Shinaayo Owoola: My journey from Lagos to Southampton

Shinaayo Owoola, 14, tells the story of a childhood that started in Lagos before moving to the UK in Southampton’s Teenage Takeover

A dozen teenagers in Southampton recently worked with The Big Issue and Southampton FC’s official charity Saints Foundation.

It was a unique, innovative project that saw the kids from six secondary schools in the city come up with their own ideas and write the pieces themselves, offering a window into journalism for kids who may never have got the chance to consider it as a career or an area of focus.

Southampton’s Teenage Takeover included a day out on the town with Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhüttl, a behind-the-scenes tour of a cruise ship and a special investigation into the city’s ‘pengest’ fried chicken spots.

One of those pieces was Shinaayo Owoola’s remarkably personal tale of how he grew up in Southampton was just one of those stories. It’s so good that we have printed it in this week’s Big Issue magazine. Here’s Shinaayo’s take on his remarkable childhood:

All I can remember is being five years old, living in Lagos, Nigeria. What a lovely city it was. Every day I would get up at 6am, have a wash, brush my teeth and get ready for school. At 7.25am, I am at school ready to start my lessons. There were no shops around it, so there was no pit stop on the way to pick up snacks.

I looked forward to the weekend so much. It meant I would not have to see my strict and scary teachers. That’s not to say I was a naughty kid. I just didn’t like my strict teachers who obviously wanted the best for me.

In Lagos almost every child was always out on the streets playing football or playing out with friends if they weren’t in school. You can walk out of the house and there will always be people you could play with. This is different here in England; most young boys would have been at home playing on their Xbox or PlayStation. Moving to England meant making friends wouldn’t be as natural as back in Lagos.

Lagos was a real fantasy, with the streetlights and the cars and music playing from everywhere. The streets have their own identity, kids playing out, music and people getting on with their life. The food stalls would make anyone drop what they were doing and rush over to get something delicious.

I can promise you this was no donner kebab or chicken and chips. This is five-star street food: We had fresh chicken off the pan, herbs and spices that would make anyone drool.

DID YOU KNOW…

In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.

Lagos streets on weekends felt like a carnival with street parties and live music from every corner. Children would be bouncing up and down as they did not have to see their strict teachers and parents did not have to get up early for work so it was a win-win.

I liked to treat myself to a Nigerian sausage roll – equivalent to having a bacon or sausage butty from Greggs. I know how much people in England love their bacon and sausage butty with a cup of tea. Mine was sausage roll with super malt, every Nigerian kid’s favourite meal.

In order to have all these privileges, I had to make sure I respected everyone around me. In Nigeria, respect is a big thing and is ingrained in us from early childhood. The way I talk to my friends is different to the way I will speak to anyone older than I am. Greetings when walking into a room with adults had to be genuine, anything less would be classed as an insult. The last thing you want to do is make a family member upset – your favourite auntie can be your worst nightmare. So making sure you were always polite was key (and meant you might even get a present or a little pocket money as they left).

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I will forever be grateful for my childhood living in Lagos. This shaped me into the man I am today. Life in England was not as smooth as I hoped it would be. As a young boy from Nigeria, I did not know what to expect once I got here.

Sharing this story with readers means a lot to me.

The first barrier I encountered was understanding what people were saying to me. My English was not good at all and slang made it even more difficult. I didn’t know ‘mandem’ meant friends, or that ‘ight’ generally meant OK.

But things got better. I have even inherited some of this British slang into my vocabulary. I laugh at myself every day because I am slowly becoming more of a Brit.

The sad thing is that I am the only Nigerian in my year so there’s no one who can relate to my childhood memories. Sharing this story with readers means a lot to me.

Shinaayo Ralph Saints
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Shinaayo also took on Saints boss Ralph Hasenhüttl at basketball for the magazine (Image: James Bridle)

Lagos will always be part of me and I am forever grateful for the foundation and memories I created there. I no longer fear teachers since moving to secondary school here. And I was lucky to work with Saints Foundation, which has given me the opportunities to do some amazing things in and outside of school.

I have a good relationship with all my teachers here. They remind me of my teachers back in Lagos – hard-working teachers who only want the best for me. And in England, I can share jokes with my teachers and have a laugh with them.

My family is the best, they have allowed me to grow and become the person I am today. My journey is just starting and I am looking forward to what is ahead, in Southampton and beyond.

Southampton’s Teenage Takeover is available now from various organisations in Southampton