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The beauty and necessity of transformation

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The beauty and necessity of transformation

I love progress.

Transformation: taking something in its raw or polluted form and convening the required processes that will bring it to fulfillment of its purpose.

My good friend, Eric Obuh, aka Vocal Slender, is a prime example.

From 2000 to 2009, Obuh was a scavenger on a refuse dump site in the bustling Ojota area of Lagos, Nigeria. His daily activities consisted of covertly leaving Ajegunle, the notorious slum where he lived as he didn’t want his neighbors to know that he worked on a dumpsite, to Ojota where he would spend the day sorting through the tonnes (metric tons) of waste generated from over 20 million Lagosians.

From this trash, he would find bottles, toys, recyclable items and anything that he considered to be of value, which he would then sell to the scrap buyers for a few hundred nairas. You see, Obuh was an aspiring musical artist, hence the stage name, Vocal Slender.

The money he was generating from his undercover work at the dumpsite was being saved up to purchase studio time to record his growing collection of songs, which he believed were all hits in the making.

For Obuh and thousands of other young able-bodied men and women, the unemployment situation in the country has driven them to seek means of livelihood to help achieve their one goal: survival.

But Obuh had a dream; his music was going to take him out of the refuse dump and into the secure future that seemed to elude all people from his part of town.

This eventually happened; a team from BBC2 visited the dumpsite in 2009 and produced a documentary, Welcome to Lagos, that featured Obuh and a few others in desperate survival conditions.

Vocal Slender’s story and inspiring personality as portrayed in the documentary endeared him to many viewers. The invitations came pouring in and the scavenger became a much sought after celebrity, traveling to the United Kingdom and sharing his story (and music) with diverse communities, as well as being featured in major newspapers.

Even with his newfound fame and opportunities, Obuh’s heart remained with his people back home in Ajegunle, and the friends he had made at the dumpsite. He wanted his good fortune to impact their lives as well. So he began a foundation called Ghetto Love, which provides educational support, food palliatives and skills acquisition programs for residents of the Ajegunle community where he grew up.

Obuh leverages on the contacts he made in his 15-minutes of fame, to draw attention to the plight of the poor in Lagos, Nigeria. A long way from the dumpsite, wouldn’t you agree?

I liken Obuh’s story to that of Africa. Demeaned to the point of surviving from the proceeds of other people’s waste. Africa is blessed with vast natural resources, which the West exploits and sells back to our governments at exorbitant rates (and sometimes inferior quality).

The people of Africa have historically been perceived as the “scum of the Earth” and  “The Dark Continent” desperately in need of the world’s aid and salvation.

Africa is the birthplace of humanity and originator of civilization in its many forms. Our trauma began in the 1400s when the first European ships touched African shores. Hundreds of years of slavery and colonization after, we still define ourselves by our trauma. Which is basically what those years were to us — trauma. 

Like an individual who is thriving in her adolescence, then perhaps hits some adversity in her 20s, which deviates her from a wholesome path, Africa must rediscover her purpose, her cultural identity and by every means possible, UNITE.

This is the season for transformation — a restoration of Africa in all of her glory and splendor. The entire world, as archeologists have discovered, migrated out of Africa. This makes all people, in every part of the world, the African Diaspora.

We must reestablish our cultural dominion through the propagation of African stories, traditions, belief systems, values, customs and history. Love and community are at the center of all of our African cultures. Never has there been a time when humanity needed these values as much as now.

The world needs Africa to rise.

Future generations need Africa to rise.

An African world is inevitable.

Tari Taylaur is a writer and also works in social development and edutainment. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria, and can be contacted at ttaylaur@gmail.com

After working as a scavenger on refuse dump site for nine years, Eric Obuh, aka Vocal Slender, appeared in the documentary, “Welcome to Lagos.” That appearance helped Obuh achieve his dream: Using his music to get him out of refuse dump. Obuh went on to start the foundation, Ghetto Love. (Photo provided)

Eric Obuh, aka Vocal Slender, was a scavenger on a refuse dump site in the bustling Ojota area of Lagos, Nigeria, for nine years. He sold the items he found to buy studio time to record his music. (Photo provided)

After working as a scavenger on refuse dump site for nine years, Eric Obuh, aka Vocal Slender, appeared in the documentary, “Welcome to Lagos.” That appearance helped Obuh achieve his dream: Using his music to get him out of refuse dump. Obuh went on to start the foundation, Ghetto Love. (Photo provided)

Eric Obuh, aka Vocal Slender, was a scavenger on a refuse dump site in the bustling Ojota area of Lagos, Nigeria, for nine years. He sold the items he found to buy studio time to record his music. (Photo provided)

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