Chevening scholars’ COVID-19 experience, lessons

Nigerian Chevening scholars in the United Kingdom share their Coronavirus stories with

When the United Kingdom announced a total lockdown in March, a new normal began—a disruption to daily lives and economic activities. Caught in the quagmire of navigating life in the midst of the restrictions were about 54 post-graduate Nigerian scholars on the Chevening scholarship sponsored by the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office for Master degrees in various parts of the UK universities. With over 41, 000 recorded deaths as at the time of filling this report, the pandemic was a blight on the journeys of these change makers who had high expectation of experiencing the UK culture.

Narrating their experience in a virtual meeting with the UK High Commissioner, Catriona Liang, held on Microsoft team, the  scholars shared their experience of life in the UK during the lock down period, their contribution to the British society as well as their intentions to implement lessons learnt from the pandemic when they return back to Nigeria at the end of their course.

Support for National Health Service (NHS) Workers

Deploying her experience in fashion, Jane Obonyilo, an M.Sc student of Fashion Business Creation at the British School of Fashion, Glasgow Caledonian University London, supported frontline workers in the UK by making Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) at the Hampstead gown factory.  The mother of two mentioned the desire to give back to society by considering the health and safety of other people as a motivation for contributing her effort to combat the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

“I volunteered with the Royal Free Charity in partnership with the NHS Foundation Trust. After about 16 weeks of volunteering experience at the Hampstead gown Factory of the Royal Free Charity, about 46,000 pieces of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) have been produced for frontline NHS staff and dispensed, with an expectation to reach the 50,000-mark next week,” she said.

Despite the disruption caused to his academic journey in the UK by the pandemic, Joshua Agbogidi volunteered for the UK Health Research Authority under the Research Ethics committee of Scotland. He was involved with screening and conducting interviews for researchers in the UK on ethics and protection of the rights of the participant. The medic, who is studying for a Master in Public Health-Palliative Care Research at the University of Dundee, is also working on an app-based project themed Help2Helped which focuses on providing relationship support for the elderly.

Speaking on his plans on getting home, he said: “I want to increase awareness of palliative care by ensuring it is accessible, cheap and available for those who need it.”

For Gbemisola Osadua, who is studying a Masters in International Commercial Law at the University College London, she volunteered for the NHS. The young lawyer, who made history by becoming the first African to be elected president of the Graduate Law Society of UCL, volunteered with the NHS Royal Voluntary Service as a responder attending to COVID-19 patience in isolation. She also worked with the United Nations Policy Hackathon on Trade and Investment by leading a team from UCL Law to design a policy framework for the United Nations on Model Provision to be incorporated for Trade Agreements to build back better after COVID-19.

Creating solutions in health care and environmental sustainability

For some of the scholars, a key takeaway from the lockdown experience was the functionality of the UK health system and the emphasis on environmental sustainability during the lockdown period.

Speaking on what she learnt from the UK government’s handling of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic in the area of environmental sustainability and access to water, Yetunde Fadeyi, an MSc student in Sustainable Energy and Environment, Mechanical Engineering at Cardiff University,  wants Nigeria to prioritise clean and sustainable energy. With a dissertation focused on ammonia production as it relates to generating electricity from manure and human waste, Fadeyi said she was motivated to intensify efforts on her work on electrifying rural communities with renewal and sustainable energy through REES Africa, an NGO she founded.

“I would be intensifying efforts in providing affordable generators or innovative products to help meet our carbon target result and also help to deliver centralised forms of electricity for SMEs and households,” she said of her plans for Nigeria.

Reflecting on the UK’s response to the flattening the curve of the pandemic, Damilare Faniran, a medical doctor studying for a Masters in Clinical Oncology at the University of Birmingham lamented the defect in Nigeria’s health sector, especially as it relates to deficiency in drug supplies and development.

“One of the things I have learnt in the UK which I intend to implement in Nigeria is to form a coalition of people with clinical trial expertise. We barely do things like that in Africa except for few countries like Egypt and South Africa,” he said.

Sharing her concerns on Nigeria’s contribution to the maternal health burden in the world, Kadahaene Eyo, a public health professional studying for an MSc in Public Health at the University of Birmingham, advocated for funding of qualitative researches on maternal health services in Nigeria.

“In summary, let’s decide that saving our mothers’ lives is worth it. I look forward to conducting some of these researches and to help increase maternal health advocacy at the local and national level by working with local communities to create effective communication strategies. This will aid effective implementations of maternal health programmes at the community level,” Eyo said.

Describing his Chevening scholarship experience as an interesting journey since it afforded him the opportunity to research ways of addressing challenges in sustainable food systems, Joseph Ovwemuvwose, an MSc student in Crop Improvement at the University of Nottingham, praised the adaptation of the UK tertiary education system to the disruption caused by the pandemic as something the government of Nigeria need to emulate.

“Going forward, we need some innovation in the agro-allied space as the predictions about the challenges of climate change, food insecurity and population growth are not so splendid,” he stated.

Lawrence Adah, who is studying an MSc in Environmental Engineering at Newcastle University, volunteered with a society of engineers in the UK who educated youth on the benefit of engineering in the northeast of England.  Adah, who also volunteered with his church in the UK to distribute safety packs containing hand sanitisers and gloves, got funding for his dissertation and is working with research teams from various universities on wastewater distribution and networks in developing countries.

British High Commissioner Catriona Laing praised the scholars for turning a difficult situation into something rich and positive.

“Every Chevening scholar has a unique experience and what we have seen is how they have taken charge of opportunities through their volunteering experience and how they are going to draw on the experience to bring it back to Nigeria, which is exactly the point of the Chevening award,” she stated.  Describing COVID-19 as the biggest crisis the world has ever faced, Ms Laing said the world can only get through by working together and building resilience.

“We started the year with a great enthusiasm with the Africa Investment summit and out of the blue came COVID-19. It has knocked us all completely off course from the very personal level to the level of the global economy.

“We are only going to get through this by working together and our Chevening scholars are exactly the kind of people who are going to help us find a way to navigate through this,” she said.