For the 85 girls drawn from about 10 impoverished communities across Lagos and Ogun states, it was a day so exhilarating as it stands never to be forgotten. The joy in the air was simply infectious. They danced, sang and held up their certificates proudly. Many of the parents around could not help shedding tears of sheer joy.
That was at the grand finale of a one-week mentorship and skills training organised by a child/girl rights and welfare NGO, Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE), recently in Makoko, Lagos’ biggest slum.
The programme provided trainings in skills such as catering/baking, cosmetology, decorations/events planning, bead works and soap making. Also, everyday, the girls and young ladies, mostly aged between10 to 25, sat through mentoring and leadership skills building sessions.
The mentoring sessions, which were lively and deeply absorbing for many of the girls, some of whom are teenage mothers and school drop-outs, had in attendance leading activists and community workers and mobilisers among others mentoring them almost a on daily basis, side-by-side.
The mentors include Lalila St. Matthew Daniels, Executive Director of the ACTS Generation, and who is a leading women’s rights activist and life coach, Patience Akpan-Obong, an Associate Professor at the Arizona State University, USA, who is on a Fulbright Scholar at Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State.
Others include Megan Chapman, an American activist and Director of Just Empowered Initiative, who works with marginalised communities across Lagos and Rivers states and other Nigerian communities and Dr. Adeolu Malakkhiyah Olusodo, who runs a pro-poor NGO, the Society for Love and Social Justice, an NGO under which umbrella he reaches his subjects, most of whom live in slum settlements across the state. He also runs a clinic and a free crèche on Apapa Road on Lagos Mainland Local Government.
While Chapman (who speaks good pidgin and a little Yoruba), asked the young people across the marginalised communities to be more united and creative, St. Mathew Daniels urged the girls to work hard on their ‘selling’ point, which, unlike the popular notion, is their brain and individual potentials so they could excel without depending on boys or ill-minded men who may want to capitalise on their vulnerability to derail them in life. She also harped on personal hygiene, poise and etiquette amidst the use of humorous parlance and illustrations.
On her part, Dr. Akpan-Obong encouraged them to aspire higher against the odds life may throw at them.
“Make use of the resources around you to empower yourselves, but don’t cheapen yourselves by engaging in indiscriminate sex. Stay focused and go on to achieve your dream.”
Dr. Pat has later worked for the Concord Newspaper and Punch Newspapers and is a winner of the prestigious Gordon Fisher Award (Canada) among others and currently lives and works in Arizona, USA, with her family. Mrs. Akpan-Obong, one of CEE-HOPE’s strongest supporters, supporting the education of 10 children in one of Lagos’s biggest slum settlements, promised to continue offering more support, especially on the girl empowerment program, noting that “the needs are enormous but the resources are limited.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Olusodo recommended similar orientation and mentoring sessions for boys as well to ensure ‘gender-sensitiveness.’ “We must also have something for the boys. If not all efforts like this would be wasted,” he said.
“How can we,” he continued, “keep warning our girls about the dangers posed by some boys who don’t mean well for them, about how to avoid abuse, how to keep themselves focused and to achieve success when we don’t also provide platforms to sensitise boys as well on how to treat girls, how to respect women and to behave generally? We can’t leave them at the mercy of the boys. We must also have something for them.”
Dr. Olusodo’s NGO, besides providing health care, also provides economic empowerment for slum dwellers in settlements such as Badia East, Otodogbame, Sogunro, Makoko, Otoo-Ilogbo and a host of others facing constant threats of demolition, or actual displacements from the state government.
At the end of each mentoring session, the mentors, each waited patiently behind to offer counselling to many of the girls and young ladies on varying issues they may be facing, from psychological to health-related issues.
A Joyous Graduation: scholarships and business grants
The bubbly graduation of the trainees and grand finale ceremony drew a large crowd of people from various communities across the Makoko area (Ori-Oke, Adogbo, Sogunro among others) and marginalised communities where the trainees came from including Otto-Ilogbo, Badia East, Otodogbame etc. Some came from communities in Ogun State such as Matogun and Agbado-Oja. Parents also came in droves to cheer their children up.
The girls presented special dance steps, songs, fashion and modelling as well as drama sketches to the delight of the audiences including community chiefs, youth leaders and some of their parents. They also presented crafts they had learnt from the skills workshops including beads, cakes, beautiful decors and various types of soap (liquid and bar), detergents and disinfectants.
The guests took turns praising the girls for their dedication and commitments which culminated in the production of the beautiful products. They also advised them to remain focused on their studies and self-improvement and to keep believing in themselves, no matter the odds they may find themselves.
They also applauded CEE-HOPE for their commitment to the improvements of the lots of children and girls in Makoko and other marginalised communities around Lagos and Ogun states via scholarships, skills empowerment and orientation/mentoring which have made significant differences in the lives of their children and wards.
Present at the grand finale and offering words of advice were Executive Director CEE-HOPE, Mrs. Betty Abah; eminent media consultant and a board member of CEE-HOPE, Mr. Sam Olukoya; a representative of Spaces for Change, Ms. Ndutimobong Enang; a local chief (Baale) Titilayo Akintimehin; Chief Kpanke Victor; Chief Humgbeme Sodique; a community mobilier and paralegal aid worker, Mrs. Bimbo Oshobe; community women leader, Mrs. Adeyemi (Iya Lode); Mr. Ishola Agbodemu (ISlumdweller) and a Makoko-born entrepreneur and film producer, and CEO of PsalmyBee Films Samuel Adeyemi Afuyajom.
At the end of the ceremony, 10 of the girls/young women were offered empowerment fund to continue in business while 10 others were offered scholarship as part of CEE-HOPE’s girl empowerment scheme.
The successful program was sponsored by an octogenarian American who craves for anonymity. According to the benefactor, it was his way of ensuring women empowerment in a male-dominated world.
“As a wealthy man, I am seeking to be useful in the world. I hope to encourage responsible behaviour regarding the future of humankind. Currently, I think one good way to do this is to empower women. The bottom line, as I see it, is that having survived millennia of male domination of our species, it’s women’s turn to take on the world,” said the sponsor.
Abah said it was a fulfilling outing. “We just can’t put into words how we feel about the success of this training. We are happy to be able to make our girl feel happy, empowered and looking to the future with optimism. We are grateful to our benefactor.
We are grateful to all the mentors who came from far and near to talk to these girls. We are grateful to the people of our host community, Makoko, who have been very supportive of our various programs, especially the chiefs and parents here today and others.
We are grateful to God for making all these possible and we are committed to continue with this work in Makoko and other communities in Lagos and Nigeria. Young people are our hope, we have a duty to prepare them for the future whether born rich or poor,” she said.