By Elizabeth Uwandu
‘I WAS born and bred in Makoko so smoking fish was not an option, it was a necessity I had to engage in for survival. But, as I became an adult, I felt disgusted and irritated about the crude ways used to process fish which were tedious, exhausting and time consuming.
“This made me to opt out to become a fashion designer. But, today, I have learned how to use oven to process fish without being smoked or engulfed by the flames of the fire. I’m back to my first love,” Ms Ojobo Omokeji, one of the participants at CYFI empowerment training, said.
It was a moment of joy for the 10 participants in Makoko community, a suburb in Lagos state who got empowered on modern fish processing by the Economic Empowerment Team of Carrington Youth Fellowship Initiative, CYFI, as they told their experiences and change of status from being crude fish processors to modern fish processors.
The Carrington youth fellowship Initiative (CYFI) a programme by the US consulate, Nigeria aimed among other things to train, mentor and empower selected visionary youths on development projects via empowerment, education, health, good governance and civil liberties. These youths after completion of the training, as ambassadors of CYFI go into their communities to replicate the knowledge they have acquired.
So, it was not a mean celebration at the graduation of the 10 participants who carted home a certificate each, an eco-friendly oven and a promise of seed capital to start their fish processing businesses in Makoko.
This was after they had successfully completed the four weeks training on modern fish processing with eco-friendly ovens, training on fish packaging and the application of social media marketing and corporate business models in marketing and growing their business by seasoned and successful young Nigerian business men and speakers, led by the Ms Kate Ekanem (Leader), Mr. David Bamidele, Mr. Best Okoduwa and Mr. Moses Adetosoye, as well as members of Economic Empowerment Team of Carrington Youth Fellowship Initiative, CYFI.
Speaking of the training, Ms Ekanem said it was the desire of CYFI to meet the needs of the host community, whose predominant occupation necessitated the selection of 10 youths for training from 500 applicants.
“When we came here at first, we found out that despite Makoko being a fishing community, its residents were poor owing to the fact that their produce get spoilt, some rotten and many were thrown back into the river due to lack of processing skills.
“So, we came up with the idea to train youths here on modern fishing processing skills that will enable them better preserve their fish and at the same time empower them on ways to make money.
“Today, with the help of community leaders and Hon. Abel Enikanologbon, the participants not only get trained on modern fish processing, but they have been equipped with ovens each and a seed capital to start their fish business and also pass along their acquired knowledge to their host community.”
For Hon. Enikanologbon, the initiative to empower indigent youths will be continuous as efforts were being put in place to sustain and maintain the project. Aside from continuous monitoring the participants, they also are open to counseling and monitoring to ensure that the project does not fail.
Ms Ojobo Omokeji said that the four weeks experience has not only exposed her to the methods of fish processing without the usual stress of inhaling smoke while igniting fire under the barn and being exposed to dirt. But the training has brought her back to her first love. “I was born and bred in Makoko so smoking fish was not an option, it was a necessity I must engage in for survival. But, as I became an adult, I felt disgusted and irritated on the crude ways used to process fish which was tedious, exhausting and time consuming.
“This made me to opt out to become a fashion designer. But, today, I have learned how to use oven to process fish without being smoked or engulfed by the flames of the fire. Am back to my first love,” added Omokeji.
On his part, Ogodonla Austin, who has been involved in fish business all his life having grown under the tutelage of his grand mother said nothing had prepared him for the enormous knowledge he gained in the course of the training.
“For me fishing is my life and my mainstay as it has been what I and my family depend on.
Modern fish processor
“However, the feeling of discouragement I get anytime I throw away leftovers is now replaced with joy as aside processing my fish in a modern way, I can now package it for sale anywhere in the world. For this I am grateful to the Economic Empowerment Team led by Miss Ekanem for opening our eyes to opportunities in fish business.”
Another particpant, Mr. Dairo Peter, who could not contain his joy as he flaunted his certificate in the presence of his oven said the training was a step towards making him to become an entrepreneur. “My dream has been to own a fish processing company as on several occasions, our river stinks of dead and wasted fishes. This opportunity of being a modern fish processor is a dream come true. Our sponsors have promised to assist us even after this training”, added Peter.