A year ago, I brought you the story of Swanta Blessing Bonat on the #NotAllHeroesWearCapesSeries and the beautiful work she was doing in her hometown in Kaduna state. To refresh memories, Swanta resigned from her city job and returned home to Zango Kataf and took up the responsibility of working to rejuvenate and better education at a local school.
Since then Swanta has created an NGO – Community Outreach for Educational Change (COEC) which has been working to better education in Nigeria as a whole through a network of teachers who receive training’s at conferences and other means. For more information on COEC you can watch this video on YouTube – https://youtu.be/IyUgyggimBY
This year, Swanta moved from Zango Kataf to a community called Pisabu in Kebbi state to start another project at a new school – Ecwa Oakland Schools, Pisabu.
Today I will be telling the story of another friend – Christine Samuel who volunteers with COEC and is with Swanta at Pisabu.
Q. Hello Christine, tell us about yourself.
I am Christine Samuel from Jos, Plateau State. I have a degree in History and International Studies from the University of Jos. My quest for learning and self development has tossed me into many different fields ranging from Cosmetology to Information and Communication technology. I have worked with local and international blogs as a Content Developer, a Freelance Writer and Social Media Strategist. My interest went further into Branding where I worked as a Web and Graphic designer, giving organizations and Individuals world class brands.
Admits all these, there’s a part of me that I am very passionate about, that’s being a volunteer. My work began on the streets of Ungwan Rukuba in Jos, Plateau State where a couple of friends and I began a Teenage Bible Club called Club Exclusive. The club was aimed at enlightening the teenager boys and girls who were vulnerable and unguarded on the evils of Violence, Alcohol, Drugs and Early pregnancy and also helping them recognize their gifts and talents for the good of themselves and society.
After my work with Club Exclusive, I continued to work as a volunteer in secondary schools teaching free lessons during summer and holding seminars in her local church where I have been a Sunday school teacher for eight years. My love for teaching and enabling young people develop themselves with relevant skills continued to propel me through my National Youth service year in Vandeikya, Benue State where I served as the Community Development Service (CDS) coordinator in the (ENGINE- Educating the Nigerian Girl In New Enterprises) project under Mercy Corps.
In 2018, I joined the Flowpad Initiative. A non-governmental and non-profit organization which seeks to sensitize girls in the rural communities of Nigeria about menstruation and menstrual hygiene as well as expose the destructive stereotypes and myths surrounding menstruation in recent times. As a member of the Flowpad Initiative, I had the opportunity of visiting many public schools, schools for Special Learners, prisons and IDP camps in Plateau state and interacting with these communities as well as making donations of sanitary pads and other relief materials.
I have been working as a Volunteer Teacher in the Educational Intervention program under COEC-Community Outreach For Educational Change) in Pisabu, Kebbi state since January 2019. Being in Kebbi State has been more than a platform to explore and solve greater challenges. It is exactly what fueled the two campaigns we launched under COEC so we can better learning conditions for school children. The #Getaschoolchildoffthefloor campaign was a huge success as it provided classroom furniture and mattresses for over a hundred school children in Kebbi State. Winning the Pollination Grant for the COEC Literally Center was also a mighty win. The Center which uses a curriculum that emphasizes basic literacy skills is much like an incubation room for students who struggle to be better equipped for the learning ahead.
Q. Rural Educational Evangelists as I call you, give us an overview of life in the rural area you work in.
Life here in the rural areas of Kebbi State is truly hard and sadly, it’s harder for the innocent children who suffer the most for what they do not understand. The life here is characterized by absolute lack and poverty, not just a lack of material things but a poverty of the mind. The kind which is caused by a continuous promotion of disabling practices and cultures. Disabling practices such as early child marriages, poor hygiene and sanitation and a preference for farming over education which leads to low human capital development. These are just a few out of the many factors that make living extremely difficult in these parts of Nigeria. I work more with the children so I see their struggle daily. They struggle to feed themselves with guinea corn everyday because that’s all they can afford and most nights they go to bed hungry. They know nothing of proper diets. Some walk for kilometres to work as labourers on other people’s farms (Kwadigo) so they can afford their basic sanitary needs and pay their fees. It was more like a refugee camp when we first arrived. They wore worn out clothes,hanging by a thread and are often barefoot. They slept on mats and on bare floors regardless of the weather. They go through all these hardship with smiles on their faces because they do not know any better. This is life at its best as they know it. There are no words to accurately describe it.
