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Lafarge Africa: Educating Cross River Youths for Greater Future
Bassey Inyang writes that in accordance with its corporate social responsibility, Lafarge Africa is making serious contributions to the education sector in Cross River
The importance of education to the overall development of the human person and society cannot be overemphasised. For example, the late Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” In a similar breath, former US President Barack Obama said, “In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a prerequisite.”
Mandela’s and Obama’s statements underscored the holistic essence of education.
The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo knew that education was invaluable in total development. He introduced free education in the then-Old Western Region between 1954 and 1962 during his time as the premier, with enduring benefits. Successive local, state and federal governments have striven to copy that template. However, amidst competing budgetary demands, these efforts by governments are grossly inadequate.
Over the years, the federal and state governments have demonstrated their incapability, whether deliberately or otherwise, to adequately finance their respective education sectors by not setting aside at least 20 per cent of their annual budget for the sector as recommended by United Nations Education Cultural and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO).
Therefore, governments at all levels have solicited the support of the private sector in funding education. Long before the appeal, Lafarge Africa had ventured to contribute, even more than its quota, to the development of education in various parts of the country where it has stakes.
The company’s massive contribution to the education sector abounds in its host communities in Cross River State, where the cement manufacturer has its factory in Mfamosing, Akamkpa council area.
Recently, the company’s production manager at the Mfamosing Plant, Mrs Idara Uyok, disclosed that as part of its CSR, it had provided educational support to 130 scholars in secondary and tertiary institutions in the state.
GEDE Foundation is the education consultant to Lafarge Africa on implementing the company’s educational support programmes in its host communities in Cross River.
A representative of the foundation, Mr John Bassey, told THISDAY about some aspects of the educational support programme.
“I work with GEDE Foundation as a volunteer. We facilitate the educational sector of Lafarge in terms of CSR in the communities. We handle the payment of fees for students in the schools in our host communities, and we also provide them with study materials like textbooks and exercise books,” said Bassey. “I think Lafarge is doing very, very well. They have been able to train a lot of students. Like in the last WAEC, we have our scholarship student as one of the best with 5 As.”
Bassey said GEDE ensures that the students maintain a high standard of performance in their academics by doing regular checks and follow-ups on the general performances in their various schools.
Lafarge Africa scholarship scheme, otherwise tagged ‘Educational Support’, provides N100,000 with every session to each benefiting student across its 17 host communities, mostly in the Southern senatorial district of the state.
Aside from the cash paid directly to the beneficiaries, Lafarge Africa has renovated schools, built additional blocks, staff quarters, and modern toilet facilities, and provided boreholes as a source of clean water in most schools. It also supplied uniforms, sandals, books, and desks to the schools based on their demands without charge.
The Chairman of the Community Relations Committee (CRC) of Lafarge Host Communities, Ntufam Alphonsus Bassey, who hails from Mbobi Clan in Akampka LGA, said, “Every year, our children who are in secondary schools, about 10 of them, are given what we call educational support. Lafarge Africa pays their school fees, gives them uniforms, and buys books. They call the programme ‘back-to-school’. They give educational support to our children who are schooling at the University of Calabar, Cross River State University, College of Education Akampka, and other tertiary institutions. At the moment, we have about four of them that they are supporting.”
THISDAY visited some schools in Calabar and the rural communities to check the veracity of these claims.
At the West African Peoples Institute (WAPI), located in Calabar Municipality, Master Nisi Thomas Agida, a senior secondary three (SS3) student and one of the beneficiaries of the Lafarge Africa scholarship programme, told THISDAY, “It has been very interesting and Lafarge has really helped me in particular because my parents were having very serious problems in paying my school fees. So, I am thanking Lafarge for everything they have done for me. I promise Lafarge that I will be successful in my WAEC, NECO, and JAMB.”
Miss Blessing Edet Bassey, who hails from Essien Town in Calabar Municipality, added, “I am in JS3. I was very happy the first day they came to pay my school fees. My parents were happy too. My father is very happy that his child is among those that got a scholarship from Lafarge.
Blessing Eyamba Etim from the Akpabuyo community, a JS3 student of WAPI, also commended the company’s initiatives.
