We have created a movement that has raised awareness about over 50 social initiatives around the world, we have showcased over 36 changemakers from 15 different countries and engaged over 100 artists to create stunning illustrations inspired by the stories of our changemakers. We have held over three successful community events in Dubai.
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Prasat Neang Khmau Temple (Cambodia, 2016)
May 21st 2016: The beginning of our revolution started with a single word that would change my life forever, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across this word. It brought back fond memories of my dreams i had when as a boy growing up in Nigeria. The recollections i had of visiting places faraway from home, the poems and stories i wrote about things i had never experienced at that time (drinking tomato juice and playing with snow) lyrics i wrote in my head while riding on a motorcycle under the rain from school back to my granny’s house where i spent most of my formative years as a teenager. Memories that had long being forgotten, came rushing back. But what made me discover that word at this moment in time and why did it have the power to change my life forever? I was told i almost came into this world from the back seat of a car. I was quite in a rush to enter the world. NO CHILL seems to be the story of my life! It explains my occasional impatience and adventurous spirit. What’s more, this year i declared camels as my spirit animal, we seem to have some form of likeness. Curious, daring,goofy, adventurous, hate to conform, ahem…blessed with great dentures and a big appetite. I got so used to being different, so much that i craved for it in certain ways, I don’t necessarily have an explanation as to why. My Spanish sounding last name, “Bello” was also sort of unique for someone from the South Western part of Nigeria (Osun State).
Lord Tham Pa Temple, Tham Pa Province (Vietnam, 2016)
Back to how a single word changed my life forever, a word that was powerful enough to make my procrastinating self from stopping everything i was doing to scribble the word on a sticky note with a green highlighter at it crossed my mind, so i would not forget. I tucked the note into the my study table drawer, which I rarely ever used, then went to bed as it was already almost midnight. I woke up the next morning and the word still rang in my head.That was the time when i knew this was about to get real, the word was the kind most people have heard of, without being aware of the meaning behind it. I was one of those people. I would come to learn that this word, turned out to be the name of a man who left a legacy for any African man or woman struggling with a sense of self and cultural identity, negatively stereotyped and misrepresented by mainstream media. The man embarked on solo motorcycle adventure to almost 87 countries and with very little money, and his mission was spread change the negative stereotypes about Africans at the time
The word is ‘AJALA’ and the name of man is Moshood Olabisi Ajala. Ajala had a penchant for exploring off-beaten paths, had a curiosity for cultures, people and new experiences, as i did too. I will tell you what Ajala meant to me as a boy. If you had a global mindset, freethinker or liked to explore new places, people would call you Ajala. At that time, I thought Ajala was a mystical animal or god of adventure. There were songs written about someone called ‘Ajala’ who traveled all over the world, so I dreamt that one day. I would like to be like that mystical animal Ajala and travel all over the world like he did. When I realized that the purpose of his voyage around the world was to change the stereotypical narratives mainstream media portrayed about Africans as been poor, dirty and uncultured, the connection i had to the name ‘Ajala’ got even stronger. I had personally experienced all of this bias from some of the people i met on my travels, upon realizing that i was Nigerian, and i was raised there. They were under the impression that i must either be British, French or mixed to be interested in things that were seen as un-African (yoga, extreme sports, backpacking, Indie music and books by non-cliched authors like Ayn Rand).
Mt. Marlboro, Sagada (Philippines, 2015)
Nigeria is home to some of the world’s brightest intellectuals, scientists, innovators,artists, sportsmen, writers (Nobel Prize winning Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Adichie) and revolutionaries like Fela Anikulapo Kuti who used jazz music to topple a society rife with incapable, irresponsible and corrupt leaders. Anyone traveling black, with the purest intentions of course, would tell you how tiring and humiliating it is to get from place to place. This experiences did not deter Ajala, who kept promoting his message of peace, equality and brotherhood, through his conversations with heads of states and his book “An African Abroad”. At his demise, his journey was forgotten, his impact was lost as was his legacy. The series of fortunate events that came after my discovery led me to the people who transformed my the back of a jalopy bus, to survivors of Typhoon Yolanda (one of the most deadliest typhoons). I volunteered with All Hands Volunteer to build makeshift homes, evacuation shelters, playgrounds with other volunteers from around the world who had left their home countries to work and provide aid to those who had lost everything.vision.
