The shutdown from COVID-19 is not a time to be idle but to act. And for good. No one exemplifies this more than Otto Orondaam, the founder of an initiative known as Slum2School. The initiative is dedicated to breeding a new generation of Nigerians for whom poverty is not a handicap.
Since 2012, he has been at it. He targeted children of the poor, especially those locked in rural and neglected parts of the country, and to avail them of the opportunity to learn and grow. It was an audacious move for a young man in a capitalist hovel like Nigeria to abandon a dream to be either a medical doctor or banker. Rather, he has devoted his strength and mind to an apparently profitless adventure. No wonder the then Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola honoured him as ‘Youth Corps Member of the Year’.
With the inauspicious coming of COVID-19, he has virtualised his vision. Since students could not attend brick-and-mortar schools, he gathered the students of the poor into online settings. They can now sit in their homes and attend classes through the Slum2School platform and learn a variety of subjects. Since they are poor, they cannot afford mobile tablets, headphones, access software or even internet credits.
Orondaam is not alone. He has brought sponsors and partners into the project, especially corporate citizens, volunteers and philanthropists to provide for this vision. And he is getting help. The boys and girls are now propped in the 21st century classroom, learning and growing.
At the last count, he had enrolled close to 1,000 students, but his goal is 10,000. He has developed a few centres, including Childhood Development Centre, Computer Lab, STEM and Innovation Lab and Enterprise Development Centre. He is doing that with at least 40 teachers.
Some of the corporate bodies helping out with money and supplies of software and hardware technology gizmos are Unilever, ESPN, EatnGO, Union Bank Plc and WAPIC. UNICEF is also in. Much gratitude to Nigerians on its board like Justice of the Supreme Court, Amina Adamu Augie, and entrepreneur Tonye Cole.
The programme began by identifying slums and underserved communities. The flagship place is the well-known floating slum of Lagos called Makoko, which Orondaam spotted while commuting on the Third Mainland Bridge. He had seen a BBC documentary highlighting it as an eyesore of underdevelopment in Nigeria. He went, enlisted sex workers as pioneer students and his dream took wings, and he has been airborne since. The programme is not just focused on the basic subjects, but also dedicated to making worthy human beings. So they are taught civic education, health, sex education, and verbal reasoning. They are taught early to connect learning with humanity. The initiative in the early days of COVID-19 distributed food items to the communities.
The students craved school and their idleness became a worry.
“They kept asking if there was ever a chance for them to continue learning,” Orondaam was quoted as saying.
“We also realised that without learning engagement, 92% of these children faced the risk of abuse and some of them wouldn’t return to school.”
That was how the virtual programme was born. He is turning an elite infrastructure to the benefit of the indigent. It is also an onslaught at the digital divide that has put Nigeria behind the developed world.
In this age where many children are victims of rape and the savage charms of militancy, it is refreshing that a Nigerian has elevated care into a cause. If his goal is 10,000 students in a nation where millions are underserved, people like Orondaam are helpers who need help. He should be a pioneer opening the door for more forays of concern for children of this country. Orondaam has laid the egg alone. Hatching is a society effort.