Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that Slum to School (S2S) project, a social advocacy group, recently gave a new lease of life to about 202 less-privileged and orphaned kids at the Makoko community, a slum in the Yaba district of Lagos State, with free admission into three schools
"As from today, my daughter's life as a fish seller is over. For the very reason that I ended up a fish seller does not mean my daughter will do same. I want better things for her. It is a hard life that no one will want her child to be part of but poverty said otherwise. Today, the Slum to School (S2S) project has given my daughter a new lease of life by giving her the opportunity to go to school on scholarship. I have always hoped that one day my kids will see the four walls of a school and that prayer has been answered."
Those were the words of mother of three, Mrs. Valeline Agbogbe, a fish seller at the Makoko community of Lagos State. Used to the life of drudgery which has taken its toll on the once beautiful face, Agbogbe like every good mother truly wanted something better for her children especially her daughter, nine-year-old Georgette.
That wish came true recently when her daughter was among the 202 children that clinched a scholarship courtesy the Slum to School (S2S) Project, a social advocacy group.
The S2S is a social advocacy group created to change lives especially that of the less-privileged and orphaned kids. Under the leadership of the initiator, Mr. Orondaam Otto, the group recently enrolled about 202 school children in the Makoko community to school, at no extra cost to the parents and care givers.
Parents and care givers who thronged the Anglican Primary School, Makoko, were overwhelmed as their kids and wards were given school uniforms, bags, books and other educational materials.
The criteria for choosing the beneficiaries were primarily hinged on children between the age brackets of 3-14, who do not have parents, aunts or guardians into school. The selection process began from a memo to the community heads who jumped at the opportunity and passed the message round. The lucky beneficiaries were then chosen and enlightened.
THISDAY gathered at the end of the school session this year, out of the 320 children who had never gone to school before the scholarships opportunity came clocking, seven of them topped their class in 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th positions.
Started as a Community Development Service (CDS), when he was still a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member, Otto, had in the last eight months canvassed help to enroll a total of 320 children in Makoko into three schools and this earned him the Lagos State Honours Award for the Most Outstanding Corps Member in 2011.
The recent enrollment of the 202 school children with complete educational support was the second phase of the project which started earlier this year with the enrollment of 118 orphans and vulnerable children as the first phase, still at the Makoko community.
However, the enrollment ceremony was heralded by the free medical missions tagged "Net A Child Project", which was carried out in the Makoko community to propagate the malaria intervention project. Free treated nets were given to all the beneficiaries as well as other medical services by the Junior Achievement/ Chevron medical teams.
Giving reasons why he veered into this, Otto said he felt burdened when he saw potential future leaders roaming the streets. On investigation, he discovered the major needs in Makoko and that was all it took to turn the children who were more into fish mongering into students.
He threw himself into the project with the little cash in his pockets. But that was not a deterrent, as he was consumed with a burning passion and zeal. He first changed the mentality of the community and then proceeded to offer them scholarships.
With a few volunteers of like minds, the first phase was successful and so the need for the second phase was imminent. As the vision spread, the group which soon grew to over 500 young and passionate volunteers was able to partner with associations, groups and individuals with like passion.
With the Community Shield Awards by Generation Leaders, Future Awards Innovation in Education and the Nigerian Corporate Social Responsibility awards in his kitty, amongst others, Otto said education is the greatest legacy a nation can give to its youths, especially children.
According to him, "it creates thirst for better alternatives, improved choices and greater opportunities for a nation and her people, as well as reduces the twin burdens of poverty and diseases, and gives a stronger voice to society."
However laudable education might seem, Otto lamented that there are still millions of unaccounted Nigerian children of school ages that are currently out of classrooms due to persistent psychosocial factors, economic challenges, cultural orientations and astounding defiance of guardians.
He noted that based on the need to cover the lacuna, the S2S project was designed with an innovative approach geared towards mobilising the efforts of government, private sector and other development agencies towards securing educational opportunities for children in disadvantaged families/communities.
