UEL student wins LGBT+ Undergraduate of the Year
17 June 2022
University of East London social sciences student, activist and refugee Joel Mordi says his ambition is to make a positive impact on a "small, medium and large scale".
If he's not achieved that goal already, the advocate and campaigner surely soon will. The range of Joel's activities is immense and his reach global - as he operates in Europe and in his home country of Nigeria.
Joel tries to capture his essence and his interests on his Twitter profile which reads:
"Social Worker | Visionary | Altruist | Storyteller | Explorer | Lover of People, Health Advocate++, Social B/Vlogger, founder @Mif_Nigeria."
All of which has secured Joel an astounding 219,000 followers who try to keep up with his far-reaching activism. This has seen him push for safe routes for child refugees in Europe and to fight the very anti-LGBT+ laws in Nigeria that forced him to seek asylum in the UK.
His latest achievement is securing the title LGBT+ Undergraduate of the Year at the recent Target Jobs Undergraduate of the Year awards for 2022. It was a moment he almost missed because he was intimidated by the impressive roster of candidates vying for the title.
Talking about the moment he won, Joel said, "It was surreal. I had previously met the strong calibre of students from other - mostly Russell Group - universities through the rigorous selection process so my first thought was I had no chance of winning. Making it to the finals was as far as I would go.
"In fact, I had cancelled my invitation to the finale a few days before due to a lack of self-confidence - and because the month of April was especially challenging for me.
"I somehow made it to the event and when it got to my category, I was patiently anticipating the winner and looking out to see who it would be. I had no thought of winning at all. They called the winner and it was me. I was in disbelief until I saw my image on stage and everyone staring at me and applauding. I was totally gobsmacked."
When asked what the title meant to him, Joel said, "It means hope and reassurance. It is especially encouraging to see LGBT+ undergraduates being celebrated for our contribution to society. We are reclaiming space and owning our achievements, no longer shrinking to accommodate our oppressors.
"There's still more work to be done and there's always ground to cover in England and in my home country Nigeria, as well as globally."
Referring to his work in Africa, he said, "My hopes for Nigeria are high especially seeing other young people advocating beyond the walls of social media, notably during the ENDSARS protest [against police brutality] and how the LGBT+ community stood up in solidarity to campaign for our rights.
"It's a long walk to freedom, however - but not beyond the LGBT+ community, as love will find a way. It can be delayed yes, but not completely halted."
Joel said he had mixed views about his wide-reaching social media work and its impact.
"It's a gift and a curse," he said. "Having a huge platform is a privilege. I am constantly astounded by the millions one can reach. However, it opens grounds for being a target of bullies. I use it as a tool to create awareness, take surveys, raise funds for causes I care about, study data, challenge the status quo and educate the uninformed.
"But it can push anyone to the very limit of exhaustion and depression by constantly having to fight with trolls and naysayers. In the end, it's a necessary evil."
Joel is currently in his Foundation Year in Social Services in the School of Education and Communities looking to turn his activism into a career with the aim of "making a positive impact on a small, medium and large scale".
He is funded by an OLIve UP scholarship, which is made available by the University to students with an asylum seeker and refugee background and was the first step towards his return to education. He attended the 12-week course, presented his creative work at several conferences and co-wrote an academic article with OLIve staff.
And Joel's advice for those who might want to emulate his achievements?
"I mostly don't know what I am doing, but I am doing something. My advice would be: just do it. Come with your best self, however unworthy you think you are. Your past shouldn't define you. If the voices in your head are not cheering for you then it's time to silence the chatter. The time is now."
The organisations that Joel has championed:
Mordi Ibe Foundation (@Mif_Nigeria) is a youth-led advocacy-based non-profit founded in 2015 by Joel (@Mordiofficial).
Joel said, "We work around making the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) actionable for young people in education.
"We are the largest non-profit in Nigeria working to make the SDGs a reality, teaching thousands of students and communities. We are working with a number of other non-profits as well as the United Nations World's Largest Lesson (WLL), the arm of Global Goals which is charged with teaching the SDGs to young people."
LGBT+ Pride Parade
Along with others, Joel organised the first ever Nigerian LGBT+ pride parade in 2019.
He said, "It was my coming out, as well as the first ever advocacy tailored towards LGBT+ rights in the country. It was a month-long Pride protest event. It spanned 15 locations and we ended at the National Assembly, our version of Parliament.
"We challenged the SSMPA [Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act] as well as other laws that were unfavourable to human rights, calling for a repeal. It was a national call-to-action and a month for educating the public on what it means to be LGBT+."
Safe Passage is a non-profit operation in the UK and parts of Europe advocating for legal routes for children seeking refuge.
Joel said, "We are a collective from asylum and refugee backgrounds and we advocate for causes that directly or indirectly affect us, lobbying parliament to better inform them on ethical practices.
"We meet weekly or fortnightly to learn about leadership, get informed on policy and better lobbying methods, inviting and learning from industry experts."
In May, Joel won an award from the Sheila McKechnie Foundation for his work . The Young Leaders award in the Amplifying Voices category recognised the key drivers of the Safe Routes Safe Lives campaign.
Accepting the award, Joel said, "Coming from refugee backgrounds, we are experts by experience."
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