By Raquel Armendariz Sucunza, Global Schools Project Lead (Communications)
Mentors from the Advocacy program by Global Schools Program (GSP) are key to the progress of the newest cohort of advocates. As former graduates, Mentors are helping by sharing their previous work, encouraging activities, and advising our advocates in all capacities. This is the case of Helen Umeobieri, who took on this new leadership role to support her mentees’ work toward sustainable development by finding new ways to implement Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).
Interview with Helen Umeobieri
Helen Umeobieri is a self-motivated Young Professional Educator with 6+ years of working experience and a passionate advocate for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Quality Education, Zero Hunger, Responsible Consumption and Production, and Climate Action. She is a 2021 cohort of Global Schools Advocate and a Mentor Advocate 2022. In March 2022, she received an Award of Recognition from the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network Lagos for her selflessness and act of contribution to the Network and community at large. She was recognized as one of the six Outstanding Mentee Awards by the Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni Association of Nigeria (MWFAAN) for the first cohort of her Mentorship Scheme for YALI Network members sponsored by the U.S. Mission in Nigeria. In September 2022, Helen was honored as one of the Top 25 and Top 3 Global Education Ambassadors with the most creative and impactful project by Education Sustainability and Vocational Development Initiative.
As a Food Systems Hero, who is also concerned about how improved access to food would help achieve quality education through increased participation and performance of children in underserved communities, Helen has over one year helped children grow out of hunger by volunteering with local NGOs like the Lagos Food Bank Initiative; Mamamoni Empowerment Foundation; Agribility-NUTRIDREN Agriculture Concept among others. Helen holds awareness and collaboration as holistic approaches to fast-track positive actions for a sustainable future. Currently, she is a United People Global Sustainability Leader, a champion, and a Legacy Ambassador who is obsessed with ensuring that more students and youths get access to quality education that will make them problem solvers and not a part of the problem solved in their local communities.
Tell us more about your mentoring role and what it means to you.
I see my mentoring role as an opportunity to hide and support other advocates in executing their mandate. I understand the difficulty of integrating ESD and Global Citizenship Education in schools, especially in underserved communities where teachers are poorly motivated. Learning from my advocacy journey, I have been able to share with my mentees relevant information that has helped them identify and adopt approaches that suit their local school community context. Some of the steps that have helped me in working with mentees include the following:
Creating a conducive environment that allowed them to share their plans, progress, and challenges faced has enabled me to provide guidance and support.
Valued and respected each of their decisions, especially with not being able to avail of group mentoring sessions due to personal or community challenges and providing one-on-one opportunities when necessary.
I gave them deep listening with empathy to understand how demanding it was for them to carry out key roles at work alongside the advocacy, which helped me to provide them with strong emotional support through calls and messages.
Encouraged them to engage in relevant global discussion and share their stories to inspire others to take action.
What led you to decide to become an advocate in the first place?
Before becoming an advocate, my leadership and influence as a professional teacher focused on service, empathy, and commitment while equipping students with basic knowledge and skills for a sustainable future through subjects like Agricultural Science. My continuous passion for helping students become problem solvers and not a part of the problem to be solved in my local community motivated me to apply for the Global Schools Advocacy Program in 2021. Also, my continuous participation in global events relating to my subjects helped me understand how a convergence of issues, including climate change, population growth, land, and water scarcity, especially in urban areas like Lagos, and social-economic changes has mounted pressure on the sustainability of the food system resulting in the high price of food. This, I believe, has kept many underserved groups, including children malnourished and out of school.
During one of my school garden projects with the Agribility-NUTRIDREN Agriculture Concept in 2021, I realized that most of the students and teachers of the beneficiary school lacked knowledge on how value can be generated from recycling plastic in growing vegetables. Hearing the success story of one of the teachers who adopted the knowledge gained to grow vegetables and some fruits she uses to support her family meal made me believe the school system has a greater role in achieving the SDGs.
When I came across the Global Schools' mission of bringing ESD into schools, I felt it was a great opportunity for me to understand further how I can improve my student's knowledge, values, and skills that will help them respond positively to the challenges of their community.
What are your goals as a mentor?
Learning from my experience with the low-income private school over the years, I have realized that teachers are one of the most underpaid professionals. This has remained the major barrier to continuous professional development and the low interest of teachers in such roles as advocates and volunteers to help tackle the challenges of quality education. As a mentor advocate working to provide guidance and support to teachers on ESD and GCED in schools, my major goal is to help them understand how to transform their teaching at little or no cost in a way that the learners will get inspired to make their actions count in responding to their present and future needs.
How and where do you find inspiration for your SDGs-related activities/works as a Global Schools Advocate?
My hunger for knowledge has led me to engage in various virtual events organized by national and international organizations working to tackle the global crisis. It is necessary for teachers being one of the key stakeholders in achieving sustainable development through education, to make themselves available in physical and virtual events that discuss issues relating to their subject matter when they are opportune. My consistency has exposed me to much information that has inspired me to bring such knowledge to my local context. A lot of the time, I engage myself in watching the recording of events I missed while at work and reading stories, articles, and blog posts that describe actions that matter to me. In addition, I try as much as possible to get my students to join selected sessions virtually from my classroom to help them have first-hand information on the urgency of their positive actions as global citizens.
How are you helping Mentees in their advocacy journey?
To ensure that my mentees make the best of their advocacy journey, I provided them with an outline of how I executed my mandate, sharing examples of the activities I carried out using the school-wide approach and other classroom activities I have been able to do with specific grades as a continuing of our actions. I shared with them the likely challenges they may face with the students, teachers, and their communities, such as poor electricity in the local communities. I encouraged them to take advantage of all the professional development opportunities provided by the Global Schools to expand their knowledge of the best ways to integrate ESD and GCED and build a network of advocates they will leverage for future collaboration. I provided them guidance on how to be honest with responding to the KPIs to avoid errors, and most importantly, I have shared opportunities for them to join virtually on ESD-related events.
What achievement are you most proud of?
I'm very proud that one of my mentees, who shared how overwhelmed he was after carrying out his workshop with teachers and some government officials, was named one of the advocates of the month in November. It gave me so much joy that sharing my initiative with my mentees could produce a great impact on them. I'm equally very proud to have received the mentor advocate of the month badge in November, one year after I was recognized as an advocate of the month.
These achievements have not only helped me believe more in my vision even when I think it's small but has also made me see the need to contribute immensely in ensuring that more teachers are trained to become advocates to promote the integration of Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship Education in sub-Saharan Africa where 16.5 million teachers are needed to achieve quality education by 2030.
What is one thing you wish to tell current and future Global Schools advocates?
I wish to tell advocates to ensure that they understand their community challenges to enable them to adopt approaches that are suitable for them. Additionally, advocates should ensure they develop a strong emotional intelligence so as not to be discouraged from completing or continuing their advocacy role due to the pressing challenges that may arise.