Sunny Irakpo (IVLP Alumni, 2019): Empowering Youths and Reducing Drug Abuse in Nigeria

Sunny Irakpo is the Founder and President of Silec Initiatives, an organization dedicated to youth empowerment and drug-abuse reduction in Nigeria. In 2019, Sunny Irakpo participated in the International Visitor’s Leadership Program (IVLP) sponsored by Exchange Programs - U.S. Department of State and facilitated by WorldChicago and the Meridian International Center. IVLP is the U.S. Department of State's premier professional exchange program. Through three- to four-week visits to cities across the U.S. - including Chicago - current and emerging foreign leaders from a variety of fields engage in face-to-face dialogues with Americans and cultivate lasting relationships with their professional counterparts.

During his participation in IVLP, Sunny visited the Office of the National Drug Control Policy and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and connected with other professionals to promote understanding and transparency about drug addiction. He also presented his work at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where he received a Leadership Award.

During his stop in Chicago, Sunny visited Alternatives, Inc., a Chicago-based organization that supports and empowers Chicago youth to build safer and more vibrant communities through a combination of youth development programs and behavioral health services. From Alternatives, Inc., Sunny learned about how community involvement and public education programs can help counter the spread of substance abuse in the youth community. Sunny was especially inspired by the organization’s use of the asset- based model, which focuses on enriching the lives of the youths by building upon young people’s strengths within the context of the family and community. This model inspired Sunny’s own work at Silec Initiatives. Since returning to Nigeria, Sunny had led the Silec Initiatives to increase public awareness and sensitization using a community-based approach to reduce drug abuse in Nigeria. In addition to the visit to Alternatives, Inc., another one of Sunny’s favorite memory of Chicago is the sight of the bridges. “I cannot forget the Chicago bridge and how they lift and open!”

Sunny credits his participation in IVLP for shaping his “whole being to become a better person and a global citizen.” Since IVLP, Sunny has continued his commitment to youth empowerment and drug abuse reduction. He recently initiated a project to engage youths in skill-building programs to prepare them for education and employment opportunities. He also collaborated with the IVLP Alumni Association in Lagos, Nigeria, to begin a substance abuse sensitization program for students in several secondary schools.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Sunny has been an outspoken advocate for adopting a community-based approach to address the pandemic’s impact in Nigeria by using local indigenous languages to sensitize communities to preventive measures. Recognizing the challenges this crisis poses, Sunny encourages everyone in the WorldChicago community to “keep hopes alive, stay healthy, reunite with a common vision and goal, and increase our love for one another. We shall overcome COVID-19.”

For more about Sunny, visit the Silec Initiatives website.

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