By Ebele Orakpo
In the past, men were supposed to go out and make money for the upkeep of the family and the woman’s job was to keep house.
Today, the story has changed, the economy is in a shambles and the man’s take-home pay can hardly take him home not to talk of meeting the family’s needs, the woman is now expected to work too so the children are left to their own devices with the help of house-helps in some cases. No wonder the increasing incidence of juvenile delinquency.
To help halt this trend, daycare centres or crèche began to spring up in most urban centres to take care of babies of these working mothers. One of such centres is Testimony Chapel International Creche and Daycare located in the Onike, Yaba area of Lagos.
In a recent chat with Vanguard in Lagos, the Proprietress, Mrs. Mercy Bukola Olanrewaju says she did not start the creche just to make money but to give the children the quality care they deserve, as well as encourage the parents to always do what is best for their children.
After her one year mandatory national youth service in Akwa Ibom State, Mrs. Mercy Bukola Olanrewaju worked with some establishments for a short while before going into the business of caring for other people’s children.
According to the proprietress of Testimony Chapel International Creche, “We were using this building where the creche is located as church because my husband is a full-time pastor.
It’s one thing to say God called you and another for you to hear what He is telling you at every point in time. Thank God for my husband’s ability to hear God and understand times and seasons.
The church auditorium was becoming too small for us as the population grew and the government banned the erection of canopies outside so something needed to be done fast.
God provided us a piece of land close to the church and also made the money available. So when we moved to our new site, the former place became vacant and since my husband knew I was good in taking care of children, he felt I should use the space for creche.” Thus began her journey into the world of filling the need of working parents whose children are too young to go to conventional schools.
“I never saw it as an assignment or as something cumbersome. You know that children are children, they cannot think like you, they want to learn but not at the speed at which you learn. You have to know how to handle them at every point in time.
A child must eat in the morning before going to school no matter what happens. It’s not just giving the child whatever you feel you should give the child, he must eat food. This idea of a child not eating and carrying food to school is not the best.
The most our parents did was to give you something to take during the break period after you must have eaten breakfast at home.
But now, parents would just give the child food to take to school and in some cases, the child will go to school and return with the food untouched, meanwhile, the parents may presume the child had carried food to school. This is not healthy,” she said adding:
“For my children, I make sure they eat in the morning, and then put whatever I want to give them in their backpacks but I don’t give them food to take to school.
The older one tried to make me understand that everyone carries food to school so they should not be an exception but I told her no, it’s not what everybody does that matters, but to do the right thing. It’s easier to join the crowd but I always tell my children that it is better to get it right than to get it done.”
The graduate of Cooperative Economics and Management from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, noted that children tend to learn more by example.
“If a child knows that you are the one who wakes him up in the morning for prayers, makes his food, and generally takes care of him, he learns from what he sees you doing so when you counsel him, he believes in your counsel. Not a situation where you only instruct them without lifting a finger to do anything, they also watch and copy so that when you begin to tell them how hardworking you were while growing up, they won’t believe you.”
She said though she had it at the back of her mind to start a creche, but she did not intend to start so early “but when my husband said the space was vacant and the landlord was not in a hurry to give it away, I put my mind to work, how do I juggle things so that no part suffers? With the help of God, I have been able to manage both the creche and the home front.”
The creche which started operations in January, 2010, has children whose ages range from three months to1year, nine months..
Mrs Olanrewaju who believes passionately in the biblical injunction to bring up a child in the way he should go, says it is absolutely necessary to get it right from the foundation. Said she: “I never had a house-help, not because there was no need for it but I felt that you don’t raise children in isolation. We all need money but first, ask yourself about family values. I inculcate values in the children while bonding with them. Even before I send my children to school, they must learn to communicate with me.
I don’t just say ‘oh, let me send them to school so that the teacher can look after them, no. To me as a mother, there must be that bond. I teach them to write at least a, b, c and 1, 2, 3. Once I know they can do this, then I am bold enough to send them to school. I don’t send them to school for somebody to help me when I have not really given them anything.”
And this is exactly what she does with the babies under her care as not only are they being looked after, but they are also given the opportunity to learn to communicate. “We teach the babies. Some learn to talk before they leave here. A mother once told me she was surprised to hear her baby humming rhymes, another woman said her baby now sings: ‘A is for apple’ and so on,” she enthused.
As with every endeavour in life, there are ups and downs. For the proprietress of Testimony Chapel International Creche, the major challenge is “people trying to make her accept very little babies.
“There are times parents don’t understand. Some of them come here and give me reasons why they want to bring their children to the creche.
I tell them I didn’t want tender babies. It’s not that I cannot take care of them, but I’m not here just for the money because if it were for the money, I would encourage parents to bring their children no matter how tender.
A newly married couple came here, both of them working, and they looked comfortable so why leave the little baby in a creche? The woman said her maternity leave was over and I said ‘well, I won’t feel good accepting the baby because he needs his mother at this tender age. There was another couple that came. The man came first and I said to him: ‘You are the man. I know may be your wife is mounting pressure on you, she wants to resume work. I need to see your wife.’ When she came, I explained to her.
The only condition on which I accepted the baby was that the man would be coming to play with the child during his break period. I am not after the money they are paying.
There is need for bonding between parents and children. I won’t feel good when someone understands my baby better than I do, it’s embarrassing so I don’t want such a thing for any parent that brings her child here. The woman was surprised at the way I spoke and the husband told me that he didn’t want the wife to work but she insisted on working.
I asked them whether it was just about money? What about the future of the child? He will grow up not knowing the parents. You are the ones that will make the child understand you.
We then agreed that the husband would be coming by to play with the baby. Each time he came, he would play with the baby. By the time the baby was here for just one month, once the daddy is at the gate and speaks, he turns in his direction. He now recognises the daddy’s voice. So it’s not just about money. It’s about the bonding. She stressed the need for both parents to be in agreement before she accepts their child.
Olanrewaju insists that before anybody embarks on any venture, he must ask himself what he has to offer the society and what he wants the society to learn from him. It should not just be about making money.