Chiemelie Ezeobi writes on the 1,000 children in Makoko, Bariga and Ajegunle communities in Lagos State who were recently feted by the Slum to School (S2S) project in the spirit of Christmas
With a broad smile, eight-year-old Antimi Niejo clutched a red box in her hand. She sauntered in and out of the venue as if she was in a paradise.
"This Christmas is the best I have ever had in my life. I was fed, I met with Santa Claus, I danced and on top of that, I was given a gift box. I could not believe my eyes when I opened the box. It was filled with gifts and it was just for me," She gushed.
The young girl was one the beneficiaries of the spirit of giving that has become synonymous with the Christmas season.
Worldwide, the Christmas season is usually seen as a period of giving and sharing, a fact that is not lost on Nigerians as they get themselves involved in the joyful atmosphere of the Yuletide that comes with cheerful giving.
Although this does not indicate that Nigerians give only during the Christmas season, but Yuletide gifts are usually distinct.
For over 1,000 kids in some of the slums in Lagos State - Makoko, Bariga and Ajegunle/Dustbin Estate this Yuletide has been a different one from what they usually experienced. Although some had in times past been recipients of gifts either from their parents or relatives, there were many others who had never experienced the season fully.
Tagged 'Christmas in A Box (CiAB)', the Christmas Party organised by the Slum to School (S2S) project was done to share the joy of the season with the less privileged and orphaned children as well as to make a difference in their lives.
With the beautifully decorated grotto by events planner, Uche Ezeobi of Onyx Cynosure, the gaily packaged presents from over 700 donors, the food arranged by Bethia Idoko, the planning of the Christmas party by Miss Ursula Nwobu and Lade Olaleye, and many other volunteers, the party for the kids was a slamming success.
The Santa Claus truly did not disappoint as he gave out boxes of gifts to the kids. While some of the kids refused to go into the grotto and get a hug from Santa or Dora the explorer and Ben 10 (both cartoon characters), others got a kick from the hug.
The kids were further entertained with loads of games and music as well as the bouncing castle. The parents were not left out either of the fun as they were made to dance with their kids.
The concept of the CiAB was for the donors to get any empty carton or a gift box and wrap it beautifully with colorful wrapping sheets and seal it with a nice ribbon.
The donor was also expected to put about 5-10 items that a child will love like toys, storybooks, candies, provisions, shoes, Christmas caps, kiddies sunshades, wristwatches, clothes and educational materials amongst many others.
With over 521 volunteers, the social advocacy group set a target for itself to get over 500 boxes of goodies for these kids. THISDAY gathered that volunteers went to town and urged willing donors to pack goodies that would be useful to the kids.
Although the target was 500 gift boxes, it was gathered that the group far exceeded their expectations as the boxes gathered was more than the initial target.
According to the Initiator of the group, Mr. Orondaam Otto, the vision statement of the group which is to transform the society by empowering disadvantaged children to realise their full potential, aptly describes what the group stands for.
In an interview with THISDAY, he said the concept was organised as an S2Slum Christmas party for the less privileged. He said, "I am grateful to God for a successful 2012 and the spirit of sharing and thanksgiving. I called on people to come join us and show love to these less privileged children in the slums.
"With over 500 volunteers, celebrities, social advocates, our Santa Claus, Ben 10 and Dora the Explorer, we hosted hundreds of children of the Ajegunle/ Dustbin Estate, Bariga and Makoko Slums in their respective locations in two consecutive days.
"It was a memorable experience for the kids and it gave them more reason to stay in school. At the same time, it was a more fulfilling experience for the volunteers as they experienced the joy in giving without expecting anything in return.
Explaining the rationale behind his desire to create a memorable Christmas for the kids, he said: "Do you remember that special Christmas celebration you had with family when you were a child? Remember how you visited the amusement park and got amazing gifts from Santa Claus.
"I always loved the decorations around the streets, the cold, dry Harmattan air, the lovely music and the beautifully decorated Christmas tree glittering by the corner of the sitting room. I always craved the love that came with the season and the gifts I always got. It was the perfect time to ask and be given."
He added, "Do you also remember the first Christmas gift? Yes! I hardly forget my primary five Christmas school party, I was about nine-year-old and I was the lead character in the drama titled "Away in a manger". I played the role so well that I got many gifts from parents and teachers.
"My dad was so proud of me that he got me my first sport car. That was a special Christmas for me and I know how much it inspired me to always strive to succeed. Later that evening he called me and said, congratulated me. Although he said he wanted me to be a medical doctor and not an actor."
Otto said the amazing Christmas seasons while growing up came with special gifts and great memories. He however said the same does not hold true for many children.
"Unfortunately, there are several children who have grown up without such love. Many are never even aware of the season, they never have anything to call their own or have never been given a gift before. I have met these kids and together with amazing volunteers we have brought hope to their paths and filled their hearts with joy.
"In the last eight months through the Slum 2 School Project and our amazing network of volunteers, supporters and partners, we have provided educational scholarships and support for 320 children living in slums and this time around we wanted to inspire not just these children but also extend the love of the season to other children living in slums Ajegunle/Dustbin Estate, Makoko and Bariga.
"The goal of my CiAB campaign was to bring simple, lovable items to less privileged children who may never have the chance to obtain them. Each beautifully decorated box was filled with LEGO toys, Dulche Ice Creams, cakes from Sprinkled and spiced amongst others."
The S2S is a social advocacy group set up to change lives especially that of the less privileged and orphaned kids. The group recently enrolled about 202 children in the Makoko community in three schools on scholarship under the second phase of their project. The first phase had about 118 students enrolled earlier in the year.