Not every hero wears a cape. Superman wears a cape, some heroes, such as Jesus, wear a cross, while still others do other things. At Sarauta, we enjoy recognising these heroes and explaining what they do. We will be honouring these youthful and vibrant heroes – the true MVPs – for the next three weeks and beyond. Swanta Blessing Bonat is one of these heroes. Swanta has been working hard with KYCA Academy on a problem that has long troubled her – Education.
I had an interview with Swanta, and there were several things I took away from it. Read the interview in its entirety below. This is the first instalment of a new series titled “Not All Heroes Wear Capes.”
Hello Swanta. Please briefly tell us about yourself.
My name is Blessing Swanta Bonat. I am from Zango Kataf LGA of Kaduna State. I am a certified teacher and very passionate about education, especially in Nigeria.
I’m curious as to how you initially got involved with KYCA Academy, Please can you tell us how that happened?
Well, after I resigned from my job in Abuja and got back home, I started volunteering at a public primary school in Samaru, Kaduna State. But after some time I knew I wasn’t going to be as effective there as I wanted to be so I started looking at my options. I wanted a better platform to implement some of my ideas at a school level not just at a classroom level since I was just limited to teaching Literacy to an age group at the time. So, while on that, I heard about the KYCA Academy and felt it is the platform I seek. I contacted one of the Proprietors of the school and told him I wanted to be the Head Teacher and help run the school for them. He loved the idea, directed me to the School Board and now the rest is history.
When you sought donations towards your academy, what was the general response of individuals and what does that reveal about our society?
I think I have come this far in these two years that I moved back here to focus on rural education because of people’s goodwill and support. The general response so far has been humbling. There are people that have donated to this cause without even meeting me. I mean I keep wondering why people that have never met me will part with huge amounts of money for projects they are not sure will be done. But each time I think about it, I am reminded of the fact that there is more good (than there are bad) people in the world and in Nigeria as well. People love to do good even if they don’t announce it. Many are just waiting to see the avenues or be nudged to do good. And they see passion. You can’t hide passion and commitment and I think people generally like being part of worthy causes such as this.
How has the journey been so far?
Hmm, the journey. The journey has been tough. It was especially tough readjusting to life without an income and leaving the comforts and some of the luxuries of city life for rural living. But in all, I am one that always counts the cost and I love being where I can give maximum impact. So I’d say that the journey so far has been filled with more joys and triumphs than letdowns. The impact I have been able to make in the lives of the teachers and especially the students I have interacted with is what keeps me here in spite of the challenges.
What are the major challenges you face?
There are numerous MAJOR challenges oh. I cannot even begin to list them but so far, the most major one is the mindset of the adults responsible for the education of these young ones. A lot needs to be done about how we approach education and how educational services are provided in rural areas. I can hardly boast of seeing one structure around here that qualifies as a school.
Another thing is that I have struggled a lot with the quality of teachers that I get. Because of this, I had to start a program at the school to teach teachers as well. The quality of teachers in rural areas is a story for another day.
Lastly, you know money has to be in this. Funding has been a huge challenge. Being that the school is for children from low-income homes, it does not make enough to comfortably run itself let alone develop its physical structures. I know that donors have tried but you know with the way the economy is right now, the donations have been slow. But we are hopeful that people will not get tired of investing in the lives of these young ones because these children are our future.
From your experience, what do you think is the greatest problem of education in Nigeria?
Misplaced priorities. I think that’s what the problem is. We do not see education the way we should see it so we do not give it the attention that we need to give it. No foresight. So we usually just wake up and bring quick fixes and temporary solutions to problems we have not even really sat down to understand yet. It’s why we are thinking that giving free meals to school children will solve any problem at this point. I mean after you give them the food and they eat then what? Do they have enough classrooms that are up to 21st-century standards? Do they have good teachers that are well-equipped and up-to-date? Do they have chairs and books? Do they have functioning libraries? What about play areas, electricity, toilets and good water? And then ultimately, what is the curriculum like? What are we really teaching these children? I mean the world is evolving but our curriculum content and methodologies are hardly evolving with the times. A lot needs to be done before it’s too late.
