Bringing Hope to Makoko

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Vanessa Obioha writes that the recent visit by Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe Foundation to Makoko, a notable slum in the Yaba area of Lagos State, brought hope to the community

The palace of the Baale Jeje Ayinde in Makoko, a slum nestled in the bustling Yaba area of Lagos State was in a frenzy on a recent afternoon. The excitement was caused by the visit of Herbert Onyewumbu Wigwe Foundation (HOW), a non-profit organisation founded by the Managing Director of Access Bank, Herbert Wigwe.

It was a year ago that the foundation sponsored the building of Hope Center in Makoko, a project spearheaded by the City of David Church in Victoria Island, Lagos. Initially a church, the centre is now a nursery and primary school which offers free education to the poor community. Sharing same compound with the palace, the centre is the only colourful building in the area.

On this particular Workers’ Day afternoon, women of all ages sat expectantly at the open shade of the palace, waiting for the commencement of the scheduled programme. Some came with their children or grandchildren, while others arrived alone or in the company of their husbands. Some of the men gathered were mostly youths, who at such occasions tried to maintain orderliness by ensuring that the touts popularly known as area boys do not disrupt the flow of events.

Upstairs in one of the classrooms, the young students entertained the guests with songs and dances. You could tell from the smiles on their faces that they are enthusiastic about their August visitors which include the wife and children of the founder.

The visit by HOW Foundation called for a celebration, as the Head of Academics, Yemisi Akinode regaled her guests with the success story of the centre. She narrated how Baale Jeje Ayinde was the only ruler who opened his doors to the gospel of Christ and welcomed the idea of a school in the community.

Initially, parents objected to the idea of their wards going to school, being that the impoverished area features an array of artisans — fishermen, carpenters, tailors and others. But with time, they sent their wards to the school, more so when HOW Foundation committed to building a better structure for them. The centre now boasts of eight classrooms, and have over 100 children. Hope Centre is the only school in the area that offers free education. However, the school has only eight teachers.

“It is quite a struggle to have volunteers to teach in the school. They have to endure the stinging smoke from burning firewoods. Some of the students don’t understand English language. We had to employ interpreters to communicate with them,” she said.

Another major challenge of the institution is the furtherance of the students after they complete their primary education. To this aim, friends of the foundation pledged to award secondary school scholarship to the three best graduating students. The institution nevertheless disclosed that they plan to have their own secondary school to enable the students to complete their education.

As part of its core goals to promote education and good health, the foundation gave out education materials to the school. Also in commemoration of the World Malaria Day which is celebrated every April 25, HOW gave out medical materials for preventing and combating the malaria via the project tagged, ‘Give Malaria No Place (GMNP).’

The NGO foundation is set to distribute over 2000 free mosquito nets, 4000 free medicines for preventing and curing of malaria, while also giving sensitisation on the proper use of mosquito nets and proper malaria prevention habits.

The Managing Director and CEO of HOW Foundation, Antonia Ally, pledged further support to the community and especially the Hope Centre. Responding to the kind gesture, Akinode thanked the NGO for the gesture that was extended to the institution, and she used the opportunity to appeal to more spirited Nigerians to come to the aid of the pupils in the school. “Nothing is too small”, she enthused.

The traditional ruler Ayinde while commending the foundation for bringing such initiative to their community, lamented how two lives were recently lost to malaria. He appealed to members of his community to put to practice what they were told about the malaria prevention techniques to avoid subsequent tragedies.

It is not the first time HOW is visiting the community to elevate their squalid state. Having started nine months ago, the foundation is on a mission to eradicate malaria, prostate cancer and promote youth development with leadership and mentorship programs. The aim of the founder is to impact a life positively everyday with the series of seminars and workshops. Hopefully, through this intervention, Makoko will one day be set free from the chains of poverty that has engulfed it for so long. As Akinode aptly pointed out, among the students are the future doctors, engineers and leaders of our beloved country.