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Amatala & other ‘unforgotten’ children ~ by Olusegun Adeniyi

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Despite protestation from my friend, Waziri Adio who has been her greatest supporter and encourager right from the beginning, I had warned my wife when this whole idea started three years ago that on no account should it get to the media.

I promised financial support and when necessary rally close friends but it should always be our own way of giving back to the society in a quiet way.

When Ms Tolu Salami, a Masters degree holder and job seeker, joined to assist in managing the ‘school’, I should have seen a red flag with the opening of a Twitter account.

The author, Olusegun Adeniyi
The author, Olusegun Adeniyi

But with a followership of just 75 comprising family and friends, I never thought much of it.

Then the photograph of Amatala, a two-year old who was in the habit of loitering around the ‘school’ premises with book in hand, changed everything!

Within a few hours, the Twitter account had attracted more than a thousand followers with many people asking how they could support the initiative.

When Waziri told me he was going to blow my cover about the project as a follow up to the tweet, I really couldn’t care anymore.

But I have so many people to thank for the way my wife is gradually transforming the lives of 54 children, 17 young adults and their parents through an informal project she was compelled to register and now goes by the name Not Forgotten Initiative (NFI).

It’s a long story but let me share the key points. There were many ramshackle shanties around our house in Asokoro with inhabitants whose children were just roaming the area.

On a particular day in 2018, a pregnant woman flagged down my wife as she drove past, asking for help. Her husband had asked her to move her things from their abode and she needed someone to intervene.

Upon investigation, the conflict stemmed from her refusal to give him the N5,000 she had saved from her petty trading to send Haruna, her first son whose father is late, to school.

She was looking to get the savings to N15,000 to register the boy in school and here she was, about to be kicked out of her matrimonial home.

When my wife discussed the matter with me, she followed up with a proposition: Why don’t we take up Haruna’s education? I agreed instantly.

Then she added, ‘What about the other kids? We need to do something about them as well.’

She told me she had discussed with parents and they expressed willingness to have their children (14 at the time) in school but had no money.

I told her to go ahead with whatever she planned, promising to provide the financial resources. I know I have good friends I can always count on.

My wife took my word as a license to construct two classrooms in a make-shift structure on an empty land within the area.

But the moment the 14 pupils were enrolled and one teacher employed, we had many children showing up, looking all scruffy and tattered. And we could not turn them back. We hired two more teachers.

Just as I was getting worried by the financial implications as the number of pupils kept increasing, my friend, Folorunsho (Foli) Coker, added a new idea.

Following his appointment as Director General of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Coker arrived Abuja in 2017 to take accommodation beside the ‘school’.

He fell in love with the children and inquired about people behind the idea.

When he got to know I was involved, Foli called me to suggest, “Segun, your wife has to go beyond teaching those children. They deserve at least one meal a day. I will support you.” That was how meal became part of the project.

We soon introduced the ‘extension school’ with the sole purpose of providing after school support to struggling students from government owned secondary schools, particularly in Mathematics, English and basic science.

We also serve them lunch and the number grew from the initial eight to 17. One of them emerged the president of his school’s mathematics club, another became the best overall student in mathematics.

It was like a dream come true when we offered a full boarding scholarship to two of them who recently completed their junior WAEC and others are working so hard to benefit from this opportunity.

We have since extended the ‘school’ from two to seven classrooms, five teachers, several volunteers. And from the beginning, we promised that we would give those kids the best education so they undertake excursion visits, have movie days and many professionals come in from time to time to fire their imaginations.

But the most fulfilling for me is that our three children love the idea and treat those NFI children, all of whose names they know (I know only a few) like siblings.

For proper documentation, my wife was advised to register the ‘school’. It was at the point of registration that she was told that if we were providing uniforms, bags, shoes, socks, stationary, one meal a day and everything, we couldn’t register it as a school.

They said it had to be registered as an NGO. That was how the Not Forgotten Initiative (NFI) came to be.

There are currently 54 registered pupils but there are 83 more on the ‘Waiting List’ (those that could not be accommodated) and 17 ‘extension school’ students.

