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Monday, 15 September 2014
Slum2school: An Entrepreneur’s Journey To Bridging Education Gap in Rural Africa
VENTURES AFRICA – In Nigeria, there are over 10 million children out of school, and this mirrors the dire state children in sub-Saharan Africa are faced with. According to the United Nation Children Emergency fund (UNICEF), sub-Saharan Africa now accounts for 52 percent of all out-of-school children of primary age, rising from just 46 percent in 2010.
Slum2school, a volunteer driven social development organization operating in Nigeria with a vision to transform the society by empowering disadvantaged children in slums and remote communities, is helping young rural dwellers gain access to education and other vocational skills to nurture entrepreneurial traits and enhance their chances of a better life.
Founded in 2012 by Orondaam Otto, Slum2School has grown virtually and won over 15 national and international awards for its innovative strategies, community development focus, leadership style, youth drive and social impact. With the services rendered through hundreds of volunteers across the globe, Orondaam’s Slums2school is investing in rural communities in Africa to educate and empower young Africans.
According to Orondaam, “the challenge of education doesn’t just pose a big threat to the future of these vulnerable children but also to the sustainability of the nation in general.”
Ventures Africa spoke with Orondaam about Slum2school and how this movement is helping to bridge literacy divide in rural Africa.
Can you tell us about yourself and the journey towards creating slums2school?
My name is Orondaam Otto and I am a proud Nigerian. I believe that the future of my nation will be great only when young people like myself decides to build that future today and not only do I believe in this, I’m also working to ensure that every young person decides to take a positive step. I was born in August 1987 in northern Nigeria, grew up in Southern Nigeria and I now work in Western Nigeria. (lol). I had my primary, secondary and university education in Port Harcourt which is my home city. I had my 1st degree in Human Anatomy/Basic medical Science at the University of Port Harcourt, and in the last few years I have had taken a few degree courses including one recent one in Social Innovation from the United Nations University for peace in Costa Rica.
Back in 2012, there was a period when everywhere I turned to I saw negative news about Nigeria and Africa. At work it was CNN and almost all I saw were children dying, African children out of school. One day I watched a report about education and found out that Nigeria had over 10 million out-of-school children. On my way to work and back, I always saw children hawking and doing menial jobs on the street and it always bothered me. I tried to endure it until one evening, I was going across the 3rd mainland bridge and fortunately for me there was a huge traffic; I noticed the community sitting on the lagoon called Makoko. The traffic was slow so I succeeded in taking so many pictures but that wasn’t enough.
As an adventurous person I forced myself to visit and see for myself what happened in the smoking huts and to my greatest shock I was faced with the reality that changed my whole life. I saw thousands of innocent children without clothes littered everywhere; children who should be in school but were not. It was a sad reality and that day I made the decision to resign from the bank and try to solve some of their problems. And that was how Slum2School Africa started.
How has Slum2school fared since its launch?
Since I left the bank in 2012, I had worked with over 3000 young and passionate individuals like myself from over 25 countries and we have provided educational scholarships to 650 children and several other medical and psycho-social support programs to over 4000 children. With this year’s fundraising campaign tagged #1000Dreams we want to support the children we have already enrolled to keep them in school and ensure they receive good quality education. Furthermore we aim to reach out to another 350 children and educate them through our educational community centres, called Mentorship Hubs.
To do this, we have launched our annual fundraising campaign to sponsor 1000 Children in school over the next 1 year. Apart from the fundraising campaign, we have several activities throughout the campaign period.
We are currently undergoing our mentorship summer programs for the kids which ended on September 12th. We trained some of our community based volunteers and some children during our Skills Acquisition training on how to make beads, bags, shoes, jewelleries and more. This training will give these youths the opportunities to grow financially and support themselves and their families.
Finally, we have our Charity Walk coming up on September 13th on Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge. The walk will be an opportunity for our volunteers and supporters to interact with activities and we will be having over 50 amazing personalities including several celebrated actors, musicians, educators, comedians and social figures.
Overall, we aim to not only out 1000 children in school over the next year but also to get more people aware of Slum2School, our projects and hopefully build long term partnerships with both individuals, corporate bodies and government institutions.
How do you get support and funding?
Our commitment and dedication has attracted the right resources over the past two years. Slum2School first started with personal savings and support from friends and family who believed in our vision. With the help of over 3,000 volunteers from over 25 countries, we have been able to get that structural support. Slum2School gets financial support and sometimes in-kind support to run our projects from individuals and corporate organizations that admire the impact of our work and are willing to partner on a long term scale. 100 percent of the public funds we get, especially during our fundraising activities goes into running our projects and sending our selected beneficiaries to school every year. Just like the current campaign we have.
What concrete achievements have been secured through these support?
We started with 118 children in our first year and we always try to go beyond our previous achievements. The support we’ve gotten over the years has enabled us to sponsor 650 disadvantaged children from various slums and remote communities including Emina, Saga island, Okuagbo and Makoko. We have also been able to provide psycho-social support programs and mentorship programs for the children including several excursions and we also renovated a dilapidated school in a riverine community in Epe. Apart from the educational aspect, we have empowered our community based volunteers who continue to support us through our projects in these rural communities. We are looking forward to scaling up our projects to sponsor 1000 children over the next year and also build mentorship hubs in local communities where we operate in order for more children to have easy access to education.
Can you offer some insights on how projects like these are carried out and the challenges faced?
It has been a very remarkable journey with so many ups and downs but the most fulfilling part of it all is when we see the impact in the lives of these children. It’s quite an intense job. All eight core stages of our integral operational strategy have their unique challenges. You have to advocate, convince and even force some caregivers to allow their children go to school. You have to source for funds to support these children in schools and provide their needs. Imagine when you have 3 children in school, the challenges you face. In this case we have over 600 children and every week one of two are sick, some didn’t attend school due to home challenges, others need to replace their uniforms etc and all these are issues that we need to respond to ensure that these children stay in school.
You work in rural communities, what are, in your opinion, their main concerns and needs of these people?
The major challenge is that these communities are so remote that they lack basic information and knowledge about basic important things in life. Accessing such communities is a challenge in itself. For example we had a tour to some communities in northern Nigeria and the journey into such communities could be discouraging. Even here in Lagos we spent over 1hour by water accessing a remote island somewhere in Epe and that could be discouraging if you do not have a passion and drive to keep going. Another basic challenge we encounter is trying to educate and advocate for sustainable practices. As simple as it is for a girl child to be in school, many people still do not think it’s important investing money in her since she will be married off pretty soon.
What drives your passion to do more for the communities you work in?
The fact that whenever we go into these communities we see so many treasures. We meet children who have so much potential to succeed in life and then we realize that their hopes and dreams are uncertain if we do not support them. The community after the family is the smallest unity of our society and if we need to create greater impacts in our nation at large then we must begin from the community.
What inspiring experience do you hold dear since you started the Slum2school project?
I will answer it from two angles. Firstly they have been some moments when we go into the community and we feel so much love from the mothers, the elders pray and bless us continuously; and most fulfilling are when the children run after us hugging and singing “Education is my friend.” There have been several cases where a child would have died and through us God keeps them alive and then you realize that if you were not around that child wouldn’t have survived. Every other day we have successful news and these are then secondly I feel fulfilled when I hear news from some of our volunteers who got a job, invitation to international conferences, admission abroad or a recognition because of their impact through Slum2School. There have been dozens of such stories and many more to come.
Why is it important to make such investment, especially in people working in rural communities?
With the heartbreaking statistics of over 10 million Nigerian children still out of school, it’s definitely very important for us to invest in rural communities. It’s important that people in those areas are educated and empowered. The challenge of education doesn’t just pose a big threat to the future of these vulnerable children but also to the sustainability of the nation in general. Education we know is a major catalyst for human development and the educational progress and development of children is a universal imperative that is integral to the well-being of any community or nation. According to research by UN habitat, the population of slum dwellers continues to rise rapidly with over 60 percent made up of children below 15 years who may never have an opportunity to go to school. It is also estimated that the number of Slum dwellers will double to about 2 billion globally by 2030. Consequently, a more sustainable approach has to be developed by stakeholders to ensure inclusiveness in the developmental plan. In addition, considering the fact that micro, small and medium scale businesses are a catalyst for economic development in Nigeria and across the globe, it’s time we started investing in people and businesses at the base of the pyramid. This will only help strengthen our nation and help the ordinary man understand their basic human rights. Although our focus is education, we also have projects that empower our local volunteers in rural communities.
How would you like education in Africa to be in the future?
Africa is going to be the destination of the world and indeed Its already a destination for investors as against the perception of charity which plagued us for decades. And to achieve this, Education is a very key factor. So I look forward to an Africa that boasts of the top 10 Educational institutions across the world, including universities, best curriculums and professors, research facilities and advanced technology.
As a young African leader whose story has inspired many people; what is the one book that you recommend to our readers and why?
I will recommend my book which will be out on the shelves very soon. It’s a story that of how this whole journey started and my experience during my national youth service program. I call it a classic experience of an average Nigerian youth during service to his fatherland. I think that book will inspire many young Nigerians to also think about Nation first. But I love to read and if I were to recommend another book it would be the 360 degree leader by John Maxwell.
How do you define success? What does success in life mean to you?
Success to me is not a destination but the journey itself. It’s making someone else’s life worth living everyday.
What is your vision Slum2school in the nearest future?
The nearest future could be tomorrow and it could be in 5 years. However Slum2School Africa will continue to grow larger and greater, impacting the lives of millions of children across Africa and bringing hope to new families and communities.