Realising the decline in the reading culture among youths, especially in the public secondary schools in Nigeria and the African continent as a whole, United Bank for Africa (UBA) Foundation launched the project ‘Read Africa’ and complements it with a national essay competition to support indigent scholars, writes AdeolaAkinremi
In his mind, “time and bad conditions do not favour beauty.” NgugiwaThiong’o, the renowned Kenya author, saw the future from the past and he captured it. His book ‘Weep Not Child’ has those lines. Ngugi told a tale of a family’s struggle to acquire formal education in a short paragraph.
That struggle has remained. It is a struggle young people in Nigeria’s public secondary schools and their counterparts elsewhere in Africa are facing; low self-esteem, inadequate access to reading books, worn to shreds uniforms and decrepit classrooms; all combined not to favour the beauty of the young people.
But, a charity, United Bank for Africa (UBA) Foundation says it’s unacceptable for kids in the public schools to lose their geniuses to the strait economic situation in the country, and now the foundation is going back into the past to reconnect the future.
This November, UBA Foundation will continue its tour of hope to the children of the poor in Nigeria’s public secondary schools accessing about 100 schools across the country. It is just one message behind the idea: It is that a child born of poor parentage can live a normal life, achieve his dream and lift others out of the shackles of poverty.
The choice of ‘Weep Not Child’ as a book being given to the students to stimulate reading culture is apt. It is the story behind the title. It offers hope to the battered. It is a message of love to the forgotten. Experts say public schools in Nigeria have been weakened, so also are the students.
Now, the UBA Foundation says it will line-up its best who have raised the bar in their chosen field, but from a background as poor as that of the students to stand in the front of the students for a mirror effect into their own future.
According to the charity’s Managing Director, Ms. IjeomaAso, the vision of UBA’s Foundation is to stamp out illiteracy, while boosting the morale of the young people to be great in life.
The ‘Read Africa’ project, which involves the procurement of textbooks by the Foundation, physical distribution of the books and mentoring of secondary school children in reading sessions, saw the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of UBA, Phillips Oduoza flagging off the project at Kings College, while other executives of the bank across Africa took turn to also participate in its first phase.
“We wanted to demonstrate to the children that these executives, GMD/CEO, DMD, EDs, regional bank heads, non-executive directors, country CEOs were once like them and went through secondary schools; that the fact that they are successful today attests to the fact that they took reading seriously. Imagine you are 15 and the GMD of one of Africa’s largest banks came to give you a talk about reading and shared with you some of his experiences as a 15-year-old. This would definitely linger in your memory for a very long time,” Aso stated.
She explained that the Foundation would also get some notable Nigerian role models to accompany its executives when visiting schools. The idea is to further open this initiative that has been so well received.
According to her, “UBA Foundation’s ‘Read Africa’ is an initiative which seeks to rekindle the dwindling reading culture amongst African youths. The senior secondary school children received the book “Purple Hibiscus” by ChimamandaAdichie and the junior secondary school students were given “Out of his mind” written by BayoAdebowale. During the reading sessions, pupils were given talks on the importance of reading.
In turning pages to the future, UBA Foundation is complementing the free book distribution and mentoring programme with annual National Essay competition to touch the lives of some Nigerian students and it has earmarked N2, 250, 000.00 to provide prize for three winners of the essay competition.
Apart from laptop gifts, the overall winner, 1st and 2nd runners up will get N1,000,000, N750,000.00, N500,000.00 respectively. Last year, Miss EnitanAmodu from the University of Lagos International School, Akoka, Lagos, emerged the overall winner, getting an educational grant of one million naira.
The essay competition is running concurrently with the ‘Read Africa’ project of the Foundation, which was flagged off recently by waThiong’o.
According to Aso, “We needed to come up with something that can test the writing skills and creative ability of senior secondary school children in Nigeria. So, we came up with the National Essay Competition among senior secondary school children.”
Last year, the Foundation says it received over a 1,500 entries, which had to be narrowed down to 12 finalists and later on to three finalists. The three winners received educational grants from the Foundation to study in any university of their choice in Africa. Miss EnitanAmodu from International School, Lagos won the first price. In its second phase the essay competition is expected to close on 2nd November.
At Lagos Baptist Academy, a public Secondary School where waThiongo visited in June this year to read to the students, it was a memorable day as students overwhelmed with joy recount their experience.
“It’s something I will never forget and this visit to our school by Mentors has changed my life already. I will be where they are in the future I believe,” said AdeyinkaKazeem, a student of the Academy.
According to an educationist, Mr. Raphel King, who lauded the Foundation’s efforts aimed at changing the status quo in Nigerian public secondary schools, “such step will help students in our public secondary schools to compete favourably well with the children of the rich in academic prowess with utmost self confidence as perception change from one of a stereotype or negative stories of academic learning to a positive outlook on the side of the students.”
King, who described the Africa Read programme as a bold step in social support for Nigerian education sector said, “the public School have been so neglected that the children in those schools now look down on themselves.
They have no good classrooms and that clearly tells anyone that having a library or books to stimulate the culture of reading will be a big boost to public secondary education in Nigeria.”