By Yemisi Suleiman
Ms. Pamela Esiri is the founder and President of Emoeferotu Foundation, a not for profit organization which offers children and young people in rural areas of the Niger Delta education. An environmental lawyer, Esiri, who hails from Abraka, Delta State, was moved by the passion to give voice to the voiceless and access to education to the less privileged. Over the past six years, Emoeferotu which, in her local dialect, means, ‘Children are the wealth of the society’, has been active in fulfilling its mission.
What informed the creation of Emoeferotu?
I was part of an environmental walk around the riverine area of Delta State and I found out that I could not communicate with the youths in the area. I just wondered why there was this huge communication gap. Because I lived in Lagos, I didn’t know things were like that, I had just acquired a master’s degree in environmental law and politics and I decided to go and experiment and, when I got there, I realized that I couldn’t even talk to the youths on the ground, I noticed that something was wrong.
Why couldn’t you talk to them?
We talked to them but we could not communicate. Understanding was a major issue, because each time we went there and raised an issue that we all discussed and arrived at a conclusion, when we returned there the next day, or the next week, it was turned upside down. It was so obvious that we weren’t communicating. So I started thinking that maybe we were too advanced but I discovered that it wasn’t about being advanced but that those youths had had a different and difficult life and orientation. We didn’t even know that all these years they just grew up all by themselves without proper guidance.
At a point, a friend suggested that we leave and go to our community and work with smaller children. Because for the youths, it was like taking them away from a place where, when you want to build your house, they will come and collect money. So we decided to go back to our community and, for two years, I have been going, meeting with the children, entertaining and providing them with scholarships as well as exposing them to things from the urban areas; and, we had to travel by water transportation for about an hour and a half hours to get there.
Did you find something similar in your community?
Even in my community as an Urhobo person, I wasn’t accepted, they felt I just came from the city. When I got back to my base, I decided to re-strategize, we decided to go from school to school within my community, it was then I realized that Nigeria had become so bad to the extent that things that I couldn’t do as a teenager, small children were doing it. Parents were paying for their children to be promoted. And the teachers themselves lacked commitment whatsoever. When I saw what was happening, and complained, they said ‘you never see, come make I show you this and that’.
I saw students who could not speak English in classroom, students were speaking Urhobo and, when I questioned teachers and the authorities in charge, I received this attitude of “what is my own, if the government is not providing necessary resources, after all they are not my children, and I get paid at the end of the month? We do our best and leave the rest”.
I am not an educationist but I know every school has a scheme of work they follow but here the case was different. During school hours, you find students sitting on the fence and chatting while lessons are going on. If I hadn’t gone there and had that experience, I would never have understood that the education sector in the country had gone that way and that the standard of education had deteriorated completely.
I told myself I was not going to leave the children like that and that I will come back. At this time, we didn’t have money; I didn’t even know how to administer an NGO. I thought within me, `what can we do to help these children?; they are the future of the society, after all, every adult was once a child’. I strongly believe that when we invest quality life in any child, the society enjoys it in future and we won’t have to worry when they become youths or adult. We organized a prize giving ceremony and the turnout was really impressive because we worked mostly in public schools. That was how we started.
How did you go about it?
All we did was go to schools, tell them we wanted to provide them with a better life and making schooling very interesting. When you want to do something with a hungry person, you have to first take care of his hunger to enable that person listen to you. So we had to put food in their mouths, give them something to make them feel better.
When we did our first presentation, we had a turn out that was really impressive; and then we came with prize giving to appreciate those who had done very well in their academics. It doesn’t take so much to put smiles on the faces of children and with the help of MTN to provide bags and books for the children and they have been supporting us till date.
Would you say there has been improvement?
There is so much that we can do, I am not a teacher, I can only tell didn’t even know that it was toxic. And there was one man, I have forgotten his name now, he is late, he was there at that time. He was one of the people who were ignorant of it and thought they could do something with it and that was how people lost their lives. When I read that piece, I said environment, people don’t know and they think we are fools. So I went back I did my master’s in law, and I was astonished at what I read. I went aboard to study environmental law, and it was very interesting because it exposed me to a lot of things.
You had an event in Abuja recently. Tell us about it?
Because of the flood last year, and I saw the devastation of some states and what children from these areas were passing through, it occurred to me that we had to do something. I went to another NGO, we sat down and took out the topic that we used for our sixth anniversary. We did a research on the number of people that come into that state and where they first go and settle within FCT and we found some points which are: Gwari, Kwali and one other place and we decided to set up what we called the Refinery; a school.
People were just doing their own thing, no direction. We gave ten children scholarships from the ten area councils in Abuja. In our own little way, we want to contribute positively and refine them like gold into the right part. We are already working with some institutions so that when they get to SS three, we will give them scholarship to universities.