More women in Abia State are flooding its skills acquisition centre to take advantage of a programme that seeks to bridge the gap between the extreme poor and the wealthy, writes Adeola Akinremi
She laughed. Her visit even surprised her. Then, she began to wriggle her waist to the sound of the music that was played to welcome her. It was a timeless classic sweet mother lyrics sang by the Nigerian/Cameroonian singer, Prince Nico Mbarga. As she danced, she smiled. After a moment, she made her way past the fervent crowd who lined the alleyway to welcome her. She entered the fashion and designing department first before visiting other rooms in the skills acquisition centre. For her, it was a dream come through. The room was big. But as her eyes wandered over the room, she noticed a row of strikingly different works. She liked the view. Of course, she could see what everyone was up to.
Lady Mercy Odochi Orji, the wife of the governor of Abia State was in ecstasy on Tuesday July 23, 2013, as she observed the idea she conceived several years ago turned into reality. She cuddled a baby of one of the trainees in the fashion and designing department and declared, “I decided to embark on the construction of a skill acquisition centre to enable the youths and women to be trained in various trades that can empower them economically. I sincerely believed that the learning of trade will go a long way in assisting them to cope with the present economic realities in the country. I also hope that by so doing, it will help them to realise their dreams in life.”
In short, everyone at the centre feels the same. Akudo Onyeugba, 26, from Aba is a trainee in the computer and graphics department at the skills acquisition centre. A mother-of-two and secondary school certificate holder, she said, “I came in as a novice, but I will be leaving here as an employer of labour. When I started I didn’t know anything about computer or graphics, but now I can operate a computer. I know all the packages and how to apply them. I have started to use the packages to design complimentary cards, handbills, posters, logos and many more. Yes, with the experience I have gotten here, I can start my own business perfectly.
I would begin to employ people soon and that will change my fortune. I gained confidence and I learnt leadership skills, so I am fully prepared.”
And for Sunday Grace, a young graduate from Okwa-west Local Government Area of Abia State, the centre has helped her in giving teeth to her passion. “I’m a fresh graduate from Delta State University, Abraka. I studied Pharmacology. It has no similarity with catering, but as a woman I have this passion for production, especially in the food aspect. Though I still love what I studied, because I like the medical profession a lot. But in terms of skill, I like having the food skills because as a woman it would be beneficial to me, in my home and generally,” she enthused.
Inside the room where those training in hair dressing and beauty therapy gathered, Ijeoma Nnadozie,19, busied herself with another trainee she was using for her practical. With the aid of equipment she curled the hair of the trainee to the admiration of others who surrounded her.
“The skills acquisition centre is offering hope. It’s helping Abians to move ahead in life. I am one of them. Before I came here I did not know anything about hair dressing but now I’m a perfect hair stylist. Besides, I can also do a make-up for someone going for a special occasion like wedding or any other glamorous event. When I’m through from this program, I would start my own business because I’m perfect in it,” she said.
She added: The programme is unique. It allows all cadres of people regardless of age, marital status and academic qualification to pursue their interest and be fulfilled in life. It provides employment opportunities for the youths because unemployment is now everywhere in the city and through this initiative everybody can be employed.”
Lady Orji said, her vision was informed by the need to provide opportunities to many jobless youths roaming the streets of Abia.
“When my husband became the governor what we met was worrisome. A number of young people were without jobs and they were everywhere doing nothing. So the skills acquisition centre became an instant thing to begin to reduce unemployment rate. The idea was conceived about three years before my husband was elected as the governor of Abia State. Before then, I was already visiting and rendering assistance to the less privileged in the society including orphanages and other charity organisations. I was doing that because of my passion to uplift the lives of such people, considering the difficulties they undergo,” she explained.
That sets the stage, not only for her to help young people to have a stable future, but for her to leave a legacy behind as first lady. “I want to leave a legacy so that I will be remembered just like my husband who is leaving behind very good legacy in the state. We have capable hands that can run the centre after I must have left office. For example, the Permanent Secretary in Women Affairs and Social Development which is affiliated to my office is a no nonsense woman. When I leave office, the next person that will come in will not allow the project to collapse because the whole programme is targeted at youths, men and women for their empowerment.
She embarked on the construction of the centre where over 3,000 are now being trained in different skills with over 500 trained and graduated so far. The centre which took off in 2010 boasts of well equipped facilities for the training of trainers in the areas of fashion and design, beads making, catering and home management, radio repairs, plumbing, soap and detergent making, photography, ICT, electrical repairs among others
Perhaps what is unique about the programme is the donation of equipment and starts-up grant being given to the graduates. What more, it allows the women to bond with their babies. After going through the period of learning, the graduands are provided with equipment and capital that will enable them stabilised when they are starting out.
According to the consultant to the project, Mrs. Bisola Nwokodo, the ultra-modern Abia State Skills Acquisition Centre has changed the perception of the people about government. She said the centre is offering trainings to unemployed youths and women in various skills and craft with a donation of empowerment items to them at the end of their trainings.
“My own assessment is that it has been a successful program, in the sense that when we started recruiting the participants, I saw what they had. But in the last five months, we have really changed the lives of the participants. Some of them have actually started using the skills to make some money for themselves. So I think it’s been a successful program, so far.
“When we started, we said the minimum was Secondary School Certificate. But some were widows and they need assistance, and maybe their former education was mainly on the streets, so we accepted them and they have coped so well. But really, the minimum requirement is WAEC, which is SS3,” she said.
She agreed with Mrs. Orji on what the skills acquisition centre is meant to achieve. “It is a program to empower the women first and that is the first stage. We are looking into the second phase of it, which would bring in young men. We are all aware of the lack of jobs for the youths, so we are using this program to help them. Even some of the women here are married without jobs. In fact, majority of the women here are married with nothing to do in terms of job and they need to be empowered to be able to assist their families and also to add value to the economy of the state.
“They are free to bring their children. In fact, they only stay here three days a week, and the children are welcome because we don’t want to separate mother and child. We have our control mechanism to keep them at bay when mums are working. We have 300 participants and the age range is from 18 to about 45,” She explained.
She added that the door is not closed on their academic pursuit. “If they still want to further their education, they can do it with ease. The program is only for six months, and they will do an internship of three months. If anyone wants to go back to school, they are free to go back to school. But for me, majority of the students here want to actually use this to work. They do not have the means to further their education.
“They are going to have a test at the end of the 6 months. In fact we’ve started off. The computer class had a test. Participants had to write a test in order for them to do the computer training. But at the end of the program, we are going to conduct a test for all of them, and a certificate would be given to them. Aside from that, they would also be empowered to start their business with equipment and starts-up capital.
Now, the trainees according to one of the instructors in the centre, who identified herself simply as Ngozi, instead of chasing white collar jobs around have been given a chance to acquire skills from professionals, so that they can be independent and also be employers of labour. “This way, they can contribute in boosting the economy, instead of depending on the government,” she enthused.