Sisters Unite for Street Children
By Hilda Okoisor, 05.10.2007
Ibrahim Tijani, a young boy of 17 said that he used to sleep under the bridge in Oshodi sometimes under a car or a bus or inside a dry gutter. He does not know his parents as he was left alone by his parents when he was three years old.
He started attending the Foutain of Life Church, Oshodi where they took a particular interest in him because they thought he was well behaved. He worshipped with them every time especially on Fridays for the night vigils and Sundays for worship. They accomodated him and promised to help him settle down. Eventually, after two years of which he did not run away, a member of the church took him to the Child Life Line Centre, Ibeshe vilage, Ikorodu where he currently resides. Since he is an old boy, he is learning the art of welding while the Centre takes care of his other needs.
Seun Ajayi, also 17 years old said that he used to stay with his mother on Lagos Island, but at the age of seven she decided that she wanted him to go live with his father at Yaba which he did not like.
He said he ran away from his father’s house after about four years and went back to Lagos Island where he started sleeping under the bridge. When there was a big fight on the Island then, a lot of people were killed. This, he said, made him run back to Yaba where he started hanging around again. It was from there he decided to go to CLL. He went to the executive director’s house and was assured of help. All these, he said, happened when he was taking his junior school certificate exams, at the time he was 11.
Since then, he said, he has been staying at the CLL centre and is currently in his Senior Secondary class one, in Saint Anthony School.
Sadiq Jimoh, is 11 years old and Israel Rasheed is 13 years old both in primary three at the Gbelefun Primary School. They were both found at the Kuramo Beach in 2005.
These boys all have one thing in common, they were all found on the street. The phenomenon of street children in Nigeria results mainly from family breakdown which could be as a result of marital problems or instability in the home, poverty, hunger, insecurity, abuse and violence from parents, displacement caused by clashes in the community, insufficient parental care, death of one or both parents, inadequate family income, unemployment of one or both parents, lack of (or limited) opportunities in education, abandonment by parents, housing difficulties, amongst others.
In an increasingly individualistic society, such children quickly learn to survive on their own and in the process are exploited through child labour and trafficking. Many take to the streets for refuge.
Street children are found in large numbers in urban and rural areas. They work as vendors or hawkers, beggars, shoe shiners, car washers, head-loaders, scavengers and bus conductors. The majority are boys but there are a few girls among them.
The situation of the street children is indeed pitiable but several non-governmental organisations have shown interest in rescuing, rehabilitating and returning street children and giving them the chance for a better life.
One of such NGOs is the CLL, a voluntary , charitable organisation working for the care for education and rehabilitation of street children in Lagos. According to James Efekodo, President, CLL, basically, the place is where they are trying to take care of one of the problems facing the country today. This, he said, is taking care of boys and girls who are very vulnerable and who for one reason or the other left their homes and who are now living very rough lives in the streets. "Every child who comes in here, we register them with the police and they voluntarily come here.This unit which is the first of its type is trying to take care of the boys from about age seven to 18.
"This is a home for street boys who have decided to settle down so our work is to help them settle down and while they are here, we give them all we are able to give them within our limitations", he said.
Thus, as a person’s limitation can be stretched thus far, so also can an organisation’s. Therefore, a group known as the Sisters Unite For Children decided to come to the aid of the centre by forming a partnership with them.
They are a group of friends and professionals who have distinguished themselves in their various fields of endeavour cutting across banking, finance, pharmacy, education, diplomatic corp, public services etc. What binds them together is the burden and passion they share towards the rescue and rehabilitation of street children.
Mrs. Nkeiruka Obi, the founder of the group stated that they have considered the wide spread of child abuse in the society and that the street chidren phenomenon is gradually assuming alarming proportions. "The immediate cause of this phenomenon appears to be deeply entrenched poverty which defines lives of the vast majority of Nigerians as well as family broken homes. It is very worrisome to see this cruelty everyday. Some of these children have no homes. They live under pedestrian bridges, it is indeed a pathetic sight. Their life is hazardous and there is no way they could escape from the streets. ‘Their only hope is education", she said.
Our children, she added, are our future. "They are the hope of our existence. And if this decadence is not tackled head on and urgently, our hope is destroyed and generations yet unborn would be doomed", he said.
Consequently, Obi said, there is an urgent need for greater public enlightenment on the centres of the street children phenomenon. Also, counselling on parenting, support and encouragement for NGOs and community-based organisations to initiate and sustain action to help families in distress whose children are potential victims of destitution is needed.
"We want to support this NGO by way of rehabilitating at least 10 indigent street children. We have a projected cost of N200,000 per month, which is N2.4m yearly for their education, general maintenance and welfare.
"We intend to sustain this sponsorship for the next 6 years and this would cost about N14.4m. We wish to assist CLL in actualising their dreams of establishing residential reception/drop in centres for street children through out Lagos through the provision of buildings or land on which to build", she stated.
In doing this, the group represented by 10 of its members went on a visit to the centre recently. The children were paired according to their classes and each sister was asked to be a foster mother to them. The children were estastic as they started telling their ‘mothers’ what they wanted.
For instance, Mrs Chioma Onwuechekwa’s ‘children’ told her plainly that they wanted to change their schools to a private school. The children, Jimoh and Rasheed both of the Gbelefun Primary School said that they did not like their school because the other children in the school called them names for staying at the centre. Also they said that they were not taught anything at their school.
On her reason for joining the group, Nwucheka said that her friend introduced her to the group. According to her, this is something she has always wanted to do because she believes in the cause. "I have a special place for children in my heart and I believe that so many of us are carried away by day to day activities that we don’t know that people exist that need the little things in life that we take for granted, so this gives me so much fulfillment", she said..
On her future plans for ‘her children’ she said that they are young boys so there is hope since these are their formative years. "There is a vacuum and so we need to fill it with the right values and beliefs. This is for them to know that whatever they have been through, they should bear in mind that they can succeed, also t
hat they should have confidence in themselves despite where they are coming from", she said.
The other children, each told their foster mothers that they needed shoes and other things too.