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Painting a new country 0

In December 2009 a group of Nigerian volunteers took to the streets of a notorious, overcrowded Lagos slum armed with brushes and paint to give the area a much-needed facelift. The “Mushin Makeover” saw thousands of people painting 7 streets, 294 houses and 3 kilometres of roadside curb and bus stops in Mushin, an area of Lagos known for its high crime rate.

The project received extensive and positive coverage from all major Nigerian media outlets, was endorsed by state government and funded by sponsors like Stanbic, IBTC and Wema Bank. Berger Paints trained 25 unemployed youths from the Mushin suburbs to become skilled painters and the project received gallons of paint from Dulux, with many individuals donated paint or money to the cause.

High profile Nigerians like the first lady of Lagos State, Abimbola Fashola, well-known musicians, Nollywood actors and comedians took part or endorsed the campaign on their websites and Facebook pages. The support offered by these famous Nigerians lent an air of excitement to the day of the makeover, with people screaming from their open car windows as they drove past the celebrities painting the roads.

But behind the Makeover project was a bigger movement dubbed Gemstone 2025: a vision that by the end 2025 Nigeria would be the most desirable place in the world to live. The man behind this vision is the CEO of Visible Impact, Fela Duratoye. He believes that the biggest obstacle to achieving this goal is not poverty or crime, but getting Nigerians to buy into his vision.

“I think that the most difficult thing is trying to get a generation of people who will believe in the future of Nigeria despite all the things they see in the present that should cause them to doubt.”

Durotoye thinks that once Nigerians believe in the possibility of change and are convinced that it is their own responsibility to build the nation, they will be willing to sacrifice personal gain in order to make this future possible.

That is precisely why the Mushin Makeover was so important. Durotoye says the main intention of the project was to get Nigerians to believe that they could make a difference “with their little effort along with the effort of others”.

They also wanted to encourage people to take responsibility for bringing change and not wait for a government to do it. “The Mushin Makeover is still being used as an example of what the civil society can do to develop the community”, says Durotoye.

Although these were the broader intentions of the Makeover, the physical beautification of the slum was also a priority. According to Durotoye each person is a product of nature and nurture, with nature being the biological source and nurture the environment in which people live and operate.

“Psychologists have been able to draw a link between colours and moods, so one of the things that happen is that when houses in an area are not generally painted or the paints have faded, you find that the mood is generally low, the people are down, they are angry and they lack inspiration.”

Durotoye believes that by painting a building, you can change the lives of the people living and working there. “All of a sudden you notice that the mood changes, they become a lot more bubbly, they become happy, they are inspired to do things.”

However, the project was at first met with scepticism and suspicion from the Mushin community.

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By Linda Krige – Africa The Good News

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi