By JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
As the Lagos Education Empowerment Resource Network, LEARN, prepares to draw the curtain on the six-week summer school that has successfully taken 3,500 children off the streets throughout the long vacation, Vista Woman spoke with Mrs. Bisi Awoyomi, Project Director, LEARN, about the objectives behind the programme which officially closes on Tuesday, September 18.
Is there a special focus for this year’s summer programme?
This is the 5th edition of the summer school. The last four made a huge impact. Every year, there is a focus as we bring new innovations to meet the contemporary demands of young people. We try to incorporate issues affecting young minds. This year, we are particularly concerned about safety.
Therefore, we added safety education, like road safety, into our curriculum. We also looked into entrepreneurial studies because we want to start changing their mindsets and moulding them from being job seekers into job owners. We also brought in computer networking and repairs because we’ve noticed over the years how it is fast becoming a lucrative field.
We have a documentary which we’re going to showcase at the closing programme holding September 18, to show how LEARN has affected the lives of many young people. Our work with these children is in three categories: ages 11-16 for those in school, 17-19 for school leavers seeking admission into tertiary institution, and then ages 19-25 who we prepare for work life by engaging them in employability programmes. Ordinarily, we have the career enlightenment programme that runs all year round in public schools across Lagos State, and then our regular after school programme which is aimed giving students’ support in their core subjects.
So far, what have been the challenges?
We have seven centres, with a total of 500 students per centre. We would have loved to take 1000 per centre, but we have the problem of funding. We work with a number of volunteers and we have to honour them with some stipends. This year alone, we have over 250 volunteers working with us.
A huge challenge however is getting people to serve voluntarily because people are not willing to give such services. But this year, we went into partnership with the NYSC, so, we had youth corpers coming to give their service. That’s why this year, we are trying to teach secondary school children through our civic and moral education, how to imbibe good values and learn to give back to society by serving voluntarily when need be.
Giving back to society should be part of the curriculum of young people because the earlier we catch them young, the better. Another challenge is infrastructure because most of the schools that we’re using do not have school halls. That’s why we are leveraging on the Ministry of Education to use government schools for their programmes since we just can’t start building camps around Lagos.
Your summer programme seems serious about impacting young people with life-skills. Do you make any effort to help them start-up something later?
We have the empowerment programme for school leavers and we collaborate with the Lagos State Skills Acquisition programme. We just don’t send them there to acquire the training. After the training which is for about 12 to 18 months, we send them for industrial training at various organistions, depending on the skills acquired.
We also entered into another partnership with Lagos State Micro Finance Institution to enable them get support. LASMI has told us that if we could get them into a corporative, they would give them loans to star-up
One of our strategic plans is for us to be able to have our own property, a resource centre, where young people can always come to. Secondly, we want to sell this model to other states because we want the impact to be felt nationally, and not just in Lagos State. Over the next five years, we hope to be able to increase our volunteer data base because it is impossible to employ everyone working with us.
How has been your work with these the children?
It’s been exciting and challenging; the stress of planning, strategising and having to source for funds for our programmes also makes it more challenging, but the results in the lives of the children is always quite impressive and satisfying. When I go to places and I see some of them come to introduce themselves and tell me how they’ve benefitted from our programmes, I am motivated.
What’s going to happen to LEARN after 2015 since it is the official project of the First Lady of Lagos State?
Her Excellency, Mrs.Abimbola Fashola, has always been passionate about young people. She has been working with young people right from her days at the British Council. So, with or without her being in government or being the First Lady of Lagos State, learn will continue. LEARN is not her pet project; it is a social service.
LEARN is a self-sustained registered non-governmental organisation, and that’s why I’m always under pressure to get sponsorships to for our programmes. I stand boldly to say that Learn gets no dime from the Lagos state government. Our Agidingbi center for example is being supported by LASACO.
We have La Casera, Indomie Noodles, Sweet Sensation, Eko Hotel & Suites, etc. Everything we’ve done have been from well-meaning individuals and organisations. We are also being supported by international organisations like the London Metropolitan University.