Meet Rita, University of Manchester Volunteer of the Year Awards winner from Nigeria, whose passion for volunteering and empowering her community has not only transformed lives but earned her recognition. We delve into her inspiring story and the remarkable impact of her volunteering work.
Rita Robert Otu studied a master’s in International Development (Economics and Management of Rural Development) at the Global Development Institute. She is also the founder of PEAS Foundation – a non-governmental organisation initiating a network of projects and programs focussed on increasing environmental sustainability awareness, poverty reduction, girls’ and women’s empowerment and education.
Introducing herself as an “agricultural whiz,” she begins by proudly stating her dual identity as both a farmer and a Nigerian. Her deep love for volunteering, she emphasises, is her way of giving back to society. “We know that in this society, we have the haves and the have-nots,” Rita says. “Volunteering is just a great way of giving back to the society.”
The Meaning of Volunteering: Impacting Lives
For Rita, volunteering means much more than just lending a helping hand. “Volunteering to me means giving back, impacting lives in whatever way I can through my leadership skills,” she explains. Her dedication to making a difference is evident in her extensive network of volunteers, largely composed of women and young girls. Rita’s work inspires those around her to become part of her mission.
Encouraging Students to Volunteer
When asked about encouraging students to volunteer, Rita’s passion shines through. She believes that volunteering during one’s student years is a powerful way to enhance their university experience. “It’s a way of making new friends and being part of a local community,” she says. Rita stresses the importance of developing new skills and experiences, which can be invaluable when students enter the job market. “To me,” she says, “I always ask my students to volunteer.”
Never Too Late to Start:
For those who may have never considered volunteering, Rita’s message is clear: “It’s never too late.” She dispels common misconceptions that volunteering is too time-consuming or expensive, emphasising that even small efforts can make a significant impact. Rita urges people to find local communities and start volunteering, as it’s the little things that can leave a lasting legacy.
The Phenomenal Award Win: Celebrating Social Responsibility
The Volunteer of the Year awards recognise and celebrate volunteering taking place across the University with projects locally, nationally and internationally. Rita’s recent award win was a momentous occasion in her journey. She describes it as a “phenomenal experience” that took her by surprise. The recognition of her work was not only a personal triumph but also an opportunity to celebrate the impact of social responsibility. Volunteering plays a crucial role in addressing social issues in Nigeria. In 2018, Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics reported that about 20.9 million Nigerians had engaged in volunteer activities.
Future Initiatives: Advocating for Food Security
Looking ahead, Rita is planning an event in October to unite alumni from two Nigerian states, Cross River and Akwa Ibom. The event will focus on volunteering and creating awareness about food security. Rita’s agenda includes educating women farmers about agroecology, sharing her experiences as a local farmer who has made a global impact, and providing guidance to parents aspiring to send their children abroad for education.
Food security remains a significant concern in Nigeria. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, about 9.2 million people in Nigeria faced acute food insecurity in 2020.
Leaving Footprints in Your Life
Rita’s parting advice is simple yet sincere: “The little things you do can have a lasting impact.” She attributes her journey to her early volunteer work as a young girl and encourages students and young people to give back, connect with their communities, and leave footprints on their life’s journey.