By Olisemeka Obeche
Osowobi is among four exceptional young people from India, Nigeria, the Solomon Islands and Saint Lucia that won prizes at the 2019 Commonwealth Youth Awards in recognition of their efforts to end hunger, sexual violence, sanitation issues and climate change.
The Nigerian won based on her focus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 5 on Gender Equality while Padmanaban Gopalan of India won the Asian prize with her focus on SDG 2, “Zero Hunger”.
Johanan Dujon of Saint Lucia, however, picked the prize for the Caribbean and Canada with a focus on SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure with Bobby Siarani of Solomon Islands won for the Pacific through a project that focused on SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.
During a brief ceremony held on Thursday at the Commonwealth’s headquarters in London, Osowobi and other winners shared a £12,000 grant for their innovative projects. Oluwaseun, who also scooped the overall prize of 2019 Commonwealth Young Person of the Year, set up the ‘Stand to End Rape’ (STER) initiative.
A survivor of sexual violence herself, she set up the service to offer support to women, men and young people who have experienced any form of gender-based abuse in Nigeria. STER trains healthcare workers how to deal with survivors and provides them with free health kits such as HIV tests.
Speaking at the awards, she said: “I dream of a future where this work is not required. I dream of the day when sexual violence is completely eradicated from this world.”
Oluwaseun’s work has reached over 200,000 people providing pro-bono medical, legal, mental health, educational and empowerment services. Her sentiments were echoed by an Indian socio-entrepreneur, Padmanaban Gopalan, who hopes to end hunger.
He founded the ‘No Food Waste’ programme in India which sees 12,000 volunteers collect surplus food from parties and restaurants. The volunteers then deliver it to ‘hunger spots’ in India to feed the hungry.
He said: “My programme has recovered over 650,000 meals in my country which have benefited nearly one million people.”
From Saint Lucia, Johanan Dujon founded an indigenous biotechnology company ‘Algas Organics’. His company develops commercial agricultural products from harmful Sargassum seaweed.
These products unblock fish landing sites and reduce the harmful effect of the seaweed’s hydrogen sulphide emissions on local communities.
Speaking at the ceremony, he said: “Saint Lucia heavily depends on tourism. This seaweed problem has been having a crippling effect on our tourism and local fishery sector. We have developed a process to transform this seaweed to highly quality fertiliser that we now export to other countries.”
Johanan hopes to use his grant to expand his work to other affected small island states in Africa and the Pacific.
Solomon Island’s advocate for sustainable livelihoods, Bobby Siarani, founded a bio-gas initiative to address waste disposal and sanitation issues. The project delivered biogas-based construction workshops to over 500 young people and has provided clean energy to hundreds of people in rural areas of his country.
Bobby plans to use his Commonwealth grant to take his initiative to remote areas in the Solomon Islands.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who presented the awards, said: “The pace, depth and scope of development in any society depend on how well its youth are nurtured and supported. This means providing the space for young people to thrive, to contribute and to realise their potential.
“In such an environment, they are able to exercise their rights and citizenship, and to find fulfilment and purpose; passing on to others the gains and positive values that come from the true community.”
Every year the Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work recognise the exceptional contribution of young people, aged 15-29, of 53 Commonwealth countries who are leading initiatives in view of the sustainable development goals.
From more than 500 nominations from over 45 countries, 16 finalists were chosen by a panel of judges including representatives of high commissions, partner organisations and young leaders.
This is the 30th year of the Commonwealth Youth Awards which are run by the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) to promote the innovation, creativity and potential of young people in solving socio-economic and environmental challenges.