I was planning to write about the unique encounters and experiences i had during my gap year, where i spent almost six months in Southeast Asia. I met accidental entrepreneurs like Jacques and Trisha, founders of Yellow Doors Hostel, who provided respite in the form of a cold bottle of Coke sold fromI realized the notions people had about Africa and all developing countries was completely outrageous, ridiculous and extremely biased, and we have mainstream media to thank for that. Ignorance is real, and the sad reality is that I also fell victim to this. I also believed the biased stories being spread about Nigerians and Africans to be true. There would be times when I would be scared of being around other Africans, as if they would they take advantage of me or try to lure me into a scam. Mainstream media has circulated stories and imagery that dehumanizes a huge part of the world. The widespread narrative about minorities and the underprivileged is quite inaccurate and untrue and makes me wonder why nothing has been to correct it. History profits those whose narrative lasted the longest.
Ajala faced a lot of prejudices as an African man, especially during his travels. Even though that was over 50 years ago, his experiences and mine are quite similar, nothing has changed. Every time i travel to a new country i get extra-frisked, for no good reason other than the fact that i am black and a Nigerian. I’m not ignorant to the reputation that Nigerians are said to have, but this same country that is home to the ‘Internet princes’, is also home to the forefather of the Internet, Philip Emeagwali, without whom the internet won’t have existed in the first place. I embarked on crazy adventures to unusual destinations; a sunken cemetery in Camiguin, dinosaur shaped island in Mati, 1000+ kilometres bike trip from Siem Reap to Preah Vihear (along the border of Thailand) in less than 24 hours. I chose to write a book that would showcase unsung heroes and inspiring nomads from the different countries Ajala visited and also amplify the message this heroes that reminded me of Ajala promoting. The goal was to inspire millennials, minorities and people from underrepresented communities, to move past certain odds that comes their way and be encouraged to take the road less traveled in pursuit of their dreams, through the stories of nomads changing the world, that i would document. My background in UX/UI made me realize the importance of a visual narrative, so i chose art. Art gives people the opportunity to understand a story better without the distraction of the characters creed or race. Art celebrates people and humanizes them. With art more people would interact with a single story, an artist from one end of the world would be inspired by the story of a nomad from another end of the globe. An artist’s interpretation of a story may immortalize the protagonist and inspire the antagonist. What was going to start out as an illustrated art book inspired by stories of nomads and changemakers around the world, became a platform for changemakers creating impact for marginal communities and the artists creating illustrations.
The first people who believed in my vision of The AJALA Project were my tech and travel buddies, Nora Benson (who i met through a hackathon for social good by the New York University, Abu Dhabi), Narmeen Naser (who was interested in the project initially as an artist) Nana Wallace, Limuel Marzan, Rami Mohammed and Walid Dib. The interesting team about this team was the diversity in terms of culture, nationalities and professional backgrounds. Narmeen and i remained as the founding team, and our commitment stemmed from our passion for art, travel, and changemaking, we decided to transform ajala from a illustrated artbook to a platform that would amplify the messages of nomads of changing the world, showcase role models who exemplify the different dimensions of success (people who weren’t only entrepreneurs, designers, writers, but also social innovators, adventurers, writers, artists and some of whom were multifaceted change makers. We aim to inspire the present and the next generation through transmedia storytelling and meaningful art created to raise awareness about social causes and showcase and empower grassroot changemakers and artists making a difference.
Who knew that the story of a single man, his name, the cause he believed in and the ideals that he stood for would be the inspiration behind The AJALA Project. Even though our vision, is not yet a reality, it already feels like one. This word that once was almost meaningless, has now brought purpose, direction and meaning to the lives of many. It has inspired young and old, misfits and revolutionaries, cynics and dreamers to believe in the power of true stories that transcends words. Compelling stories told with colors and canvas, one where artists also become storytellers. I never imagined this could happen, and this is only the beginning, if you’re reading this, you’re now part of our revolution. Hello Changemaker!
By: Hassan Adebayo Bello. (Co-Founder, The AJALA Project)