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Zuriel Oduwole: Proudly Nigerian Brand Changing The African Narrative

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By Abutu Agada

Zuriel Oduwole is one of the young persons who have set out to change the stereotyped narrative to Africa and Africans.

In spite of the remarkable progress and development recorded in many African economies in more than five decades of independence from colonial rule, it is shocking that the continent of Africa is still being perceived and largely depicted in the Western media as a place that is ravaged by crises and diseases. Indeed, the lingering perception in the minds of many people living in the Western world that Africa is still a place of conflict and a place that is largely dependent on aids from other countries is inexcusable.

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Unfortunately, some Africans have even come to accept this narrative as the reality and absolute truth. This misguided outlook of the African continent, however, has never been an accurate picture and it certainly does not reflect the rich cultural heritage as well as the economic dynamism and social change that are continuously happening in virtually all the countries on the African continent.

It is, therefore, imperative that every effort that helps to consciously bring a change to the paradigm of African perception should be accorded the required support. Happily, a renaissance and an awakening to give the true narrative to the African reality as against the stereotypical status quo that began with writers like Chinua Achebe, is today being championed by the African youth population with a strong presence in music, sports, entertainment and entrepreneurship.

Zuriel Oduwole

With seven of the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world, Africa’s growth is being driven especially by young people who are brimming with talent, energy, zeal and a good dose of enthusiasm.

A torrent of negative news that seemed unending gave rise to the pessimistic impression in the Western mind where for long the question has been, ‘can any good thing come out of Africa?’ But if the impressive contributions of Nigerians are allowed to weigh in, the answer will surely be in the affirmative. Yes, goods things can come out of Africa and Nigerian personalities are busy changing the African narrative. Aliko Dangote, Chimamanda Adichie, the sensational Asa, Jay Jay Okocha, Folorunsho Alakija, Blessing Okagbare, to mention just a few, have done more than enough to bury that perception.

Also, notable among these ‘narrative changers’ is a 13-year-old filmmaker and a girl education activist, Zuriel Elise Oduwole. At the very tender age of 10, Zuriel had achieved so much that belies her tender age. Notable among her plethora of achievements are being the first 10-year-old to interview eight sitting Heads of State – a number that currently stands at 19 Presidents and Prime Ministers, the first 10-year-old to be accredited to a world press conference and the youngest person in the world at the age of 12 to show a self-produced movie in a commercial cinema.

Of course, the world soon began to take notice of this young influential Nigerian girl and in 2013, she became the youngest person at the age of 10 to be featured in Forbes magazine. She was listed in New Africa Magazine as one of Africa’s 100 Most Influential People of 2013 as well and at the age of 11, she was featured in the New York Business Insider as the Most Powerful 11-year-old in the world in 2014. Zuriel is also the youngest to be listed in ELLE Canada 2015 annual “33 Women Who Changed The World.” What’s more, Zuriel Oduwole became the first African child to be appointed as honorary ambassador by a foreign government as conferred in Tanzania by the country’s first lady, Mrs. Salma Kikwete in 2013. Most recently, she won the “Woman on The Rise” category at the 2016 edition of the New African Women Awards.

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Even if the recognitions and awards were given to boost her morale and encourage her to do what she does best, Zuriel is well grounded enough to understand that the awards could become a distraction because getting awards was not what she set out to do in the first place. “I don’t do what I do to get recognition in Forbes magazine or any of those things. I do them because I want to make a positive impact on society. Even if I was not profiled by Forbes, I will still continue doing what I do. I will still continue to speak for girls’ rights and education. I will still interview presidents and make documentaries.”

Zuriel who is also the brand ambassador of Heritage Bank and Ethiopian Airways respectively chose filmmaking as a tool for telling the African story and correcting a lot of wrong impressions about Africa. According to her, “I do filmmaking because I want to tell the positive sides of the African continent to the rest of the world and to address some of the misconceptions held about the continent. When I watch the news, I find that most of the news about Africa is always negative, so I thought I could show something that is positive such as a successful revolution.”