How do you recommend the problems are solved by Government and Private Individuals?
Government should re-strategize. They should learn from countries like Finland which are pacesetters in their education sector. There is nothing that cannot be done if the will is there. One way to ensure that is to make and treat the teaching profession like they have made and treat other professions like Medicine, law, engineering and others. Why on earth are our colleges of education the easiest to get into? And why are teachers paid the least salaries? I feel that if teacher education is fixed we will conquer most of the problems with education in the sector. You know individuals cannot give what they do not have. So the quality of teachers we have, determines greatly, the quality of individuals our school system produces at the end of the day which in turn determines our development and place in the global market. Yes, there are many factors affecting the sector including structure, funding, and learning content among other things but fix the teachers and half of your problem is solved.
Private Individuals should all become interested in education and how it is done in our immediate environments and even home towns. I mean how many of us are really interested enough to know what’s going on in the various public schools in our immediate environments let alone community-owned schools? How many of us go back to our alma matas to see how things are and are actively involved in ensuring that those schools function as they should? The fight for better Education should be a collective one. Everyone should be involved. Everyone should do something from their little corners. Do it yourself or empower someone to do it then hold them accountable to do what you have empowered them to do. Simple.
What is your vision for KYCA academy and do you plan to be part of the journey all the way through?
My major desire is to see my learners become global citizens. I desire to have KYCA Academy open the doors for them. The doors to many possibilities. I desire to see our learners become relevant and independent thinkers. To solve world problems and be able to create their own realities. Simply put, I’d want our school to prepare and equip them for a life outside their immediate community. I want them to be empowered to function well even outside this community. The role of education is to open doors and present individuals with options to be self-reliant and to actively contribute to nation-building. I want the school to make its learners curious enough to desire more for themselves. To dream. To find their purposes and come up with ways to pursue such dreams and purposes. The other day, some JS 2 boys came to ask me how many countries we have in the world. Now, these are the types of conversations I love having. It means they are becoming more curious and are beginning to think beyond their limitations.
Well, I will always be part of the journey with this Academy whether directly or indirectly. However, I can only focus on the present and do what I can to make things work. I can’t talk about tomorrow since I don’t know what it’s pregnant with.’
What advice would you give young Nigerians out there to pursue worthy causes like you are doing with KYCA academy?
I always say that the time to take action is now. The time is ALWAYS NOW. We can always start from where we are with whatever we have at hand. Making a difference does not really require much. It only requires that one takes action. I will not say it will be easy to sail from then on but I can say that there will be enough grace and strength for each day till the finish line. It took me one sleepless night in Abuja to realize that I had been complaining about the state of education in Nigeria and my rural community and had been planning big ways to go about solving the problem without thinking of the now. I was focused on the big plans I had and the right time to take action that I kept putting off being in the present and doing what I can do while on my way to the big plan. So I told myself that if nobody was going to do it, I will do it. I will act now and stop complaining. I left Abuja and look how far I’ve come.
Everyone one needs to find out what they are capable of and embrace it. We can complain all we want but till we do something about it, we are not ready to solve the problem. If you can’t do it yourself, empower someone else that can do it to do.
Not all of us can resign from our paid jobs to save Nigeria but we can all do something within our limitations to change things.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t inspired. Swanta is doing an excellent job and has excellent advice for us. Get up, go out, and do something, young (not lazy) Nigerians. The world would be a better place if we all did our part. If you conduct some investigation, you will discover the state of education and the educational industry in our country. It is a mess, as are other industries, but we can be change agents if we choose to work for it.
If you wish to contribute towards KYCA Academy or contact Swanta, her contact details are below:
Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn: Swanta Blessing Bonat
Thank you for reading and watch out for other stories about heroes who aren’t wearing capes.