Fellow Rotarians

It has now been one month since I arrived in Ibadan. Overall the experience so far has been very positive although it is difficult to be away from the family. Yesterday the daughter of one of our very good friends got married in St. Marys and I was sad that I could not be there with them. Working overseas has many benefits, but it also has its sacrifices.

For those of you who do not know, I took a sabbatical year from my position as Professor at Conestoga College and I am working at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). IITA is an Internationally renowned agricultural research centre with its headquarters based in Ibadan Nigeria. IITA was initially the idea of the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and the institute celebrates its 50th anniversary in July.

Our family Middleton-Mohr has a long connection to Nigeria and IITA. My wife was born in Lagos and boasts (quite rightly although she was yet unborn in her mother’s stomach) to have been present at the Nigeria Independence celebrations on the 1st October 1960. I first came to Nigeria at Christmas in 1984 with my then girlfriend Trixie (now my wife of 31 years) to visit her parents who worked and lived in Nigeria for over 30 years. I visited for the next couple of years and in 1987 came to work at IITA as Manager of the Hotel and Catering Services. Trixie and I had 3 children while at IIITA and their firsts years were spent here in Ibadan.

I left IITA in 1997 and came to St. Marys to oversee the opening and manage the first couple of years at the Stone Willow Inn.

Early in December I was contacted by IITA who were struggling to find a manger for their hospitality and travel services. I proposed the idea of a sabbatical year to help them, everything worked out and now I am here for a year.

I manage as team of 185 national staff, we have hotel rooms, conference facilities, bars and restaurants in different locations, all the sporting facilities, book all the travel for the Institutes staff, a staff canteen serving 1500 people every lunchtime, a community store and guest houses in different locations.  The job is challenging but there is never a dull moment.

Each month I will share with you a couple of the experiences that are shaping my stay here and provide an insight why I took up this challenge when I had finally been able to carve out a very enjoyable and successful life in the beautiful town of St Marys.

Before leaving many of you may have read about the security problems in North Eastern Nigeria and the famine. One of the ways of tackling the situation is to help the local agricultural industry in those regions to increase their productivity. IITA has been working with the farmers in Borno State delivery seed and expertise in their quest to improve agricultural production. Former President said in his speech last week in Maiduguri “I consider any productive farmer a humanitarian, no matter what he or she makes. This is essentially why the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture will forever remain of one the greatest holder of the world. This is an organization whose only concern is to deploy so much resources into identifying ways by which food can be grown in higher quality and quantity to feed the world, to make the farmer grow in productivity in order to create more jobs. Agriculture remains the highest employer on earth and the IITA plays a pivotal role in sustaining this”.

On a much smaller scale. One of my employees had taken a couple of days off to go and look after his sick daughter. The supervisor was not sure what was going on so I asked him what was going on. He said that his 10-year-old daughter had not been able to walk well for a while and the school had called and told him to take her home. He was desperately looking for some money so we could take her to a traditional healer. I told him I would not be part of that but I would pay for her to visit our clinic on site. A clinical visit, an x-ray, a diagnosis, treatment and medication and his daughter is walking fine. I am not sure what would have happened without her going to the clinic, but she is now able to walk, attending school and the smile on her face was well worth the small cost.

There are so many ways to help people here but there is only so much you can do. While writing this letter 2 your men came to see me looking for work, both of them had graduated for University but were willing to do any job that is available. Youth unemployment is one of the biggest challenges facing the developing world. Unemployment is not just a question of money but it also leaves those affected feeling unworthy and lost with a sense of little hope for the future. IITA has many strategies trying to address the situation and I write about those next month.

I wish all of you a happy summer, I am sure you realize what a privilege it is to live in such a beautiful town like St Marys. I am returning for my son’s wedding in early July and may see some of you then.

Tomorrow, Monday 29th May is public holiday here in Nigeria, Democracy Day and I will raise a glass and toast my good friend from Rotary.

Andrew Middleton