leadership as well. Then, we have the adult section where they also learn leadership training in various areas such as; conflict management, cost management, business management, book keeping etc, which runs for two months. They also learn skill set, like how to produce bags from fabrics waste and how to become a voice questioning the government at local, state and federal level.
Durian runs basically on grands. We are trying to nurse bamboo and the idea is to restore the bamboo forest with the aim of teaching people to generate income from bamboo. With bamboo, you can make building, furniture, musical instruments, picture frames, toothpick among others. We want to introduce that to the rural communities.
Tony Joy: The Prodigy Behind Durian
I am a graduate of English language from Obafemi Awolowo University. I finished in 2014 and ever since, I’ve engaged myself in community development. I actually grew up in Ilorin, Kwara state. Growing up for me was filled up with multiple experiences. But let’s say I grew more as a lonely child. Some of the factors which rubbed off on what I am trying to achieve with rural kids today.
What is the push for Community development?
I have a personal story that is connected to poverty, low self-esteem, as a victim of depression, I did attempted suicide twice. So you see, I have a personal story connected to giving up. I have done everything to almost give up on life. At some point, I met some people who came to share their problems with me. They didn’t motivate me, but I was rather like a pillar for them. So their problems changed me. I was in a big mess, but here they come asking for my help and being oblivious of my own predicament. So I told myself that after passing through extreme poverty, assault, pains, name it – I felt having come out of it, there is need to share this life with others in similar circumstances
so those encounters triggered in me a change of mind. So I decided that I want to start living life like people on the street who aren’t treated like humans considering my past experiences.
My experiences drew me closer to nature. I decides to focus on rural communities, because we discovered that in time past, much attention hasn’t been focused on children in rural communities who are denied education due to poverty and lack. I always tell people that I have been given the opportunity to retell my story and I can only do it effectively by helping others. Especially, rural children.
There wasn’t attempt after graduation to job-hunt?
No, I worked with a non-governmental organization, NGO, for two years. But later I quitted. In 2015, I started some activism named ‘Clean the Environment’ and the idea then, was that I was tired of people telling me that I can’t do anything and all those negative things. I grew up with those words, I never had anyone told me, you can do it.
So, the idea was to prove people wrong that young people are not useless and lazy. So, I gathered young people together to clean streets and we eventually got to the media phase. After that time, I fell in love with waste and that’s why I see my life as having connection with waste. You know waste is seen as something useless but when you revive it, it will turn to something beautiful.
I registered the organization as ‘Making a Difference Foundation’. The idea is to say, we are
mad because people normally tell us as young people if you want to do certain things, that you are mad, you are too young and again, that we are useless. So, the idea was to prove them wrong by making a difference.
Durian: What’s in the Name?
But in 2017, I had the opportunity of studying in India and during the period, I decided to re-learn how to create a name that connects with the essence of what we do as an organization and that’s where Durian comes from.
Durian works like a child of the foundation. The foundation is registered as a name with the aim to do so many things as we grow but Durian is the first son.
To begin with, Durian is a fruit, it smells very horrible but taste so good just like chilled ice cream. It’s a fruit that creates contrast, and it’s found in South-East Asia. In some of these countries, it’s band. And if you look at it, waste smells too and it is horrible but something beautiful and amazing can be created out of it.
Rural communities are often seen as poor and marginalized but they are beautiful and amazing if given an opportunity. I think the height of creating without technology is found in rural communities because they don’t need internet to create anything. So, I think that we need time in injecting more on them so that some day, it would be said that rural communities have become hubs for creativity, innovation and enterprise development. We want to see that future.
Aside Grants, any Collaboration with Government?
Right now, the answer would be No! In 2015, when we got the dump site, we had support but after then, there has been none.There was a time we did reached out to certain government agencies, but we were told that the State doesn’t have money.
What is the Benefits of a Plastic House?
We call it eco-friendly craft-building. That’s the first idea, to be eco-friendly. The second thing is to cleanup the environment while solving a problem. What is the problem? We needed a bigger place to continue our training, because the current space isn’t even enough for the children alone. So, if we are going to solve a problem, we needed to use another problem. So, we said, let’s clean up the environment. We got the kids to begin popping togther plastic bottles the people consider as waste. I can say it a thousand times that they is nothing call waste. Everything we find around us can be converted to something useful. And this is more cost effective than using the regular building materials, whose cost for us would have ran into millions of naira. So, this place will be our major training centre. You know, nothing is called waste, we need to start looking beyond our skull.
Message for disoriented and demoralized Youths
Break the box. Nobody is going to break it for you. The government won’t do it for you. It might be difficult but trust me, you can’t be like everybody. You are going to be poor for a very long time and not being able to do a lots of things. We are living in a world where everyone is talking about the problems facing us without practical action. So we need more young people to move from talking to taking action. And if you need guidance, seek it, don’t be afraid to seek guidance especially from the right people, most importantly when you are a lady. Ladies get into a lot of trouble seeking counsel. The world is filled up with a lot of good and the negative. Seek the good. It would take time and will look like your mates are running faster than you, but you will get there. Learn what you can learn and follow dream, find your peace like your life is depended on that, because you have short time to spend on earth, even, 70 years is still short.
However, in doing all this, be kind to people and show love to everyone you meet, because you never can tell who will change your story, it could the people you think are not relevant, it could be the taxi driver, the gatekeeper, cleaner or the secretary. So just show love, you know.
Government and NGOs like Durian, any Synergy?
I think there should be a meeting point between what the government is doing and the NGO because the government has its own different points of dimension and perspective, while the NGO works at the grassroot level. So, we need a meeting point in order to support each other. Government needs information from us, and as of truth, we are on ground and as NGOs, we can adequately tell the story of people we work with. We actually need their support financially and on policy matters so as to make things work.
For instance, one continues to wonder, why should the registration of NGO in Nigeria takes 7months or one year, if you don’t have a vibrant lawyer to push it on your behalf. So, I think these are some of the things government should look into because it’s not so in other countries.
Another thing is that government has grants, they should release money for organizations to work at the local level, since they themselves can’t effectively function there. They should be this connection, a meeting point, because right now it is blank. I don’t even know if government has data of the number of NGOs in a state and if NGOs themselves know that government has grants that they can access. Simply put, the government needs us and we need then as well.
Any Synergy between Durian and the host Community?
So far, we have a strong support from the head of the women in Imafon community. She is really interested in what we are doing, the land we are using was provided by her, even if it is on lease. At sone point, she has also helped us by mobilizing the people to come for training.
Apart from that, we haven’t had that strong support. However, we are growing into that. As an organization,we are here to empower people and have them impact on the community so that the leaders here can begin to ask where these are coming from. So it isn’t about just running to them, but to have them see that we are here to make impact. So, that’s the driving force.
How We’ve been telling the Durian Story
Well, we have the website, durian.org and the facebook page, Durian ng and some other avenues where we have been telling the Durian stories. Recently, we began teaching the children how to make school sandals. We want them to have their own shoes. If you go into a lot of communities, you will find the same scenario. Here we are trying to make a huge difference from the usual things where people come to rural communities and donate shoes to children without teaching them how to do it and the implication is that you are making rural communities always dependent. So, we want to change the phenomena .Lets train the children how to make it themselves, so that when they grow, they will teach others, how to make the shoes and the circle continues. In the long run, we won’t need external people to bring shoes to communities, they would rather become self-sufficient. They can then look around and convert waste to wealth. So we tell all these stories online and people have been giving motivating feedback.