It is said that travel is life’s best educator. For a handful of John Deere volunteers who visited and assisted in the Rayuwa villages of northern Nigeria there is now context to that saying.
Here, in their own words, are recollections and insights from a few of those Deere employees.
The Rayuwa experience gave me an opportunity to understand the full impact that John Deere is making to hundreds of lives for generations to come. Prior to the trip, I read about what we were doing, but it was nothing in comparison to seeing it on the ground.
It broke my heart to hear that people go without food for months, to see girls with no opportunities for education or a life outside of marrying and having kids, knowing little kids are playing in the villages rather than attending school, schools which are too far to get to, and farmers growing minimal produce due to lack of education.
This kind of experience changes the way you view not just the company but your entire world. I would love for others to see the impact that John Deere makes in people’s lives, to be filled with pride to work for John Deere, to see that we are so blessed to have what we do and to see that each of us has the power to make a positive impact in someone’s life with the smallest gesture of kindness.
My biggest hurdle in Nigeria was to get the understanding between the event and my role at Deere. As divisional sales manager, how do I justify selling equipment? Well, I had it wrong. This was not the objective at all. So, what is the next step? How do we enable these villages to go past the next level at such a great speed that can create a favorable eco system for the kids to want to stay in the communities and that they will be able to thrive there and not need to move to bigger cities to find a better life?
How do we boost the operations? No, let me rephrase. How do we educate them to run a professional farming operation with a proper accounting structure to make sure that they become bankable and start seeing farming as a business? If we can manage to do this, after a few seasons, they can look after themselves.
For me, it was a privilege to have been part of the Rayuwa volunteer experience. Beyond contributing toward a project that aims to transform lives while curbing the culture of dependency, from a personal standpoint, the experience reminded me of what I will call “my unique journey.” Hearing the plights of the families in communities we visited (i.e. the lack of access to schools, potable water, and electricity) took me back into time. I could identify with all the challenges the communities recounted.
The volunteer program afforded me the opportunity to contribute to improving livelihood, to connect with nature through maize and rice harvesting experience, and to bond with fellow volunteers, the on-ground Rayuwa project team as well as the PYXERA Global team. It’s an awesome feeling to belong to a company that is committed to those linked to the land regardless of their backgrounds.
This was not your ordinary volunteer mission, we were basically on a farming excursion with fun, competition, and lots of sweat and hard work. I was inspired by the energy of the team we were with, individuals who are used to the security of their cubicles, the comfort of their air conditioners, and running water did not hesitate to roll up their sleeves, work, and engage and interact so passionately and lovingly with the communities that welcomed us into their homes.
Since joining John Deere two years ago I always felt I was actually finally part of something bigger than myself, but this trip took that sense of pride in what I do and who I work for to another level. Experiencing the investment that John Deere has made in the Rayuwa Project proved to me that John Deere takes being linked to the land earnestly, ensuring farmers on all levels are equipped with skills and technology.
As a young woman from South Africa I did not know what to expect. Living conditions of the villagers were heartbreaking, building structures looked like they would fall at any time. The kind of physical work we did was intense.
With all the sad and heartbreaking experiences, everyone in the villages had warm, welcoming faces with smiles and love shining through their eyes. There was no way one could sit around and not take part because the vibe, positive energy, and appreciation was just a life-changing experience for me. I got so much energy and felt the love hence I opened up and became one of them. They never showed any sadness even with the kind of conditions they live under. This was a humbling experience I will never forget, making me more grateful of what I have.
My experience in Nigeria can be summarized as engaging. We were warmly received in all the villages that we visited. We got involved with the villagers in plowing, planting, harvesting, and threshing, all by hand. We experienced first-hand how manual labor involves and requires an entire family to contribute to farm work.
One of the highlights of the visit is what I call the “Pied Piper of Rayuwa.” One of the Rayuwa project workers had a song called “Banana” and when he sang that song all the school kids would joyfully sing along and follow him around wherever he went. The expression on their faces was priceless. I got a rare opportunity to work closely with some of my colleagues that I have never been in the field with and to connect with them.