Nigeria: When Inclusive Education and Recycling Meet With An Innovator's Dream

Students at Isrina School in Lagos, Nigeria.
24 May 2022

Cape Town — How do you get children to school and clean up plastic waste at the same time? Well, you could start a school that accepts recyclables as payment. And that is precisely what innovator Grace Amuzie did with her sister Rose Amuzie, and a partnership with the Africa Cleanup Initiative.

Education is key in dealing with the challenges of poverty, inequality, and unemployment. But this human right is still out of the reach of many Nigerian children. According to the World Bank, almost 70 million Nigerians live below the poverty line. And the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says that Nigeria has very high levels of out-of-school children, which is being worsened by the ongoing violence and instability in the northeast of the country, coupled with the novel coronavirus pandemic that plunged the economy into a recession. It also says at least one million children will likely stay away from school because of the threat of violence, following a series of mass kidnappings and attacks targeting learners in 2021 alone.

But with the help of the Amuzie sisters' innovative plan at least some of these challenges are being addressed. They are working hard on reducing the number of out-of-school children by offering quality and low-cost educational services to low-income families who cannot access basic quality education. The Amuzies co-founded Isrina School - named after their parents Israel and Angelina. The volunteer-driven institution provides fundamental, quality education for children from low-income households in Lagos.

The school has 150 students ranging in age from 3 to 14 years old, as well as 13 teachers.

Isrina School's partnership with a non-governmental organization African Cleanup Initiative resulted in the Recycle Pay Project, which offers caregivers the opportunity to bring a bag of plastic waste to a facility where it is weighed, and the value deducted from the school fees owed.

Grace Amuzie takes us through how they got started.

"The concept was introduced by my sister through African Clean-Up Initiative. It was introduced in 2019 and seeing that we reside in an environment filled with plastic waste, we keyed into it. Over the years, we have collected and recycled over 5 tons of plastics and other recyclables. Since most parents find it hard to support their children through school, plastics are another means to support their children in school."

According to the UNEP, 300,000 tons of plastic are produced yearly, and only 10% recycled, contributing to environmental pollution reaching critical levels. Plastic pollution has become such a serious problem in Nigeria that it has virtually become a sign of human activity. People who visit beaches, riverbanks, parks, and waterfalls frequently dump their plastic bottles carelessly, despite the dangers that such plastics pose to the environment, writes Emmanuel O. Akindele for The Conversation. 

Grace Amuzie recently won the first place at the Savvy Prize for Impact Driven Entrepreneurs. An Economics graduate from Crawford University, she is an advocate for greater access to education as envisioned in the global goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) follow on from the Millennium Development Goals which "established measurable, universally-agreed objectives for tackling extreme poverty and hunger, preventing deadly diseases, and expanding primary education to all children among other development priorities". SDG 4 focuses on providing "inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, according the United Nations Development Programme.

Amuzie's inspiration and grit for taking on this work comes from her own experiences growing up.

"Sadly, my story would not have been different from the over 10.5 million children that are currently out-of-school if I had not been given the opportunity by a woman who believed in my dreams and invested in my education. This single act is the motivation behind my passion and work today. Being a witness to the transformative power of education, I made an unwavering decision to promote access to quality education for every child and I have been doing so through Isrina School which was founded in 2016."

But the journey is not without its challenges.

"The school currently operates from residential premises with very limited space. The structure is demarcated into various classes for learning. However, there is a restriction order from landlords not to upgrade present infrastructure. We have had occasions when children from other communities were brought in, but could not be enrolled. A larger space within the community will accommodate the increasing number of pupils. We've not gotten any assistance from the government, although we have private individuals, NGOs who have supported our vision and are still supporting it", she says.

"I'm positive that we would reach out to more kids giving them hope for a brighter future. I'm not close to where I intend getting to, but one thing I'm always thankful for is the fact that I started."

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