Group helps Makoko children go to school

 A total of 202 children from the community benefited from this phase of the project.

A narrow, shaky wooden bridge led into a Celestial Church of Christ at Makoko, a Lagos slum, where dozens of women and children pressed against volunteers giving out insecticide treated mosquito nets and malaria drugs.

The next day, an even larger contingent turned up at the community’s primary school where 202 ‘disadvantaged’ children would become beneficiaries of free educational support material.

The Slum 2 School project, an innovative approach to mobilise the efforts of government, private sector and other development agencies, aims to secure educational opportunities for children in disadvantaged families and communities.

The pilot project, in its second phase in Makoko, focused on educational empowerment of ‘vulnerable’ children in the community where most inhabitants live on stilts above the Lagos lagoon and occupation is largely fishing.

Earlier in the year, 118 children from the community had received the scholarship which would see them through the first six years of formal education.

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“This is a surprise to all of us because Makoko community has not experienced such a thing,” said Francis Agoyon, the community head.

Different kinds of visitors

Inhabitants in this slum of over 80 thousand people say they are rarely visited by ‘guests’ except electioneering visits by politicians prior to elections.

However, in July this year, state government officials, accompanied by armed police officers called and left dozens of demolished shanties after their visit.

They also left a community leader dead in their wake, attracting widespread criticisms from civil society activists.

Mr. Agoyon said that they do not look forward to such visits.

“We want people who would help improve the community,” he said.

“For example, this people has made everybody to understand that the children must go to school.

“Because we know that before you become a teacher, doctor, professor, before you do anything, it is school,” Mr. Agoyon said.

Otto Orondaam, the initiator of the project, said that the target is to replicate such programmes in similar communities across Nigeria.

“It’s not just about Makoko children, it’s about the Nigerian child,” Mr. Orondaam said. “Currently, we have millions of children across Nigeria who are out of school and that has been a very big burden in my heart, something that has been given me much concern.”

Overcoming obstacles

Months ago when the implementation of the Slum 2 School project began, it was hampered by dearth of finance.

However, by the middle of the year, and with the aid of hundreds of volunteers, awards and recognition began to roll in; and individuals and organisations began to pay more attention.

“Over the last four months, we’ve gotten about five major recognition and awards; it has brought so much recognition for the project,” Mr. Orondaam, who concluded his mandatory National Youth Service scheme in June, said.

In addition to the insufficient fund, there was also the problem of communication with the locals.

A huge chunk of the inhabitants are able to communicate only in their native Egun language, forcing Mr. Orondaam to always engage the services of an interpreter.

“What we are doing is solving a major problem which is very difficult to get a solution to,” Mr. Orondaam said.

The Chief Executive Officer at Incubator Africa, a development agency, Alero Ayida-Otobo, described the project as a “revolution in Nigeria.”

“We have about 8 – 10 million children out of school in Nigeria and government has been trying to deal with that issue,” said Ms. Ayida-Otobo.

“So to see a crop of young volunteers coming together in ensuring that children that are out of school in Makoko are enrolled, they are able to waive money, I think they deserve to be given a resounding applause,” she added.

The project had established a community based volunteer team in Makoko to, with the help of the teachers, monitor the children as well as evaluate their performance.

Of the 118 that were enrolled during the first phase, seven children, mostly girls, dropped out a few months into the academic term.

“Most of them might tell you she’s a girl and should not go to school, but eventually we are able to convince and make them go back,” Mr. Orondaam said.

The Egun community established itself in Makoko back in the 18th century, primarily as a fishing village.

Mr. Agoyon said that civilisation and education go hand in hand.

“For example, if a man has a wife and his wife happens to give birth to a baby boy, the man will say ‘I’m a fisherman, this boy I have to use him for fishing’.

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