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By NBF News
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Michael Jackson's vignette, We are the ones to make the world a better place goes with a heuristic effect. When Enugu writers gathered last weekend under the auspices of Coal City Literary Forum, they had at the back of their minds making the world a better place.

It was a novel initiative by the writers' group when it held its first creative writing workshop on the environment. The awareness raised in the course of the programme will linger on.

Mrs. Adaobi Nwoye, president of the forum, set the ball rolling for the three-day creative writing workshop with the theme 'Saving our Natural environment' last Wednesday morning at the Ministry of Information Conference Hall, Enugu.

Speaking on 'Creative Writing and Environmental Sustainability', the keynote speaker, Professor Damian Opata of the Department of English and Literary Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, reflected on the lost paradise of his childhood, the Adada River at Nkpologwu. Lamenting the erosion of the environment by Western civilization, he informed that the natural environment in the pre-colonial times was preserved, in a way, by traditional religion, through the means of preserving the so-called evil forest, taboos about the killing and eating of some animal, having totemic animals and objects, the grooves that housed the shrines and deities, the sacred waters and trees, the ritual traditions that allowed domestic animals to be slaughtered and eaten as products of sacrificial offering mostly, etc.

Modern Christian religion, he regretted, does not respect nature as much as traditional religion. According to him, 'The awesomeness associated with religion is no longer associated with thick virgin forests, ancient trees standing as sacred symbols of deities and shrines, groves, streams, etc., is no longer the case. A great sense of non-spiritual fascination and wonder associated with tall church buildings and towers is now regnant.' He also noted that the rise of modern technology, modern building technology, human action and natural disasters have also taken a toll on the natural environment.

Aside the depiction of environmental issues in their writings, he voted for the formation of advocacy communities of environmentally conscious writers. He called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to actively support creative writers in the country by providing research facilities to them; more so, when writers have brought more honours to Nigeria than researchers from other fields.

Participants at the workshop came mostly from higher institutions in the state and other budding creative writers. Three significant fresh voices in Nigerian literature (Uche Peter Umez, who won the 2006 Commonwealth Short Story Prize; Ifeanyi Ajaegbo, who won the 2005 edition of the prize; and the novelist, Imaseun Eghosa), took the aspiring writers on the creative writing workshop.

Handling different but related topics, the resource persons gave copious examples on the basis of creative writing, melding them with environmental overtones. The students were also taken on creative writing assignments by the lecturers on the environment. The second day of the workshop continued in the same vein. There was an amiable atmosphere, as the resource persons, who have participated at different creative writing workshops in the past themselves, mingled freely with the participants to get the best out of them.

At the end of the workshop, Mrs. Nwoye expressed satisfaction with the way it went, especially, considering that it was the maiden outing. 'I wasn't sure of what to expect, but I was pleased to discover that many young people in Enugu had been yearning for an opportunity like this, especially to be trained by writers who know their mettle. You saw the turnout; we had participants from almost all the tertiary institutions in Enugu. The aim of the workshop was to train young writers to incorporate environmental issues into their stories.

Prof. Opata prepared a brilliant background for the workshop and the facilitators, Ifeanyi Ajaegbo, Uche Umez and Eghosa Imasuen, did a thorough research on the theme and delivered tremendously well. Ajaegbo actually gave us a slide show of environmental degradation like oil spillage, deforestation, extinction of species and before long the participants had come up with beautiful stories on these issues. Eghosa and Uche took the participants on a thorough drill and the result was fantastic.

'We, the organisers, were happy and the participants were very happy as well. Brilliant works were rewarded and almost all the participants received free books from all the facilitators. I also gave out copies of my first book to all the girls present, to motivate and encourage them,' she said.

However, she was disappointed not getting the required financing support for the workshop as many companies declined being part of it, which made her to source for funds from within, save for the support of Winpal Nigeria Limited, Enugu State Broadcasting Service and Enugu State Ministry of Information. 'It's funny how these same coporate organizations dole out millions of naira to fund negative entertainment and frivolous social events and shows but shy away from identifying with programmes that will benefit and empower young people,' she lamented.

In her comments, Mrs. Ngozi Iluebe, a lecturer in the English Department, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, said the workshop had been quite impressive and very topical, because of its focus on taking the reader through edutainment programmes on the importance of global environment issues such as global degradation. 'It is very innovative and a very unique idea. The benefit of the workshop for the young writers is of twofold: giving them coaching and guidelines and techniques of good writing, as well as make them realize that, as writers, you can write about every issue, including environmental issues and weave the theme of the story in a way it would attract all types of readers, young and old,' she said.

Another university don, Mrs. Nancy Achebe, of the Department of Library and Information Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, said she was also impressed with the outcome. 'I am happy that the organizers are so thoughtful to push the right themes as a way of impacting on our youths the right value of reading and writing, coming particularly from the point of view of reading. In Nigeria, we don't have the habit of reading culture, and it is important that we have a vibrant reading culture in other to bring down our natural surrounding and think about our environment and how it impacts on our lives. It is a life experience gathering students to come and listen to writers who are role models and whose skills they can quickly imbibe. I pray that this workshop is going to come regularly.'

A director-general in the Ministry of Information, Chief Gabriel Ngbuh, said he shared in the ideals of the organizers in initiating the workshop, which made him to give them the necessary support to make the dream come to fruition. 'As an information officer with the responsibility to inform, entertain and educate the public, I think it is very important to keep the workshop going. I am also interested in what they are doing, because, instead of our youths going into kidnapping, robbery cultism and prostitution, a workshop like this will offer them the opportunity to concentrate on reading and writing,' he said.