We should count ourselves really opportune if we can read this message because millions of people can not. Several times, we try not to care about those less privileged than us, but we will always need that help from those more privileged than we are.
It was on the 19th day of May 2012, myself and over hundred other young, passion driven volunteers gathered with senior officials from over 15 different governmental and non-governmental organizations, community elders and many guests to enroll 118 children into 3 Schools. These kids, although they looked malnourished and some abandoned, were filled with so much intelligence and Energy. We never knew the impact of what we were doing until that Saturday morning when we watched tears drop down the eyes of their parents/caregivers and saw how the atmosphere was filled with pouring emotions.
I sat down and watched these kids from afar as they presented a cultural dance in appreciation of what had been done for them. I could barely identify them, as they had been totally transformed. They looked so different from the kids we had been with in the slum for months. I couldn’t believe they were the same children we saw playing without clothes and swimming in the brackish water.
They were well dressed in their new school uniforms with backpacks and had smiles all over their faces. Sotiana, one of my very favorite beneficiary spotted me and ran towards me, she grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Her mum was late and she was abandoned by her dad to roam the narrow streets of the slum selling fish. She was 13 years old and for 8 years, she had never seen the walls of a classroom. I held her and tried to get her back to the other children but she held me tight with tears rolling down her cheeks. Although she looked small and couldn’t express herself, I could see gratitude written all over her face.
As we distributed their school kits according to the names on the enrollment list, we were caught up in another dilemma. Other groups of children who were friends and siblings of our beneficiaries stood looking sad, depressed and rejected. They also needed the same opportunity. They needed to be given a chance to have a bright future. They looked desperate yet helpless. I could do nothing at this point but watch in pains. Rather than feeling fulfilled after the successful enrollment ceremony, I went back home sad and broken. The thoughts kept running through my mind and their voices couldn’t just cease to echo in my ears.
“Uncle you did not give me bag”, “Aunty I also want to go to school” “Aunty me, Aunty me, Uncle me”, were the words they spoke in their local language, which was translated by our community volunteers.
Sometimes, we complain of not having enough, but we are blessed beyond our imagination to give a million folds. We should count ourselves really opportune if we can read this message because millions of people can not. Several times, we try not to care about those less privileged than us, but we will always need that help from those more privileged than we are.
Few days later, we began the monitoring and evaluation stage of the project and then decided to go back into the slum, forfeit our jobs, sacrifice our weekdays, train community youths, organize series of outreaches, advocacy visits and after rigorous screening and verification exercise we finally have 200 more children who are willing and desperately waiting to join their mates in school.
It has been a journey worthwhile, a journey of hope and fulfillment, a road filled with challenges and setbacks yet we stayed steadfast and strong. In four months we were recognized with about 6 very reputable state and national awards and had worked with over 500 volunteers. It really feels inspiring seeing the number of volunteers increase everyday. Volunteers, who are willing to take a stand for change and act, rather than seat indoors and complain about our Nation. Young Nigerians who will take off their jackets, roll up their sleeves and jump into the slum just to secure the future of disadvantaged children. Yes we know these are responsibilities of the government but we form part of that government. We are young and should be responsible for carving the kind of future we envision.
However we have now gotten to another juncture where we quickly need to go across the hurdles. Can we please give more kids the hope they desire? As the word spreads about our cause, I am overwhelmed by the response and commitment to making a difference in the lives of these children. We have had interested individuals call in from different countries and states. Calls from Nigerians who believe we can make our country better and are ready to do the dirty work. We plan to enroll 200 children, mostly orphans and vulnerable children( OVCs) in two weeks to three schools. Together we can make that happen and launch into the bigger picture. Yes! We can play our own role and talk to others to play theirs. Together we can build that network of responsible, proactive and socially conscious Nigerian youths.
Nigeria is 52 tomorrow and much of the desired change we want to see in Nigeria starts with us. Imagine what our future as a nation would be like if we give our children, the future of tomorrow, the basic education to kick start them on the journey to greatness. It’s quite simple; sponsor a child today .and secure their future.
Happy Independence Day.
Otto Orondaam is the initiator of the SlumtoSchool project. You can also follow him on on twitter @otto_orondaam and the SlumtoSchool project on @slum2school
30 Days 30 Voices series is an opportunity for young Nigerians to share their stories and experiences with other young Nigerians, within our borders and beyond, to inspire and motivate them.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.