To that effect, she has made four documentaries: The Ghana Revolution in 2012, Educating and Healing Africa Out of Poverty in 2013, Technology in Educational Development in 2014 and A Promising Africa (A Brighter Nigeria), also in 2014. The last documentary showed in two European nations. It has also been seen in Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and in Japan. According to her, the fifth documentary is in production.

Filmmaking for Zuriel has been a passion for a long time. However, the defining point in her film making career and the beginning of her journey to influence began at the tender age of nine. “It all started when I was nine. What happened was that I created a documentary on the gun revolution in the United States for entry into a competition.

“Usually, when you create a documentary, you must have primary and secondary sources. I was able to get a lot of online articles and books from the library as my secondary sources but I did not have any primary source. So, I did some more research and found out that President Jerry Rawlings started Ghana’s revolution. So, he was the first president I interviewed for that documentary. After that, I interviewed some other presidents on my other documentaries.”

In her capacity as a girl-child activist, Zuriel runs DASUSU with two of her siblings. DASUSU means Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up. The programme was first launched in 2013 at the Pan-Atlantic University and in other schools in partnership with the US Consulate in Lagos. The programme has been replicated in Malawi, Mauritius, Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, Ghana, South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and Tanzania. She has spoken to over 24,400 children on education and its importance.

More elaborately, she said: “Usually, the boys are able to go to school while the girls stay at home. So, those girls are usually uneducated and have fewer options in life when they get older. Basically, I speak about the importance of girls staying in school and getting an education because that could positively affect where they go in life when they get older. I also had to talk to the parents of these children, especially the girls in Tanzania for example, and tell them what girls can do if they are educated and also if they are supported by their parents.

“I know that sometimes, girls are not able to go to school due to many reasons. So, I tell the parents that there are three ways you can send your children to school. There is sponsorship by major companies, scholarships from schools and there are also sponsorships and grants. Those are ways they can send their children to schools.”

Zuriel does not just talk to parents and children about education alone. She also speaks to the leaders. “In all of these projects, I also talk to presidents and prime ministers about creating policies to make sure that children in their countries have access to education.”

For a very young person who is an education activist, it remains a bit of a puzzle to many to understand how she manages to combine study and extra curricula activities. “I am actually home schooled. It is the same curriculum that other students have that I also have. I still have mathematics, science, history and all of that. The only difference is, instead of going into physical buildings, I am able to do it on my computer. This allows me to get ahead of my school so that I could travel overseas and do all these extra curricula activities,” she explains.

Zuriel wishes to retire from interviewing presidents and high profile leaders at 19 in order to focus fully on her girl education project and also train to become an engineer. Above all, she also wants to become the President of the United States of America when she is much older.

The question that immediately comes to mind is why the choice of the United States and not Nigeria since she is of mixed Nigerian and Mauritanian heritage. To that, she replies, “As the president of Nigeria, for example, I will be able to affect Nigeria and a few other African countries positively. But if I am president of the United States, I would be able to affect the United States and most countries in the world including those in Africa and the Caribbean region. That way, I can change the way girls are educated around the world.”

That ambition may appear too steep, but Zuriel has received encouragement from different quarters including from the former Malawian President, Joyce Banda. “The President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, encouraged my US presidential ambition,” she said.

In the immediate future, Zuriel is working on her next documentary which she shot in 2014 during the World Cup. “What happened basically was that I took two footballs to five countries across three continents to get people talking about girls’ education. I shot the documentary in Brazil, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa and also in the US. “I got soccer players, soccer fans, governors, ambassadors and many others signed the football saying they support girl education. That should be done later on this year.”

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Young Zuriel who has just attained the teenage bracket continues to showcase the African narrative through her documentaries to the rest of the world. More importantly, she canvasses leaders, parents and children on the importance of education to bring about a change in Africa. Like the late Nelson Mandela, she understands that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

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