#Staying the Course

Toni Joy – Nigeria

​I was 13 when I jumped in the front of a moving vehicle to kill myself but the taxi driver was too skilled that he just drove over… At the age of 12, I lost my dad, and that marked the beginning of a different life. He was the centerpiece of my childhood, the one who taught me what unconditional love could mean. I was left with my mom, who had to take care of four children. A task that was not easy for her, she also had a lot to struggle with after the death of my dad. 

I remember the words: “… you are such a waste!”. I´ve heard them a lot when I was growing up from different people who said it in different ways. These words tormented me for a long and led me to hate my full existence. Out of frustration, I left home at the age of 16 not prepared for the realities ahead. I left poor and lonely struggling daily with depression, low self-esteem, and hunger.

Toni Joy – kanthari Dream Speech

As I grew older I grew in anger against the world hating everything and everyone. Yet in this hate, when I gained admission into the university I had many people who would come to me for advice on what they should do with their lives. This experience surprised me and gradually began to change my life. There I discovered how much I liked being with people and how meaningful my life was to others. With this new acceptance of the people around me, I drew closer to art, music, and poetry. Talents I allways had, but never paid attention to. Music, people, art they made a change possible: I quit feeling useless and began to feel useful.

When I completed my university education, I started working with an NGO. I had dreams, lots of plans and revolutionary Ideas. I remember telling a senior colleague of mine about starting a movement where young people will go around cleaning the streets as a way of telling people: “we are not useless”. His answer hurt: “You will not make it there, he said, I have friends who did it and failed”. I was so Angry. And this was my trigger, the anger that spurred my passion into action.

At age 23, I started my journey in social development by organizing a clean-up exercise in about six states in Nigeria on February 17th, 2015, from there I discovered my love for waste. I realized that my life was similar to the metaphor called waste and I have been given another chance to retell my story. The drive to keep doing something led me into Imafon, a rural community in Akure, Ondo State in 2016, where I decided to spend my time with people who are treated like waste like I was, empowering them with skills and perspectives they need to make things out of waste.

Two years later, in 2017, I was selected as one of the participants of the Leadership and Social Development training program at Kanthari. During this training program, I gained more knowledge, skills, and courage I needed to create true social change. After the training program, I started implementing more social projects through my organization Durian.

Today through my organization Durian, I want to see more empowered rural marginalized that turn their local waste and resource into value. I want to see more self-sufficient rural communities who know that they are not useless. I want to share my life with the rural poor and marginalized because I have realized I don´t have to be ashamed of my story, I realized is not a story of suffering and pain. Mine, is a story of hope, strength, and passion.