The American University of Nigeria, Yola, has said its Feed and Read for Boys programme has prevented hundreds of Almajiri children from becoming members of the Boko Haram insurgent group in the North-east.
Speaking at the commissioning of the building for the programme on Thursday in Yola, Nkem Uzowulu, the coordinator, said the success of the project had seen more boys clamouring for enrolment.
“It has helped the children to believe in themselves, to understand that you can get to anywhere if you have the passion and the vision and there are people to support you,” said Mrs. Uzowulu, Executive Director, AUN Schools.
The AUN, founded by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, launched the Feed and Read for Boys programme in early 2015. Originally designed for Almajiri boys, as more children orphaned by Boko Haram appeared on the streets of Yola, and often at the gates of AUN, the programme was expanded, according to the university.
“These are children who started from nothing,” Mrs. Uzowulu said.
“Feed and Read is a programme that targets children who have not been in school before. The programme started in 2015 by Dr. Margee Ensign (former AUN president) when she saw children going about carrying plates and she wondered ‘why are they not in school?’
“And she was told they can’t be in school because nobody to pay fees and the plates they carry about is because they have to fend for themselves. These are children who are staying with their mallams, their Quranic teachers. So she asked that they be fed.
“And so the programme started. At a point, she felt apart from giving them food, we can also teach them. When these children are poor, because they are vulnerable children, they will understand what it means not to be abused by people, and the teaching started, so it became Feed and Read.”
On Monday, a dozen of the boys lined up before the guests who attended the commissioning of their new building, including the AUN interim president, Le Gene Quesenberry, to sing a welcome song as well as express their gratitude for their new shelter.
Afterwards, a meal of rice, spaghetti, beans, and stew was served to dozens of the boys who were in school for the day.
“When you work with these children, you can’t help but fall in love with them,” said Mrs. Uzowulu.
“These children that just sang this welcome (song) and thanked the founder are children who couldn’t recognise letter A. But today, they can say something that people will understand.
“The hearts of these children will bless all of you because you are taking them from squalor to somewhere. We have some of them that graduated last year who have enrolled in formal schools. Some have also continued with their mallams, for their Quranic lessons, and their mallams keep telling us they are doing a lot better because there is transformation due to this thing we are doing.”
In her brief speech, Ms. Quesenbery thanked the boys for their efforts to improve their lives as well as their academics.
The Feed and Read for Boys programme targets boys between seven and 25 years (the oldest pupil recorded so far is 18) and the current class has a popualtion of 150.
It has, however, not been without its challenges – from ensuring that the boys attend their classes regularly for the entire nine-month duration of the programme, to getting suitably qualified and dedicated teachers.
“Some of the challenges, like we said these are children that are not in formal schools, these are children that were starting from baseline zero, so starting they don’t even understand English,” said Mrs. Uzowulu.
“So we started with getting facilitators who can speak both English and Fulfulde, some of them don’t even understand Hausa language, it has to be Fulfulde. So then when you are talking they won’t understand but gradually they are picking. You heard the song they sang, you heard what the little boy said, ‘Thank you AUN,’ I mean he was as fluent as any other child in a school.”
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