Sunday, September 05, 2021

Life Lately: Tuition scholarships for five OAU final-year students; Show me Your Work

After much hemming and hawing and obsessing over minutiae, I am delighted to share with the world. While the site has been ready for months, I’ve had one reason (read excuse) or the other for postponing its launch. Between gentle reminders from Wale Osideinde and taking my own medicine (see Working on A Dream), we’re finally live!

It is most certainly a drop in the ocean, but there’s a real problem that needs addressing. Despite the subsidized and therefore relatively low tuition fees at Nigerian federal universities, many students struggle to pay tuition every year and some drop out or don't go at all because they can't afford it. There is abundant proof that education changes lives, and I believe all students who want a university education should be able to get one. But this is us starting “where we are and with what we have”.

This year, we are offering help to get over the line to five final-year (2021/2022) scholars at the Obafemi Awolowo University. We will provide grants of N60,000 per student to five students towards their tuition or final year projects. We will also provide mentoring and introductions to help them transition from university into the next phase of their lives. ETKOL is named after my parents, Edward and Taiwo Koye-Ladele. I built the website myself (using Wix) so that more of the funding can go to students in need – any mistakes you find there are mine.


Did you see the Humans of New York posts about Paul Ninson, a Ghanaian photographer, on social media this week? The full thread is here and you should probably read it, but I’ll summarize the parts of it that are relevant to the message I want to land.

Paul wanted desperately to be a photojournalist. He first became interested in photography as a way to provide for his daughter after conceiving her at 20 (with a 19-year old woman). As he got deeper into photography, he realized it was more than a source of income – it provided him a form of therapy and self-expression. So he became determined to hone his craft, which was challenging in Ghana as “photography wasn’t really a thing”.

While he was getting better at photography, he wasn’t enjoying any success getting published. So he was thrilled when he heard Ghanaian photographers were getting together for an event in Accra. Finally a chance to join a community and learn from more experienced photographers. He traveled to the capital city, but wasn’t allowed into the event. He was turned away at the gate because it was a meeting for “professional photographers” and he only had pictures of his life and his daughter to show when asked for his body of work.

Our friend Paul did not have a body of work, and so he left, but he became obsessed with creating one. He identified a community of women in Kenya who had built their own village to escape their abusive husbands, and traveled there at great personal cost to document their stories. Despite this, no one would still publish his work when he returned to Ghana. He was disappointed, understandably, and went back to photographing weddings and events. At some point he was accepted to the International Center of Photography in New York with a partial scholarship, but could not go as he still needed $20,000 in tuition. 

Shortly after this, he ran into Brandon Stanton, founder of Humans of New York, at an event he was photographing on a university campus. He recognized Brandon from his online tutorials, so he approached him to ask for advice. One thing led to another and Brandon began interviewing him. He told Brandon about his daughter, his journey with photography, and his partial scholarship to the International Center of Photography. And then another pivotal moment arrived. Brandon asked him, “show me your work”.

It was the same question he had gotten at the Accra event. But he was ready this time. He pulled out his laptop and showed Brandon the pictures from the women-led community in Kenya.

Brandon must have been very impressed with his work, because not only did he help Paul close the funding gap to study in New York and provide him with a tuition, but he has also helped Paul raise over one million dollars this week to build Dikan Center. Dikan Center will be the first photo library in Accra where other young photographers can hone their craft.

The funding drive has raised $1,221,510 as of this morning (05-September). Having read Paul’s story, I think it is safe to say Dikan Center is going to become a reality. Now think about how all this would be different if he hadn’t had a body of work to show Brandon.

What will you bring when they ask you to show your work?


What I’m currently reading: There are two articles I enjoyed this week. The first is How Not to Waste Your Life by Oliver Burkeman for the Financial Times. Humanity’s relationship with time is ironic. We complain about how little time we have, we feel hounded by its relentless onward march, we’re terrified to contemplate when our clock will run out, and yet we waste a lot of the time we have on things we don’t truly value. There are no easy answers but this essay offers useful tips. I sent it to my closest friends yesterday and I strongly recommend it. The second is Paul’s story, which I’ve partly summarized above. There are many other parts to it which I left out, so I recommend reading the entire thing too.

What I’m currently listening to: What a Beautiful Name it Is, by Hillsong Worship. This is such a powerful song and I’ve been singing and playing along to it through the weekend. “My sin was great, your love was greater…what could separate us now?”


PS: Google is sunsetting Feedburner, which I have used for years to manage email subscriptions to my blog. I've now setup a Substack - - of course :-), where I'll post everything I post to this blog. If you sign up there, you'll get these posts in your email. Link is here.

Have a fab week!



  1. Well done on setting up the scholarship program. I'm sure it would have quite the impact. It's amazing how life changing things like these can be for an individual. God speed!