Peter Uzoho writes that some youths from Makoko, a slum fishing community in Yaba, were trained on modern fish processing by the Economic Empowerment Team of the Carrington Youth Fellowship Initiative, a dynamic youth-based project sponsored by the U.S. Consulate in Lagos
 
 
When the Economic Empowerment Team of the Carrington Youth Fellowship Initiative (CYFI), was sent to Makoko, a slum fishing community in Yaba Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of Lagos State, about three months ago, the four-man team was saddled with the responsibility of finding out what was lacking in the community so as to tailor its project towards tackling it. The team made up of Ms Kate Ekanem (Leader), Mr. David Bamidele, Mr. Best Okoduwa and Mr. Moses Adetosoye, was to select 10 youths in the community through an unbiased screening process, train them on a skill (both in the theoretical and practical), and empower them with tools and finance so that the 10 will in turn empower other people in the community as part of their appreciation and commitment to the project.
“The whole idea of ‘Project Empowered’ (the CYFI project), was to choose youths and send them to communities in Nigeria to create a sustainable environment; create jobs; develop youths to become resourceful in their country,” Ekanem told THISDAY.
After its first visit to the community, the team discovered that fish processing in the community was done in crude, irritating and unproductive methods and this captured its attention. “We discovered that they’re into fishing and fish processing and they use traditional way of smoking fish, so we decided to train them on a more advanced way of drying fish which is to use oven. The project ensures that the youths are trained so that instead of using fire wood or the traditional way of fish processing, they will use a more advanced oven to dry their fish. It is to make sure that while smoking the fish; you don’t have to have smoke all over your eyes which is dangerous to health, and you don’t have to look dirty and irritating,” she explained.
After a successful selection of the 10 persons from about 500 applicants, they were trained on weekly basis by experts in the field on different skills of fish processing and marketing, ranging from the handling of the advanced fish-drying oven to business management; how to sell the product, how to approach people to buy the fish; the use of online and digital marketing method, branding, and even cleanliness in the operation. The passion of the team leader in the project led her into using her outfit, Kate Tales Foundation, to facilitate the coming of the resource persons used during the programme.
 
At the graduation ceremony held recently in the community, the youths were presented with their certificates of participation and were subsequently declared ambassadors of the CYFI project having been certified worthy. The 10 Makoko youths were also given one advanced fish oven each as a supporting tool to begin their businesses in a modern way. They were also promised seed capital which was to be given to them in the shortest possible time.
“These 10 youths were chosen out of about 500 applicants. They were around for the project; for the business management, the marketing, and all the sessions, and they also took part in the practical. So these are people that we believe that will go into Makoko, not only to represent this project, but to empower other people so that there will be an advanced way of processing fish in Makoko in a more safe way. So thank you very much for your time in the project. We’re very proud to have you as our ambassadors and we love you.  We thank the U.S. Consulate for this support to Makoko community and we hope that the project will not just end here. It’s something that when we look back after much time we’ll thank you and we’ll be proud of what you have done here,” Ekanem said.
The project targeted at the youths was not without a long term purpose, as according to the team leader, youths are the future. “They’re the people that we look up to as the future when the parents are no more. They’re the leaders; they’re the people to become senators and governors. So we’re training the youths not because of today but because of the future so that they can stay and stand in and train the other generations yet unborn,” she explained.
While congratulating the beneficiaries for their patience and perseverance; and their thoughtfulness and willingness to become self-employed, one of the partners of the project and indigene of Makoko community, Hon. Abel Enikanologbon, advised them to use the opportunity given them to better the lives of people around them.
“So today CYFI has deemed it fit to empower you; the government of U.S. has thought it wise to empower you and to bring this to your door steps. Please, I want to beg you to use it for the betterment of this country; use this to better the lives of the people around you, and use it to also improve your own standard of living,” Enikanologbong advised.
He pointed out that the reason for embarking on such kind of skills acquisition and empowerment programme was for people to be self-employed and increase their earnings, adding that the effect of the empowerment in the long run was that people in the community would have access to good smoked fish. “Those beneficiaries as well will be able to empower themselves. Whatever they were doing before, with this they can add more value to their lives- they will make more money easily. The community will experience more people coming down to buy smoked fish that is smoke-free and that is well-packaged.
“Also, in the long run, the Lagos State Government will experience another form of empowerment because the 10 beneficiaries are also going to be training people in the community. Each of them will train at least 10 people before the end of the year. We’re going to give them the support. So the effect will be numerous and will be positive,” he noted.
Also speaking on measures to ensure the sustainability of the programme, Enikanologbon assured that all the partners in the project would be calling the beneficiaries on weekly and monthly basis to know how they are doing, their challenges, and proffer possible solutions, stressing that sustainability was one of the core aspects of the project.
“Because we want to see how they’re improving; we want to see how they’re working and how they’re empowering people. So sustainability is one of the core aspects of this programme. They have guarantors and they signed a bond that they are going to work on this project without abandoning it. From experience we’ve seen people abandoning such projects after being empowered but this is going to be different because they’ve been mentored; they’ve been tutored very well; they went into series of training both conventional and digital.” 
In his excitement and appreciation for being a beneficiary in the empowerment programme, Mr. Dairo Peter described the programme as “a life-changing” one. “To me if you’re not here you’ve missed out. I never thought this could be possible. I could remember when I came for the interview and I said many programmes have come and gone. The organisers never kept to their words. But to my surprise today this has become a reality. So I thank CYFI for giving me this opportunity. May God continue to bless you,” Peter said.
Another beneficiary, Ms Ojobo Olufunke Omokesi, said she had gained a lot and can never forget it in a hurry. “We grew up smoking fish in a traditional way and getting dirty. But this is a programme that has taught us how to smoke fish in a modern way. We’ll now be doing it in an advanced way so that when you package your fish it will be distinguished from others. And we learnt other things that can be added to the fish that will make it stand out in the market. I’m just so grateful to God Almighty for enabling me to be part of this programme as one of the beneficiaries. I say thank you to U.S. Embassy, to Hon. Abel Foundation, to Kate Tales Foundation, and every other person that has contributed positively to this programme,” she said.
On his part, Ogodonla Oluwole Austin, who narrated the challenges of the people of the community with respect to fish processing, said they didn’t have the opportunity of drying fish in a modern way, noting that they used to dry fish the way they met it since childhood.
“I thought this would not be possible because since my childhood with my grandmother, I’ve been drying fish using firewood and I thought there would be no other way it could be done differently. So when I saw this one I found out it’s a very unique way of drying fish; that you can dry fish in another way without getting dirty. The way our elders have been doing it here is by wood, by saw dust, and sometime we have challenges in cooking. We have to use hot water to remove smoke and dirt from the fish,” Austin revealed.
He enthused: “With this new way of drying fish and with a well-packaged product that we’re going to have from now in Makoko, I believe people will start patronising us more”. Assuring the benefactor of their ability to deliver on the expectations from them, Austin said: “they should be coming to see what we’re going to do with this oven. With these things I believe Makoko will be a better place where people can come and buy good fish.”