Owi Toinpre: Disaster victim turns into disaster risk reduction researcher and philanthropist
Owi Toinpre, 27, Nigeria
I am Owi Toinpre, a 27-year-old Ph.D. candidate of Disaster Risk Science at the University of Newcastle, Australia. I hail from a minority ethnic group, Akassa, in Bayelsa State in Nigeria. My state is endowed with natural resources like crude oil and natural gas from which it derives its major export income, yet this area is exposed to constant oil spillage, air pollution and a wide range of vulnerable conditions emanating from the lack of access to social structures that facilitate quality education, healthcare and employment opportunities, as well as the insufficient infrastructure and other very low economic opportunities to say the least.
I studied Agricultural and Environmental Engineering in my state-owned university. As an undergraduate student from a middle-class home, I felt firsthand what it truly meant for other students who resided in the area to be in lack and struggle through coping with studies and taking up menial jobs in order to afford meals and other personal needs their parents couldn’t provide. Unsatisfied with the travails of people around me, I organized a students’ welfare scheme that assisted students financially and provided other sanitary and information access items that were not easily accessible at that time.
Just before graduating in 2012, Nigeria suffered the most devastating flooding event in history. The disaster claimed the lives of 363 people and left 6.1 million people internally displaced. As a disaster victim, this singular event motivated me to engage in volunteering services, and by 2013, I began to create awareness in primary and secondary schools empowering over 10,000 students with knowledge as part of my national service to my country.
I provided free school exercise books and billboards that conveyed messages of public action to reduce flood risks. In my capacity as an individual trained on general safety, I conducted workshops on basic firefighting techniques and conducted simulation exercises to reduce risks of fires and build capacity to deal with domestic fire incidents.
A major highlight of my volunteering and philanthropic activities was the renovation of a dilapidated baby’s intensive care unit at a rural community where infant mortality was high due to the fact that premature babies had to be rushed to the neighboring health centre to receive healthcare services which was a huge limitation as babies would usually die before getting the required medical services. In the same venue, I provided insecticidal treated nets to nursing mothers in the female ward and the elderly as well.
Soon after finishing with my one year national service, I was awarded the second best serving individual by the then state governor and then pursued a master’s degree in disaster preparedness and reconstruction. My journey as a disaster risk researcher has been a fulfilling one because it has inspired me to investigate the problems that put communities at risk of disasters.
The U.N., through its international strategy for disaster risk reduction, has developed the Hyogo and Sendai frameworks which guide countries to develop programmes and strategies to deal with these risks. My research however utilizes these tools to provide context specific solutions to reduce disaster risks.
My future goal is to be one of Africa’s leading disaster risk reduction specialists that will contribute immensely to the actualization of the Sustainable Development Goals. Reducing disaster risks will on the long run support a number of SDGs agenda like eradicating hunger, reducing the effect of climate change and strengthening institutions among others. I always look forward to networking with young world leaders who also share similar views in changing our world.
Being part of this year’s Youth Assembly at the U.N. has therefore availed me such an opportunity and I will always remain grateful to the organizers, Friendship Ambassadors Foundation for creating such a platform, and Global Young Voices for letting me share my story.