By JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
After 17 years as a Social Work Consultant in England, Mrs.Tenidola Awoyemi returned to her motherland in December 2009 to contribute her own quota to the development of her country, Nigeria.
In June 2010, she became the Executive Director of ten years old Freedom Foundation, a faith-based NGO which is an initiative of This Present House, a church headed by Pastor Tony Rapy.
In a recent chat with Vista Woman, Teniola who is a specialist in Child Protection, revealed that the future of Nigeria is at risk. Hear her: So much abuse in Nigeria
There’s only a thin line between discipline and abuse, and I think we really have to be able to define that line. A lot of things that people refer to as discipline in Nigeria, are actually abuse. There’s so much abuse going on in this country which we hide away on the ground that speaking about them is a taboo.
A girl is raped, but because she knows that she is going to be blamed for it and be stigmatized, she would rather stay calm than report the case. But in a place like England, such a case will be a subject of a child protection investigation which will include the social worker, police, therapist, medical professionals, etc.
But in Nigeria, children will be raped by fathers, uncles, cousins, house-boys, etc. and nothing will be done! We need to change!
During one of our outreach programmes early this year, we found a little girl in a brothel, and the owner of the brothel insisted that we must pay him some money before he would release the girl to us for reformation in Genesis House which is one of the arms of Freedom Foundation! We had to pay that money because social service here is not supported by legislation and is not statutorily established!
This is a country where we have a government, police, and where we are supposed to have social services! When that happened, we had no where to run to, and even the police were not interested. This girl was being drugged up, and made to smoke cannabis! We went into Akala in Mushin and we saw girls living in terrible conditions.
Childhood at risk in Nigeria In this country, we don’t prioritize children, and this is affecting us immensely. How can you have a Child Rights Acts that is voluntary! That’s what we have in this country; individual states deciding whether or not to adopt the Child Rights Acts! Why can’t every state sign it into law? Why should we have someone in government marrying a 13 year old child without anybody doing anything about it?
Why don’t we have a binding law banning that sort of marriage? Why do we still have people condoning child abuse in our communities? Why do we still have paedophilles; men who are addicted to having sex with children? It is wrong. Why do we still blame children for our mistakes?
Why do we still blame young girls for being raped? We need to change our attitude towards children. Otherwise, I’ll tell you that childhood is at risk in this country if we don’t do something fast. And if childhood is at risk, then our future is at risk too because these children are supposed to be our future. It’s like we’re now in a vicious cycle where the well-to-do people are sending our children abroad for education.
(I’m afraid I’m guilty of that too). Those children might not even come back to Nigeria! We send them abroad because the education here is so poor. The danger is that those children could be lost in those countries, and then we would only have some half-baked children ruling this country in the future. I mean, children from the educational system which we call “too poor for our own children”.
Even the people in government send their children abroad. All our infrastructure are decaying, and we are doing nothing about it! Recently, Samantha, the wife of the Prime Minister of England, David Cameroon, fell into labour while they were on holiday in a remote area of England. Guess what! They just took her to a local hospital there and she had her baby!
In Nigeria, which government official or politician can boast that when their wives go into labour they can just go into any local hospital and have their child? It’s not possible because they know that the local hospitals are run-down! They don’t prioritize our healthcare, they don’t prioritize our education, they don’t prioritize childhood! If we invest in childhood, that investment will pay us back in future, but we’re not doing that.
That’s why I keep saying childhood is at risk in our country. Freedom Foundation to the rescue With all these anomalies on ground, we in Freedom Foundation believe that we shouldn’t just fold our arms and grumble.
We believe we have to get involved and do something, and that’s exactly what we are out to do. It’s such fulfilling work that we are doing in Freedom Foundation; changing lives through the commitments of our Founder, Pastor Tony Rapu, and our donors.
We’ve got four arms in Freedom Foundation. One is Genesis House. Another is the House of Refuge which is our rehabilitation centre for male drug users. We also have the Bethesda Child Support Agency where we have a project for setting up schools in poor communities.
Presently, we have the Bethesda Nursery and Primary Schools in Bariga and Ikota in Lagos. Because we have no secondary school yet, we sponsor some of these children into boarding schools. So, we get people to try and sponsor them. We also have some children who we’re presently sponsoring in the university.
Our fourth arm is the Freedom Empowerment Arm which deals basically with the empowerment of all these people that we work with. Under this arm, we provide vocational training, recruitments, external; training, business support through out microfinance bank called King Solomon’s Funds. This is to enable our clients maintain an independent life.
Freedom Foundation has been in existence for ten years, but in a way, we haven’t crossed international borders, but have remained within Lagos and its environs, seeking funding from individuals and a few corporate bodies to execute our projects. But now, one of the things we are looking at is to get international funding and engage international donors so that we can actually do more.
The fact is that we have long waiting lists in all of our four arms. Because we haven’t got the capacity and the wherewithal, we’ve not been able to admit some clients yet. We are working with people with HIV/AIDS, and we’re involved in outreach programmes.
Even some of the children in Bethesda Child Support are orphans of HIV/AIDS victims. So, we need to engage international funders to let them know what we are doing, and what we can do if we had more support because there is really so much to be done to save this country.
I mean, the state of poverty in Nigeria is awful. I see girls on the streets, children living in abject poverty, young men wasting away on the street, etc. If you come to God Bless Nigeria Church at the National Stadium which is an initiative of This Present House too, you will see multitude of area boys and street girls, and we are changing lives there!
At the moment, we’ve been able to change hundreds of lives, but I think we would like to change thousands and even a whole generation. Now, one of my major concerns since I joined Freedom Foundation is to help Nigeria towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals because Nigeria has not even scratched the surface in any of the eight MDGs.
Is it in the area of poverty eradication? Talk about Universal Primary Education for children, and you will see that many of our children are living as if they’re in the dark ages.
Also, we still have a very high maternal mortality rate. We are even no where near the eradication of HIV/AIDS. Freedom Foundation is addressing over four of the MDGs, and I think that is a huge achievement for an indigenous non-profit organization in a place like Nigeria.’