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Akanni’s ‘can do’ attitude


Akanni’s ‘can do’ attitude

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THE 34-YEAR-OLD, who is the outgoing first vice-president of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), grew up in Westbury Road, St Michael.

Admittedly, he was “hard ears” and having spent eight years at the Alexandra School (after repeating a few times), he left there with a single Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) pass at Grade 3.

“I remember going on the block and saying that I need a job and there was this guy who sat down next to me and said, ‘You know, Akanni, you are a bright boy and went to Alexandra and waste all of your time now you here’. That had me feeling so bad but I never said anything. That kind of jolted me and I went looking for work one time,” he recounted.

With no experience, McDowall got a job in construction but that lasted only a few months. Unemployed again, he was feeling hopeless when he overheard a conversation among neighbours about the Barbados Defence Force.

“They were talking about how great working in the army was and about the good pay, so I applied to the Barbados Defence Force, was interviewed and accepted. That was in 1998.”

“ . . . . Everybody was telling me I cannot make it – ‘Why you fooling yourself that you could be a soldier?’ The fact they said I could not make it really motivated me and I finished as Most Improved. I was a commander and went all the way to first class private.” akanni-mcdowell-6

But Akanni wasn’t satisfied to just being a first class private – his goal was to become an officer and the only way he could was by furthering his education. So he took a CXC course in information technology and obtained a Grade 1. This examination result became the catalyst for him to pursue further studies.

Laughing loudly, McDowall recalled that he “pick, pick” at various subjects, eventually passing chemistry, biology, physics, typing and English – “after the third try”, he quipped.

“I went to Metropolitan, the O’ Level Institute . . . . I went to every single place that offered classes because I was determined not to go back doing labour work again. I had to be at work all the time and I didn’t have the freedom to do all the classes I wanted to so in 2001 I left the army and moved over to the Ministry of Health,” he said.

McDowall then attended the Barbados Community College where he earned an associate degree in environmental health, followed by a master’s degree in public health.

Now McDowall’s next pursuit is that of the presidency of the NUPW. Quietly confident, he has as one of his main goals if elected, succession planning in the union which, at present, has a problem of ageing membership. Only 14 per cent of the union’s estimated 10 000 membership are between the ages of 18 to 35, which means that 86 per cent are over the age of 35. Of that 86 per cent, 60 per cent are over the age of 55.

“So you need to encourage young people, and the best way to do that is to show that they belong and encourage them to hold the highest offices in the organisation,” he maintained.

The youngest ever presidential candidate, McDowall believes his long and noteworthy track record is fitting evidence.

He served as a shop steward for 14 years, member of the Caribbean Public Services Association, member of the Caribbean Congress of Labour, sat on the Public Sector Health Committee, represented the union both locally and internationally and spoke on the union’s behalf on many occasions.

“I always found that because of my transition to where I am now with my wife and son, I always wanted to give everybody that opportunity I had, to improve their lives and benefit. I think everybody should be able to want a house, a car, a white fence, two Jack Russells . . . . It might be a foolish thought but I saw that the union provided that opportunity for me.

“Each and every trial that I had I never gave in. I just saw every challenge as another opportunity to grow in life and to become a better person.” (SDB Media)