Speaking on the recent enrollment he said support was gotten from the government and private individuals who donated money towards the project. He further disclosed that the group would soon expand its tentacles to other communities in the state and even beyond.
"We hope to extend to other communities across the country and our plan is not just to enroll but to see our beneficiaries through school.
"It has not been easy and we are aware it won't be an easy task as we expand because most of us have spent our time, money, energy to ensure that we assist you in achieving a bright future."
He however urged parents not to keep their children and wards away from school and to encourage them to do their homework. "As parents, we expect you to engage in meetings and discussions with teachers in order to help improve your child. The whole essence is not to come here to eat or drink but to ensure that as your children are given school kits, they stay in school."
To ensure accountability and integrity in management of funds, Otto said no money is paid directly to any of the members rather the group is in a partnership with Bethsaida Child Support Agency. This he said this is to ensure that the donors pay through their account and from there to the various schools. "So, we do not have access to the money, and all those who have volunteered to be part of the project are not paid.
"So far, I have gotten over 500 volunteers and it gives me joy to see that we have other young people across the country who have agreed to dedicate their finances, time and energy, among others, to give a brighter future to the under-privileged ones."
Also speaking, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Incubator Africa Limited, Alero Aiyida-Otobo, a development agency, described the initiative as a revolution that would brighten the future for the beneficiaries.
While harping on the importance of education, she said her organisation, under the education reform team, had adopted 20 of the children to train them through primary school.
According to her, the scholarship given to these kids would go a long way in charting their futures. "The scholarships are major events because it proffers the answers and solutions to help the-out-of school children.
"Nigeria has between 8-10 million out of school children, the highest number in the world. The government has been trying to deal with this issue but having a group of young persons, who on their own volunteered to raise funds and enroll these children in schools, is astounding.
"I think they deserve to be commended and honoured because this is a history- making event. I want to use this opportunity to encourage young people across Nigeria to emulate what S2S is doing so that this problem can be addressed."
The Head of all Egun Balee, Yaba Local Council, Chief Francis Agoyon, while commending S2S for coming to their community to enlighten them as well as sponsor their children to school, harped on the need for education, adding that gone are the days when a child had no option than to engage in his parents trade.
He said, "Since he started with us eight months ago, he has done a marvelous work, which is a surprise to all of us because it has never happened since the existence of Makoko.
"Otto brought everybody together and told us that education is the first step to civilisation. He said if we want our children to become doctors, professors, teachers, we must allow them go to school.
"Before, our people did not see the need of education, but he taught us the benefits of education and why we must allow our children to go to school. We pray that God will empower him more and we also promise that we shall not disappoint him."
For Mr. James Iroko, a government service worker, whose three kids were given scholarship, the help was a burden off his shoulders. Iroko who resides in the Makoko slum, one of the several found across the length and breadth of Lagos State, said education would give his children leverage to chart their future.
"I am very happy at the opportunity given to my kids. I have always wanted them to be successful in life but there was no money to send them to school with the meager money I earn. So I was overjoyed when the S2S project came to my aid."
While some of the parents were eager to send their kids to school, some others were not enthusiastic. Iroko said some of the parents turned down the offer because the kids help their parents hawking.
To them, he advised that they should think of the future of their kids. "There is need to tell some of the parents the truth. Their kid's future is paramount to any money they might get from hawking.
"In today's world, education is important for every child. So, every parent should endeavour to educate their kids especially in this community that it has been given to us on a platter of gold," he said. Chairman Alafia- Loju Co-operative Society of Makoko-Yaba Fire Wood Sellers, Chief Clement Wesenu Akweje, was filled with joy as five of his kids were given their school uniforms and other sundries.
He said, "This is the first time my children are going to school. I am overwhelmed because at last I can boast that my children are part of academic process. I would have loved to send my children to school but I don't have money.
"I am a firewood seller and the money I make is not enough to cater for the family not to talk of sending the children to school. My job has been made easy by S2S. All I have to do now is to make sure they go to school."