At Government Secondary School, Akansoko, Akpabuyo council area, some students in the school, Miss Racheal Elijah, Miss Happiness Victor Asuquo, Miss Idorenyin Emmanuel Cletus, Miss Happiness Etim Essien, Miss Esther Bassey Sunday, and Master Elkanah Manasseh Jonah, all beneficiaries of the Lafarge Africa educational support lauded the company’s programme.
Elijah said, “I am in JSS 2. I am so happy to be on a scholarship because it is not easy for someone to send another person to school. I promise that I will try as much as possible to be intelligent and also grow into a responsible citizen to support others. I hope to study medicine. I thank Lafarge very much for giving me this opportunity.”
Jonah, an SS2 male student said, “I thank Lafarge for all they have done for us because it is not easy to pay school fees, even if it is done in instalments every term. They have helped me and helped my mother in paying my fees. I am doing well in school now, more than before, because my mind is settled.”
Government Secondary School, Akwa Ikot Effanga, bears a glaring testimony of Lafarge Africa’s intervention with the complete renovation of the entire classroom blocks, thus providing the school with the necessary and conducive ambience for teaching and learning.
The Principal, Lady Asangusung Mediatrix Ujor, said aside from the renovation, the cement company built and equipped a new lodge for NYSC members who form a large chunk of the teachers’ cadre in the school. She commended Lafarge Africa for supplying the school with plenty of desks, books, and uniforms and awarding scholarships to students.
However, she urged the company to ensure that school authorities are also consulted alongside the community in the selection of beneficiaries of the educational support initiative.
Umoh Edet Okon, an SS2 female student, and Joseph Okon Effiong of the same class said they are enjoying Lafarge Africa’s scholarship.
“The scholarship has challenged me to study more. I know all of us under scholarship said we cannot disappoint Lafarge and our parents, and we cannot joke with our future, so we must build it now. We thank God that Lafarge is helping us to build our tomorrow,” stated Umoh.
Realising the importance of early childhood education, and the essence of building their education on a solid foundation, Lafarge Africa also provided educational support to primary schools in its catchment areas. A typical example of the company’s intervention at this critical stage of educational development is Government Primary School, Abiati, Akamkpa Local Government Area.
Head Teacher of the primary school, Mr Oyere Alfred Ujong, told THISDAY that the school had virtually collapsed and was going into extinction when Lafarge Africa got information about its sorry state and promptly responded.
He said the company intervened comprehensively and brought the school back to life.
“I came here some years ago and saw the school. It was almost buried. Thank God Lafarge came with their provision of textbooks, uniforms, sandals, and desks. Even this year, they have sent in National Youth Service Corps members,” said Ujong.
Ujong added, “It is an old school established in 1993. It got dilapidated, but since Lafarge renovated it, it has encouraged parents to register their children. The cry was that teachers were leaving here. I didn’t meet up to 20 children in this school, but by now, I can boast of 70 pupils because of the efforts of Lafarge.”
In the school, Ezie Florence Oghogho, NYSC member and a Delta State Polytechnic graduate, said she was posted to the school at the instance of Lafarge Africa.
“Almost every day, parents bring in more children to be registered because there are more teachers to teach them and more classrooms that can accommodate the growing number of children coming,” she said.
Lafarge Africa’s support is wider than public schools as private schools and their students are accommodated, provided for, and catered for.
A good example is Immaculate Conception Secondary School, Mfamosing, Akamkpa LGA, a private academic institution.
The school’s principal, Sir James N. Achu (KSM), told THISDAY about the support received from Lafarge Africa.
Achu said, “They have given us desks which have really helped in teaching and learning. They have equally given nine students scholarships. They have been supporting us by posting NYSC members to help the students in the teaching and learning process.”
The principal said Lafarge has even gone a step further outside the classroom by providing mentorship to the students, especially the female students who are prone to vulnerabilities in rural settings.
“They come in for sensitisation, especially for female students, so that they can put more effort. They bring in female engineers to showcase them and mentor the students to really queue in and take their studies seriously; that what a man can do, a woman can do better if given the opportunity,” Achu added. “The sensitisation is in the right direction, particularly in the rural areas, so that they will take their studies seriously and know that they can become professionals in future. So we commend Lafarge in that aspect. Lafarge also takes the students out of here to events in Calabar and other places just to expose them and give them more education.”
Achu, however, requested more support from the benevolence of the giant cement manufacturing company.