Iyabo Ojo sat on a small wooden chair cracking palm kernel nuts with pebbles. The muscles of her neck had tightened in painful revolt. Her palm had lost its softness and become hardened. She looked tired and weak. She had been cracking palm kernel for about six hours without food or water. She usually eats once daily to save money for feeding for the remaining days of the week. Ojo and other women spend 10 weeks to crack a drum full of palm kernel.
The process is crude, time-consuming and stressful. Each day, she goes through a long strain of stress and pain, because of the amount of time given to the job. Whenever the thought of quitting arises, she is overcome by the fear of the many mouths to feed. This is the harsh reality that confronts her daily. She uses the meagre proceeds realised after sales to support her family.
Ojo and her children live in the sleepy village of Itamarun in Ibeju-Lekki Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of Lagos State. These women have become accustomed to cracking palm kernel with pebbles and stones for years. None of them has been exposed to the use of machines to make the process faster and more efficient. They have always nurtured the hope that something would be developed to improve the process someday.
However, in 2015, when Rotary Club of Lagos (RCL) visited the community, their hearts were moved with pity. They saw first-hand the strenuous process women have to go through to crack a drum full of palm kernel.
To reduce their sufferings, RCL decided to provide the women with modernised cracking machine. This has helped to bring efficiency in their job and reduced stress. What took them 10 weeks, now takes few hours to crack. Through this gesture, they have succeeded in bringing restoration and healing to a community broken down by poverty.
The palm kernel business is a striving trade for women in the community. It is fully organised, though the operational process is still very crude and strenuous. Many have made fortunes from it, while others are still struggling to make a living with it.
The community is home to peasant farmers, traders, artisans and crafts men. For 10 years, the community has been without electricity. Like a forgotten city, the community has been through many years of neglect. There is palpable absence of basic social amenities. In the face of all these, the indigenes have always found a way to live happily and breakthrough the odds of life.
In a socio-centric initiative, RCL under the leadership of the immediate past president, Mrs. Modupe Sasore, embarked on several initiatives to improve the living standard of the community. RCL adopted the community and carried out some service projects to enhance its economic and social development as well as create opportunities for the productive workforce.
They also strengthened local entrepreneurs and community leaders, particularly women. On March 22, the Club supplied and inaugurated solar energy street lights in the village. The expectation is that the solar light would improve the quality of life of the villagers especially, the students. On the day of inauguration, the overjoyed students carried placards with some of the inscriptions reading: ‘It will enable us read at night’; ‘RCL we love you’ and others.
RCL shared expertise with the community leaders to make sure the project not only succeeded, but sustainable. They also extended the micro-credit loans to the cooperative traders of the village to support their businesses. They disbursed micro-credit loans to 30 women on this day, March 22, 2017.
The RCL also executed mini-water projects in the community. The borehole is accompanied with water treatment and was piped to five locations in the community. This project provides clean and drinkable water required for healthy and hygienic people in the community.
As part of its drive to improve the reading culture amongst primary school pupils in public schools, RCL also embarked on the Reading Programme (READ Project), which is the Star Project for the Rotary Year. The objective was to highlight and direct awareness to the decline, which they observed in the reading culture in school pupils especially, in public schools, and address the challenge.
Consequent upon this, RCL partnered Quramo Publishing Company, which contributed immensely to the project. The programme was directed at primary schools to advocate the importance of reading and promoting a reading culture that should not be limited to school textbooks only.
The concept adopted was 10 weeks, 10 schools and 10 Local Government Areas. Through this method, they worked with Local Government Education Authorities, the teachers, pupils and the different categories of readers to drive home their objective.
In her remarks, Sasore said: “We faced some challenges of logistics, obtaining approvals from schools, because many of the schools were public and also private. We didn’t just want to do it in private schools only. Though we got their cooperation, things were delayed.
“The project was well applauded at every school they visited. What was more comforting, were the remarks from the education authorities, which acknowledged that there was a decline in reading culture. Both the education authorities and school managers appealed for continuity and expansion of the programme to every school in the state. Presently, the programme has been carried out in 11 schools, seven of which are public primary schools, and the grand finale of the project was held on 29, June 2017.”
Another academic project which the club embarked on was the Janyaa-Lab-in-a-Box project. The project was aimed at improving students in Junior Secondary School in science and mathematics. It was introduced to RCL by Rtn. Potluri from a Rotary Club in India, but currently working in Nigeria.
He linked RCL to Janyaa Organisation, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) in India that is promoting this great idea of simplifying science and mathematics, to make it a hands-on learning by students, to ignite their curiosity in learning and apply this learning in their daily life.
This programme is currently being run in 680 schools in India. Pilot projects are being run in USA and Jamaica. In order to execute this, they visited the office of Lagos State Deputy Governor to obtain the state government’s approval on September 6, 2016 to introduce the programme in State Schools and began with a pilot project at Eko Akete Junior Secondary School, Lagos. The second kit was inaugurated and handed over to Agbowa Ikosi Junior Secondary Schools in Epe Division on 9 May 2017.
In a bid to address maternal health, RCL purchased five phototherapy machines and donated it to four state hospitals, where they had observed inadequacy of equipment for the care of the neonates. Two machines were donated to Island Maternity Hospital, while one machine was given to Massey Hospital. The General Hospitals in Ikorodu and Ajeromi got one machine each. This gesture is expected to improve child health, particularly neonates, who may not have survived without the support of the machines.
“In every area, it has been success stories. In Rotary generally, each president usually has their project focus for a particular tenure. But there are some projects that are there nationally and internationally, which every club has to key into such as polio-plus. It is a national project which every club gets to participate in to eradicate polio. The current president said he hopes to continue on Janyaa and READ Projects.
“Talking about if the state government appreciates what we have done. I think that sounds a bit political. We are not interested in government appreciating our efforts. Rather, our goal is to impact the community. 11 schools appreciated our efforts in the READ Project
“Our drive is getting a presidential citation from Rotary International. Every year, the President of Rotary International sets out goals that must be met in the six focus areas by Presidents at Club level in all districts. When the goal is met, the International Rotary President gives citation certificate to the club involved. The RCL under my leadership got the presidential citation,” she said.