Q. What inspired you to go to Pisabu? Did you struggle with the decision?
I honestly didn’t struggle with the decision. I actually jumped at the opportunity. Being a sucker for new places and new experiences, I am up for an adventure everyday. Kebbi is quiet state, you don’t hear anything of them not even on the news. I remember googling about the state on my phone just so I could answer the many questions that were thrown at me by my family and friends. No one quite understood why. Regular Jos girl like me whose only time out of Plateau State was my service year in Benue. All of a sudden, I wanted to cross three states to border-land Kebbi. I already had two job offers. One in Jos and the other in Kaduna but I declined them. It was a scary decision but once I understood the conditions in Kebbi State and how much impact my little contribution could make, I made up my mind, packed my bags and bid my beautiful hometown farewell. It’s been one of the best decisions of my life.
Q. What was your first impression in Pisabu when you arrived?
My first impression was very unsettling to say the least. When our vehicle took the turn heading towards the school compound. All I saw was dry, empty, deserted lands with just a few people walking around. As we drew closer,I hoped to see more development but there was nothing. Ayuba, the person I travelled with told me that I could stop imagining things because all I wondered about my new home was starring right at me. I thought I was going to die. First the change in weather was extremely hard. I was born and bred in Plateau State with its chilly weather and now I had to adapt to the extreme heat in Kebbi State – The indescribable and unbearable heat. It was a battle to keep clothes on every time I stepped out of my house. Then the unavailability of network for the Internet was literally chocking me. I had to run from tree to tree playing hide and seek with the network. The dust too was a cause for concern because I couldn’t stay clean and I couldn’t keep anything clean. Lastly, the abundance of wall gecoks that were well fed and croaked like frogs all over the house. It took me time to adjust. I had to prepare myself to live in any condition. Once that was done, I adapted very nicely.
Q. What was your perception in January when you first visited the school?
My perception when I first visited ECWA Oakland Schools, Pisabu was that these were children who based on their environment were already limited in life. My job was to be the class teacher of the Step By Step class, where I am to implement a curriculum consisting of different programs to provide my pupils with academics, skill building, reading readiness, character and wisdom training and the knowledge of God and his word.
Ideally, the pupils in my class are supposed to be from ages 3-4 years but because most of the children in the school have never experienced being in school, I also have teenagers of 13-15 years in my class. I just could not understand how children could learn in such harsh conditions and excel. I though the concepts I was going to introduce to them were going to be too foreign for them to understand. But as I interacted with them I found out that they are exactly like the children and teenagers in the cities. They are eager to learn, curious about the world, they have an untapped energy just waiting to be challenged in the right direction. They are ready to create their own destines not based on their backgrounds or locations but based on their decision to do the seemingly impossible -become the best at anything.
Q. What changes are most notable since January?
I am proud to say that there are a lot of changes in every aspect of their lives as students and wholistically as individuals. Their academic performance has improved tremendously, their personal and environmental hygiene as well. We’ve been able to launch two campaigns namely #Getaschoolchildoffthefloor and #Fedtolearn and through these campaigns, we have been able to improve the living and learning conditions of our students. We were able to get classroom furniture for the Creche class and the Step by Step class (Pre-school). We also purchased over 60 mattresses so the students don’t sleep on mats or on the floors. The #Fedtolearn campaign was launched to provide a more balanced diet for the students who suffer from diseases caused by malnutrition and starvation. We understand that a well fed and a well rested child learns better. The pollination grant has also provided us with funds for a well equipped literacy center. This center serves as a supplementary class for students who struggle with reading and writing and other basic literacy skills. They are admitted in the class until they are ready to advance to another class.
Q. What are the needs?
ECWA Oakland Schools has many needs.We need lots of funding. The education of these children need to be heavily invested in. First the students need books. They need a library they can access and learn on their own. All kinds of story books and text books. They need worksheets and workbooks. They need all classroom materials including teaching aids such as charts and picture illustrations. They need laptops and internet so they can access the wide variety of information available on the internet with the needed guidance.
They need hostels with bathrooms and toilets. They need as much support as possible. More sponsors that will be willing to support these children through their education. We need food for the feeding program and medicine to treat the common illnesses they are prone to such as malaria and Typhoid. Lastly we need able hands. Well seasoned teachers who will join us in promoting this great task.
Q. Do you plan to remain in Pisabu?
Well, my stay in Pisabu cannot really be determined by me. I am just a part of a body. I work under an organization which holds the education of rural children who have no access to education in the highest esteem so there’s nothing more important. when the body says our time is up, then we shall love to our next location. It’s all about bridging the gap between urban and rural education. Even though I have other passions, this is what I’m pursuing right now.
Christine and COEC understand too well what Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “If you’re saying nothing. You’re saying something”.
Lets support such initiatives the best we can and cheer them on.
To learn more about COEC again, you can watch this video on YouTube –