“Nothing brings me more happiness than trying to help the most vulnerable people in society. It is a goal and an essential part of my life – a kind of destiny.” – Diana, Princess of Wales.
“Generosity is the flower of justice.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne.
The future of any progressive nation demands an informed citizenry. And just as Nigeria is currently facing economic recession and insurgency, education is the most effective route to building a citizenry for the Nigeria of our dreams.
The recent call for a change of attitude of Nigerians through the Change Begins with Me campaign of the incumbent government is a welcome development. Like the saying goes that you cannot continue to do things the same way and expect to get a different outcome, the principal focus of any idea that will guarantee a bright future for our country must be embedded in change of attitude of a typical Nigerian.
Typically, the change campaign has a lot to do with our mannerism in being civil citizens, but it must essentially also include how we tend to be each other brother’s keeper and how we ingrain the spirit of charity in our ethos. One good way of promoting a culture of charity amongst Nigerians is by appreciating the gesture of the few who show the willingness to extend a helping hand.
“Good citizenship is tantamount to success both in and out of school and we, as educators, cannot afford to leave its development to chance. It is often said that history repeats itself. Perhaps by teaching the good and unselfish acts of mankind, we may steer youth into repeating the positive aspects of our history,” said Said Pam, an American elementary school teacher.
One individual who has been outstanding at such philanthropic gesture is former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, Turakin Adamawa. With a very strong passion for education, in 2005 Atiku founded the American University of Nigeria, the first American-style university to be established in Sub-Saharan Africa based in Yola. He has said that having benefited from the US system of instruction as a young man, he was eager to make available in Nigeria an American trained faculty – emphasising critical thinking, small classes, and student participation, problem-solving.
As the country groans under the pain of a large number of Internally Displaced Persons on account of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, with more than half of the millions displaced person being children and lacking access to affordable education, it becomes imperative more than ever to seek an alternative platform of education for these children beyond the formalities of a conventional school system.
In Yola alone, there are over 2,000 orphans and 10,000 displaced children who have been separated from their families. This is in addition to an estimated 40,000 “Almajiri” children living on the streets of Yola – some of the nine million young boys aged 5 to 18 across Nigeria who have been sent by their families to study at a Qur’anic school.
These children spend their days begging for food and scraps. Coming from the most disadvantaged families, they are mostly illiterate and at risk of being recruited into Boko Haram or trafficked. All of these boys and girls are in desperate need of consistent food and an education to give them hope for the future.
It was in response to these challenges that the AUN established the pilot programme of the TELA “Feed And Read” programme, administered by the Atiku Abubakar Center for Leadership and Entrepreneurial Training.
The TELA – Technology Enhanced Learning for All – is a scalable programme that has provided basic reading and math lessons through radio and tablet technology for 20,000 Nigerian children and adolescents who are orphaned, displaced, homeless or at-risk. These are children who can’t read a single sentence. They can’t add two numbers with a sum under 10.
TELA, funded in part by USAID, is bringing education to orphaned and displaced children both in IDP camps and those sheltering in the community. The programme also serves some of the other 9 million out-of-school children and youth in northeast Nigeria, where the rate of illiteracy is estimated at 77 per cent. The Northeast has been deeply wounded by the Boko Haram insurgency, and these children will not have hope for a better future – even after the defeat of Boko Haram – without access to education. It was said that if future generations of Nigerians are not educated and given hope, we are sowing 9 million seeds for terrorism.
“When you educate girls, everything in the country changes – infant mortality declines, infectious diseases aren’t going to be spread, people have a smaller family which allows these women to go out and make the change that is needed,” said the AUN President, Dr. Margee Ensign. She stressed the need for Nigeria to commit to the education of the girl child.
Therefore, beneficiaries of the Feed and Read programme are girls who have been disadvantaged. Some are orphans and some, too, are IDPs. As the children will be leaders in various professions if educated, Dr Ensign said they are going to change Nigeria for good. She thanked the Irish government for their financial support in the project.
President Ensign who encouraged everyone to continue to put in their best in the project to ensure its success added, “We can make it a national project.”
With almost a year into the implementation of the TELA programme in Yola, if emulated by various stakeholders in the country it will really help in reducing the number of vulnerable children in our streets and a good future is assured.
. Umar, a social media commentator and child rights advocate, writes from Abuja, Nigeria.
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