We spoke to IGNITE AFRICA FOUNDATION on national development through educational books

Firstly for those reading who haven’t met me yet, I’d love to introduce myself as Temi; the Educational specialist at Illo Agency. I wanted to write this article as it’s highlighting an organisation close to mine, my family and friends hearts, some of which have already volunteered for the foundation. In 2017 I was invited to the IGNITE AFRICA Library in Nigeria for an event with which I fell in love. I wanted to volunteer as well, especially as I was greatly moved by their work,  but this made it impractical to partake due to me currently residing in London. 

Below is my interview with Mr Kunle Smith who is a Project Strategist, Creative writer, Literary and Education Strategist and one of the Key members at IGNITE AFRICA, I hope you enjoy…

Can you tell us about ‘IGNITE AFRICA FOUNDATION’?

Ignite Africa Leadership Foundation is a leadership-focused, education-based organization committed to capacity development, nation-building and leadership. 

Under the leadership of our board of trustees headed by our Founder, Mr Kolawole Oyeyemi, we achieve our objective through strategic investment in partnerships and collaborative efforts on leadership, education and literacy. To this end, we have inaugurated several projects. 

The Ignite Africa Place is at Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos, it has a 4000-volume strong state-of-the-art library. We have a free, well-stocked and supervised section for children and teenagers. We also have a reading lounge for them. Our staff and volunteers attend to them while they are on our premises. We have an advanced library for adults and a reading lounge as well. We have a digital library and also a 27-person capacity resource centre that is open to the public for seminars, workshops and conferences. We have also hosted several literary events over the years. Our signature BOOKVERSATIONS series has hosted more than ten authors within the last two years. From the poet Dami Ajayi to editor-in-chief at Legit.ng, Bayo Olupohunda, to award-winning writer Toni Kan, African Movies Academy Award Winner and author, Tomi Adesina, fictionalized historian, Tunde Leye, lawyer-cum-Nollywood historian Niran Adedokun and the CNN/Multichoice Journalist Award (Travel) Pelu Awofeso. In 2018, we hosted the Lagos edition of Short Story Day Africa, (SSDA 2018) in collaboration with Goethe Institut and others. We will be delighted to have you visit us and to give you a tour of our facility.  

On a related note, in the year 2014, we inaugurated Book Clubs in public Schools around Lagos and Rivers states with the approval of their respective state governments. We take 11 books to each book club and give 10 of the books to the children to read within a fortnight. The 11th copy is used by the volunteer in charge of the school for his/her own reading and review by the children under the supervisor's direction. We have raised the literacy level amongst indigent children and inspired them with life-changing events through our book clubs. For instance, in the year 2018, Ake Books and Arts Festival collaborated with us on our Book Clubs for their author's visits. We are very proud of what we have achieved with our book clubs and the limitless possibilities therein. 

Perhaps, our most famous program is the Ignite Africa "Readers R Leaders" Annual Walk which has attracted the participation of formidable leaders of thought in the society such as 
Dr Myles Munroe, Fela DurotoyeSir Shina Peters, Alibaba Akpobome, Seyi Law, KCee and many other famous men and women. The Ignite Africa Walk has had over 20, 000 participants in attendance, from inception, to date.

What gave you the idea to start the NGO and is there any specific story that motivated you to create the Foundation with the other members?

As a little kid who attended public schools in Western Nigeria; we had access to books, libraries and materials from publishing houses scattered all over the Western part of Nigeria but all of that is gone. This easy access to books helped shape my horizon and built my mental fortitude. Now all of those access to books and publishing companies have disappeared. The founder bore Ignite Africa out of the need to help intervene in this lacuna, the need to provide students with easy access to books so they too can be shaped by great books. Ignite Africa intervention programs such as the free library for children and teenagers, the Book Clubs in Schools, the Bookversations to celebrate authors and readers alike and the Summer Learning Program for indigent students were carefully thought out ideas implemented to help boost the reading culture and help mentor young kids.

What does a day of Volunteering in IGNITE AFRICA look like?

A day of volunteering with Ignite Africa Book Club starts with our Field Project Strategist calling volunteers to be sure of their availability, then he and other Ignite Africa Staff pick books to be used by each club in specific schools. He drives to the schools (through Lagos horrible traffic), finds the teachers assigned to the school's Bookclub, gets the students, and the volunteers read and review the books with the students in school. He picks up the old books and gives them new books, he may have to go to another book club the same day or return to the library. In the Summer Learning Program, the Field Project Strategist calls the volunteers or their assigned coordinators, the volunteers come to the Ignite Africa Library where the program holds. The Kids come around, the program for the day begins with volunteers moving to their pre-arranged classes.

With the NGO’s name being ‘IGNITE AFRICA’, Are you volunteering all over the continent? If not, is there a possibility of that happening in the future?

For now, Ignite Africa does not volunteer all over Africa, however, we are looking to do so as soon as we are capable. We currently run partnerships with brands with a presence in different African cities such as Goethe Institut, Ake Festival, UBA Foundation to mention but a few.

What are your plans and goals for ‘IGNITE AFRICA’? And are there any upcoming projects coming up?

We plan to activate our next plan soon; which is the digital skills phase. The combination of reading and digital skills is key in this AI world. We are currently looking to run a writing competition in partnership with Illo and other sponsors, to enable kids to share their stories. We believe every kid has something to say to the world, we plan to amplify it for them.

Where do you see IGNITE AFRICA in 5 Years?

In five years we believe Ignite Africa would have made enough impact in the lives of so many kids in the areas we operate. We would love to replicate our library in Agidingbi in other parts of Lagos and other cities in Nigeria and Africa. We would also be working in the next phases of our impact projects.

For Global Support, how do you think people would be able to help you achieve those goals? And what ways can people help if they want to offer their support?

Ignite Africa is an ambitious project and we have various needs. We need funds, books, digital accessories like laptops, tablets and other materials. We believe in partnerships that look to improve so any meaningful partnership is always welcome.

If you had the opportunity and resources, what else would you like to add to the Library? e.g what subject area/age group books are currently available or do you need more of?

We are currently looking at a digital library, the world is going in that direction and we can’t fail to move with it. We currently require books that stir the imagination of kids especially teenagers in our schools and library users.

Do you think illustrations are important and need to be included in children's educational books?

Illustrations are the vehicle of attention retention for kids and adults while reading. It is perhaps the biggest motivation for kids to read, discuss, and share illustrated books in our library and book club experience. It helps to initiate reading connections even with kids that cannot read well and an adult can use that enthusiasm to teach the kids to learn.

What do you think of ILLO Agency and our illustrators?

I believe the Illo agency is doing a fantastic job curating different illustrators and being a reliable artistic community. Their strong belief in equality, diversity and education is noteworthy because it has long-reaching effects on the lives of anyone who has access to such materials. Illo illustrators are very creative, their work speaks for itself and they always push limits.

Illo Agency is donating books to IGNITE AFRICA FOUNDATION with a few from our artists: Dunni Mustapha, Joelle Avelino, Sandra De La Prada

If you have any questions or a specific project in mind, please do get in touch: t[email protected]
at illo agency, we pride ourselves in representing a collation of global illustrators, distinctly diverse in creativity and uniquely celebrated by like-minded clients across a range of commercial markets.