When Eunice Oladejo was 10, a family trip to her birthplace in Nigeria left a lasting impression.
“When I visited my grandfather’s village, it was the first time I saw with my own eyes how it looked to live in poverty. I felt so guilty, living in the (United) States, getting an education, without having to worry about what I was going to eat while all these kids in his community didn’t have that.”
As she grew older, Oladejo became more aware of the struggles faced by Nigerian citizens and how little was being done to help them. “It made me so sad, but also mad. It lit a fire within me.”
The fourth-year political science student has fueled that fire at Western, delving into studies and extracurricular activities exploring the social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainable development. As a member of the university’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee and co-lead of its sustainability theme group, Oladejo is applying her knowledge and passion to help improve the campus, London and the global community.
Oladejo was 5 when she and her family left Nigeria, arriving in New Orleans just months before Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home. They moved to Houston before coming to Canada and settling in Ottawa.
When it came time to choose a university, Oladejo was keen to study away from home. With her twin brother heading to the University of Ottawa, the alma mater of their older sister, and her older brother a past student union president at Carleton, Oladejo wanted a school to call her own.
“I didn’t want people to know me as a little sister, or a twin. I wanted to make a name for myself.”
Since arriving at Western, she’s done just that, serving as the Social Science Student Council’s AVP, advocacy initiatives and as president of Water Aid Western, a chapter of a national charity dedicated to providing clean drinking water and basic sanitation to communities in need. She is also a member of the Black Students’ Association and the women’s football team.
Last year, Oladejo represented Canada at the United Nations Youth Assembly. In 2019, she attended the United Nations “Join Together” conference, where she and her colleagues pitched an idea for a sustainable grocery store for the City of London. Besides selling bulk items in eco-friendly and recyclable packaging, their plan included donating any unsold food to the community’s most vulnerable populations.
“We wanted the store to address poverty, economic stability, zero hunger, and many other United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” Oladejo said.
“The conversation around sustainability often focuses on climate, recycling and carbon emissions, ignoring the social aspects and the communities that really need the help.”
While lower-income and racialized communities are more negatively affected by climate change than other populations are, they also lack the means to live more sustainably, Oladejo said.
“I think about communities in Africa where they may not have water and sanitization. A mom and her kids walk miles and miles to fetch clean water. The children then cannot attend or are late for school. That affects getting a quality education. When the kids can’t get that education, it affects economic stability because they aren’t able to innovate or get into roles that could positively impact the community. That affects economic growth. It’s a whole domino effect.”
Closer to home, Oladejo points to similar issues faced by Indigenous communities. “It’s not just about turning off the tap if you lack clean drinking water. They are not getting the help they need, and haven’t for years.”
As Western creates its next strategic plan, Oladejo is happy Indigenous communities are being consulted. She is also eager to hear ideas from students on how Western can leverage its strengths to create a more sustainable future, both locally and globally.
“A lot of students want the priorities of the strategic plan to address what we discuss in class or in campus groups around environmental and social sustainability. I want their voices heard, and for the committee to set realistic goals and to be accountable in achieving them.”
For Oladejo, who hopes to work in policy analysis and conflict resolution, and perhaps one day as a UN peacemaker, quick fixes won’t create a better world.
“Sustainability is about putting systems in place now and developing infrastructure that can be maintained for generations. It’s looking at the current issues and not just giving band-aid solutions that could end up negatively impacting the world in a couple of years, but instead looking at developing innovative ideas that cultivate our relationship with the Earth and maintain it for future generations.“