Thursday, November 28, 2013

Slum2school leader address OYW aspiring leaders

Mr. Mohamed Camara, Nigerian ‘Delegate OYW 2013

Mr. Mohamed Camara, Nigerian ‘Delegate’ at One Young World Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa 3rd October, 2013; Education plenary session on the topic: Compassion for the disadvantaged children in slumps says  “I am grateful for the privilege to address this dynamic audience on education. I was born into a world of absolute illiteracy; neither of my parents had a formal education.

 I had little hope of one. But motivated by my parents’ profound frustration and resulting financial difficulties, I took my studies very seriously. Eventually I got admitted into the University of Lagos on scholarship, emerged National debating and quiz champion in Nigeria, and won a scholarship to attend the prestigious Impact Your World Leadership Academy, graduating top of the class. I tell this story to people living in slums, to give them hope and inspire them to educate themselves and end poverty in their generation. However, hope is not a strategy, without action.

UNESCO estimates 57 million children globally are not in school. 10.5 million of these are Nigerian children, the highest national rate in the world. One out of every five Nigerian children is out of school, and most of them live in slums. One billion people worldwide live in slums, and the UN estimates this will double by 2030. Over 65% are children under 15 years who may never have an opportunity to go to school.

Something needs to be done; I work with an organization called Slum to School Africa, founded by a friend Otto Orondaam, in 2012, and run by young vibrant volunteers. Our mission is to bring hope to disadvantaged children living in slums and try to solve the educational challenges in Nigeria. So far, Slum to School Africa has successfully sponsored over 600 disadvantaged and vulnerable children to attend school with donations from individuals and private companies.

A hungry child will not go to school, neither will a sick child. So, we provide materials these children need: food, books, uniforms, sandals, treated insecticide nets, and other relief materials. We use social media platform for crowd sourcing to raise funds from individuals and companies. We also use social media for advocacy campaigns to create awareness about the challenges people living in slums are facing.

In August 2013, 17 volunteers made a difficult journey across rivers and swamps to an island unknown to most locals, even in Nigeria. The aim was to renovate rural schools on the outskirts of Lagos state, Nigeria. There were significant risks, but we braved these odds because of compassion. We travelled on water for two hours without life jackets because of compassion. We walked in swamps for another 45 minutes because of compassion. And because of compassion, we lived with the people for three days, struggling but determined, to rebuild their schools.

The biggest challenge however, was that the people were so remote, so disconnected from the world, they did not value education. People resisted because their children fish: they asked, “How would we eat if the children go to school?” We persuaded them using success stories of children from similar backgrounds who rose to become great teachers, scientists, doctors, entrepreneurs, politicians, and so on. And I used my own personal story as well. Ultimately, we were able to rebuild the schools, but more importantly enroll an additional 200 children into the schools.

Organizing social events for the community is also very important; like the Christmas party and the children’s day funfair, because this strategically helps to keep the parents on board so that the children keep going to school. We visit the communities on a regular basis where people bring gifts for the children and their parents. Taking the children on excursions is also very important because it exposes them to the wider world for the first time; for example, trips to the parks, big cities, and so on.

My message to you is, when youths take responsibility because of compassion, we awaken the consciousness of others, even government. A few months ago, to our great surprise, the government stepped in as a partner to renovate another school while we provide computer rooms, libraries and a sick bay.

My experience is, any project’s success is dependent on compassion backed by an “I CAN DO” spirit. Our volunteer group is small – but we have helped over 600 children from slums to schools within just one year – and we have influenced government to get involved. No matter how small, youth-driven activities can advance education, and can change the world.  

Remember, 57 million children are out of school, their educational future lies with us, let us do something, let us act swiftly; because change happens when you make it happen!”

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