I and my colleague have been teachers for five years before we decided to leave the teaching profession for a higher calling.We promised ourselves that we must do something different to really impact children and young people. We decided to embark on a project to help children and young people discover themselves under our Innovative Mindset Initiative(IMI) platform www.imi17.com. We had to first identify our target audience and what we wanted to offer them that will benefit them for generations.
For us getting through a school door is not just getting inside the four corners of a room, it is not just sitting on a bench and listening to a teacher standing in front of you, it is not only about numerical, verbal assignments and home work, it’s not only certifications. It is more about skills,talents, and values that can be harnessed by children and young people to keep them out of the prison. Prison goes beyond been locked up in a four cornered room where your freedom is denied. It is more about ignorance, abject poverty, just existing, no future ambition, nothing to bring home to your family ,nation or generation.
I have consistently passed the third mainland bridge in Lagos Nigeria on several occasions in the last ten years and from the bridge I would observe there is a community that is built on water. Recently I had to ask the name of that community and I was told by friends that it is called Makoko community, a community accessible only by boats, in these cases locally made wooden boats. Houses are built by woods on water. Everything happens on water,buying and selling,is on moving wooden boats ,available schools is on water and a far cry from what is obtainable on land.Hospital built by wood on water without no medical personnel or facilities .
I did some research about the community online to know what the community is all about but not satisfied I decided to pay the community a visit to get a first hand knowledge of the people.I was more interested with knowing the challenges, dreams and realities of these young people who are part of the future of Nigeria.
I got in touch with one of the teachers in a school in Makoko community who was my guide to the community. I saw how the people survived. Fathers are predominantly fishermen and mothers are predominantly fish sellers ;they are the ones that treat the fish and sell it.Children are the ones that do the hawking and all these happens on water.Children barely go to school because there are not enough make shift schools around in the community and financial constraints makes it almost imposible for parents to send their children to schools on the mainland.
These people live in a world of their own where neglect and isolation is what they live on. I met some of the children to hear how they feel about the situation in their community.
I met James, a twelve year old boy who was hawking tomatoes at school hours. He would have loved to be in school but had to help his parents make money for survival. James told me he wants to be able to build a house for his parents with much comfort. I told him that going to school is a first step in realizing his dream. I told him that he could be the one to design the house if he goes to school and train as an architect or build it himself if he trains to become a civil engineer or he can afford to pay both the architect and engineer to design and build for him.
If Young James grows up without been armed with the skills and training he needs to fulfil that dream of building a new home for his parents. He may decide to arm himself with guns and wrong associations which will lead to stealing to fulfil his dreams or terminate the dreams of others by murder or fraud.Helping James to find his path is one way of opening a school door and closing a prison.
I met Jenifer, a sixteen year old girl going to a senior secondary school. I asked her about my observation of young girls at her age with babies in her community, and she told me many of the parents here believe that it is useless to train a female because they will end up becoming a man’s property, so they do not train them and many of them are misled where they end up getting pregnant as teenagers and are abandoned. Jenifer goes to school because an NGO is sponsoring her and she wants to be a journalist that will tell the stories of communities like hers in Nigeria and other parts of the world. She called for NGOs to do more in creating awareness of female education in her community. Unlike James, Jenifer is still going to school. There is hope for her, but there are many young girls I see around who will be teenagers soon in the community that might not be as fortunate as Jenifer.If the door to the school of life is not open to them through awareness of the relevance of education. A prison where low infant and maternal health will be on the rise, endless circle of prostitution,women inferior complexes will be open.
I also met Solomon, a 19 year old boy and a good swimmer,but he did not complete his high school because he felt the things being taught were too abstract and lack the practicality of what his dream really is. He wants to be a Navy man or a captain of a ship.He believes this is a difficult dream because his parents are not highly placed to help him fulfill his dream. I was able to make him understand that there are some maritime schools in Nigeria that can train him to drive a ship or repair one, but he has to get his high school certificate.I also told him that before he gets admission to the Nigerian defence academy where he can train as a Navy man he needs his high school certificate. I told him that the first step in getting closer to his dream is for him to go finish high school and obtain his certificate and his background should not be the yardstick for his back to be on the ground.
Many young people like Solomon are not well informed as a result they close the door of knowledge by themselves and open a prison called ignorance where they waste their time, energy and life in progressing in error.
My experience with these children of different ages in Makoko community has made me realise that individuals, business people, NGOs, government must come together to keep wide open school doors in order to permanently shut the prison.