During the pandemic, it was impossible to transition to digital learning, so my wife and children dropped off homework and relief materials to their houses for the children and families.

A young lady named Mariam joined our evening tutorial programme for secondary school students. Then the story emerged that her mother was planning to give her away in marriage.

After investigation, we realised that the mother wanted to take advantage of an offer of 150,000 Naira from a suitor to marry her off.

My wife spoke to the mother, auntie and the brother in law, and they agreed to cancel the marriage if NFI would cater for Mariam’s education. We gladly accepted the deal.

Another young lady, Nana Usman was brought to us to be a cleaner because the family could no longer cater for her education. We also accepted responsibility for her education. She has just completed her junior WAEC as well.

But not all stories are pleasant.

Very recently, two NFI pupils, ages 8 and 5, witnessed the rape of their two-year-old sibling in their home. We sought help from the good people of Cece-yara foundation and all three kids are getting therapy and the culprit is currently in police custody, because he was actually caught in the act.

The story of Amatala has resonated but there is still trouble in her home. Her father, who had abandoned their mother since last year, walked into NFI two weeks ago and asked to withdraw his four children and take them to the village.

We thought by putting Haruna (whose father is late) in boarding school, the man would relent but he is fighting back through the children enrolled in NFI, including Amatala!

Incidentally, part of the programme include persuading difficult parents like him and building a support system that can pressurise them into pursuing the best interests of their children.

The NFI experience has been an exciting journey and hopefully, one day I will tell the complete story.

The aim is to help these children and young adults to become the best they can possibly be and break the cycle of poverty in their families.

My wife is a chartered insurer (ACIIN) and a chartered accountant (with both ICAN and ACCA). But she stopped her business to devote all her attention to running the ‘school’.

We started with a 6/6 feet structure in December 2018. Then expanded the structure to 12/12 feet in March 2019. And built another in January this year.

All these structures are on a land whose owner we still don’t know and from whom we never secured any permission in the first place. I suspect that the owner is aware of what we are doing and is probably watching.

It is interesting that we have become like foster parents to these children whose parents are also to us almost like families. To all of them, I am daddy and my wife, mummy.

But we could not have come this far without the support of very good people.

Waziri and Sandra Adio as well as Mustapha and ‘Sweetheart’ Onoyiveta have been wonderful and so have been Mrs Sylvia Garuba (I will tell her story one day) and Mrs Ibilola Essien.

We appreciate the many people who have supported us either in cash or in kind.

To Mr Nduka Obaigbena, Ms Jacqueline Farris, Father George Ehusani, Pastor Tunde Olorunwunmi, Mrs Maryam Uwais, Mrs Mosunmola Jegede, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Azodoh, Mrs Yoyinsola Makanjuola, Mr Ferdinand Agu, Mr Olawale Banmore, Pastor Martins, Mrs Funke Abegunde, Mrs Ebere Ihedioha, Pastor Niyi Ajibola, Mrs Tinuke Kuti, Malam Musa Bello, Ms Liz Ekpenyong, Mrs Chinwe Umeh-Ujobuona, Dr (Mrs) Rosemary Nwokorie, Mr Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, Dr Iko Ibanga, Mr Kayode Komolafe, Mrs Koyinsola Dickson, Mrs Maria Uwalla, Mrs Tosin Dokpesi, Mr Ubile Lawson, Mrs Florence Egopija, Mr Simon Kolawole, Mrs Toyosi Ahmadu, Mr Ola Awoniyi, Mrs Aisha Coker, Mrs Obiageli Obianozie, Mr Bamidele Okunowo, Mrs Taiwo Ojo, Pastor Dayo Kayode, Pastor (Mrs) Elsie Otegbade, Mr Ismaila Lawal, Mr Bunmi Thomas and several others who support the project without any solicitation from us, I say a very big thank you.

I am of the firm conviction that the issue of millions of out-of-school children is something that should concern not only the government but the larger society. Together, we can collectively tackle this menace.

You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com.

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