Nigeria is a highly influential country in Africa, with its rich mineral resources, productive agriculture, and enterprising population. Gifted with amazing ancient sites, fascinating national parks, and miles of beautiful coastline, the country offers an ideal travel destination. In spite of its natural wealth, Nigeria is plagued with social issues that present great opportunities for volunteering abroad.
Geography & Demographics
Nigeria, commonly referred to as “the Giant of Africa”, is one of the most populous countries on the continent of Africa. With an estimated population of over 170 million, it is one of the top ten most populous countries in the world. The country is located in West Africa and is bordered by Niger, Cameroon, Chad, and Benin. The largest city in the country is Lagos, with an estimated population of almost eight million.
The nation is overflowing with diverse ethnicities, home to over 250 ethnic groups with varying customs and languages. The three largest groups are the Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa or Fulani, which account for more than half of the total population.
Nigeria has a typical tropical climate in general, but the exact conditions can vary in different regions slightly. The areas near the coast rarely exceed 30 degrees Celsius. Nights often remain quite hot, especially when the humidity is high. Two main seasons frequent the country a dry season from November to March and a wet season from April to October. Regardless of the season, volunteers should be prepared for high temperatures and lots of sunscreen and sweat.
Food & Culture
Hundreds of native dialects are spoken in Nigeria, reflecting the numerous ethnic groups that populate the country. Among the major languages are Kanuri, Edo, Igbo, and Hausa. In any case, the former colonial language of English, is still the official language in the country. The use of English is meant to facilitate linguistic and cultural unity in Nigeria, but it remains to be exclusively used by the country’s urban elite. English has yet to be widely adopted in rural areas, which encompasses the majority of the population. So overall, Nigeria has a surprisingly high level of linguistic diversity.
For the most part, locals prefer to eat at home rather than out. Yams, plantains, and beans are all common staples in the country. Rice is also popular but is usually reserved for special occasions only, such as weddings, birthday parties, funerals, and Owa mbe (street parties). Some common Nigerian food prepared at home is called fufu; these are foods that can be swallowed without being chewed. Fufu is eaten by taking a lump of food, dipping it in soup, and then swallowing it. Among the more popular fufu dishes are semolina, amala, pounded yam, and cassava (a root crop). Like other cuisines in West African dishes in Nigeria use herbs and spices in conjunction with groundnut oil or palm oil. Chili peppers are frequently added to make the dishes hot for those families or groups that enjoy spicy flavors.
There is a famous expression in Nigeria that says, "When Nigeria sneezes, the rest of the African nations catch cold." Along with South Africa, Nigeria is regarded as a superpower in Africa making an important part of the regional economy. The currency in Nigeria is the Naira, which are each subdivided into 100 Kobo. Approximately 150 Naira are equal to one U.S. dollar. In general, Nigerians also tend to have a strong national pride. Nigeria produces a great deal of oil and is endowed with large quantities of natural resources, consequently the nation boasts an industrious, society for the most part. Nigeria is well-distinguished in the field of arts, particularly in calabash, leather, wood carving, grass weaving, and ivory carving.
Living near to one’s extended family is the norm in Nigeria and serves as an important backbone of the country’s social system. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters all work as one unit. Each member of the family is expected to contribute to the welfare of the family, offering both guidance and financial aid. Nigeria has a hierarchical society with seniority at its core, therefore age is equated with wisdom, so older people are given more respect. Nigerians always focus on treating visitors with the utmost warmth and care. Hospitality is such a natural part of the culture that people are not expected to say thank you when offered food. The most popular game in Nigeria is soccer, however, wrestling, swimming, cricket, and polo are often favored by the affluent classes.
Volunteering in Nigeria
Despite Nigeria’s relatively successful economy the country continues to battle serious social problems, like poverty and AIDS. Nigeria offers a great starting point for exploring Africa and provides many rewarding avenues for contributing to projects that address the nation’s pressing issues. Multiple program providers to Nigeria are well established with reputable programs for international volunteers, with opportunities in cities and rural areas. Projects range from agriculture to AIDS work, to community development.