Becoming Zuriel Oduwole: A Girl on a Mission
At just twelve years old, Zuriel Oduwole has already accomplished more than some people will in a lifetime. This formidable young lady has travelled across the world to interview some of the world’s top leaders including President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, and former President Rawlings of Ghana. Zuriel uses her visibility to support her dream of bringing attention to issues affecting women and girls and to showcase a different side of Africa. Ayiba’s Akinyi Ochieng recently spoke to Zuriel about how she stays grounded as she speaks and stands up for her dreams.
What do you think people would say when asked to describe you?
Hmm, I really have no idea, but sometimes when I read some things about myself in newspapers or magazines, some might describe me as a filmmaker or as a journalist. One of the descriptors I really like is “girls’ education advocate” or when I was once called me a twelve-year-old Larry King presidential interviewer. Anyway, I’m just a 9th grader, and I love robot programing and playing basketball. But if I have some time, I do some of the things above people talk about.
What drives your passion for journalism?
I don’t know that I am a journalist. I guess when I hear journalist, I think of someone reporting for a TV station like ABC or CNN, or asking a question at a press conference. But I just make some time to talk to girls about the importance of getting an education, and I show their parents that I am an example of what their daughters can do if they have the opportunity to get an education. I launched my Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up project to do this, and I have now spoken to almost 4000 students in five African countries —Malawi, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mauritius, and Nigeria. Sometimes I show my documentaries to the students, so they can see how education opens doors to opportunities.
Can you think of one defining moment in your life that changed your thinking?
It would have to be when I went to Accra in Ghana at age nine to shoot my first documentary. It was on the Ghana Revolution. I went to interview Presidents Jerry Rawlings and President John Kufuor, two men who have ruled Ghana for almost half of their lives after independence in 1957. They were both different, and from opposing parties, but one issue that they were both passionate about during their presidencies was education —especially free education. I didn’t understand this, because education was free and easy and fun in the United States, and I wondered why anyone had to fight for it. That was when I began to learn more about the problems of education in Africa, Asia, and South America.
What are you most grateful for having in your life?
Everything. My parents, my siblings, my school work which allows me learn more, my sponsors like Ethiopian Airlines, who fly me all over the world to meet world leaders, some of which are the Presidents of Malawi, Tanzania, Cape Verde, Kenya, Nigeria, Liberia, and nine other world leaders, the children when they come to listen to me speak, and those who encourage me to do more, and send me e-mails and tweets and Facebook messages. I am grateful for everything.
What is the best lesson you have learned in the course of your young career?
I would say that if you want knowledge, go to the Internet, but if you want wisdom, talk to God Almighty. I like wisdom better. It’s cool to have some.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
I would say two. Receiving my first award in Nigeria last November, from Dr. Christopher Kolade. It was in recognition for my projects encouraging girls’ education inAfrica. After I won the award, many people told me that he is one of the most honest and most respected Nigerians, and at eighty-two years old, he still goes to work because he says he needs to pay his bills. The second was when I got a letter from a girl in a Malawi orphanage thanking me for coming to their school, because after I came to speak to them, she said she was bold to ask a music artist if she could interview her, because of all the interviews I had done form age nine. That was really cool, because I knew my project was changing people. Really, really cool. I liked that.
What should people take away from your story?
They should dream, but dream big otherwise they won’t go anywhere. They should believe in themselves and not share all their dreams with everyone. Look what happened to Joseph and his brothers in the Bible. Also pray about everything.
What does your ideal world look like?
Where everyone who speaks is heard, and what they speak about is seen as serious, no matter where they come from, or how they dress.
Who are the top three people whom you would love to interview in the future?
Christine Lagarde. She is holding up very well as the first female President of the IMF. I would like to ask about how to create policies that help Africa develop. Will.I.Am because I would like to know where he gets his ideas on business and music and entertainment from, and His Excellency, Prime Minister Mateo Renzi, who becameItaly’s youngest Prime Minister at thirty-nine years old. My dad is much older than him. I have a lot of questions to ask him, because one day I would like to be President.
Where do you see yourself in the next decade?
Teaching women in Africa how to make very short documentaries, so they can tell their stories, and their daughters can learn from them to tell their stories, too. I am just twelve years old, and I already have a documentary on Africa that is showed in movie theaters. So it can be done. We can make it happen.