THERE are countless non-governmental organizations in Nigeria giving succor to the less privileged in one way or the other, but none is concerned that many pupils wear tattered uniforms to school because there are poor and cannot afford to buy new ones when the old ones get worn and torn.
Each time the soft-spoken damsel, Amaka Ogbonna, Chief Executive Officer, Amazing Edu-Care Foundation drives home from her office, she is often saddened when she sees hordes of pupils walking to school dressed in ragged uniforms. To her, it is not only sad but very sympathetic seeing public schools pupils, going through elementary education in extremely poor and unhygienic conditions.
“When I see these children in dirty and heavily stitched and patched school uniforms, I normally stop to ask them the reasons. And in most cases, most of them would say, with total honesty you can perceive in their eyes, that they are simply wearing bad uniforms because their parents could not afford the cost of new ones. Besides, most would complain about other problems like hunger and many other basic things they are lacking due to their poor parental background,” laments Amaka.
For Amaka, a native of Igbo-Eze South in Nsukka, Enugu State, the testimonies are pointers to the abject poverty many Nigerians wallow in. Millions are actually living below the one dollar per day expenditure index, the United Nations poverty benchmark for developing countries of the world.
“On hearing their pathetic stories, sometimes, I normally follow some of them home to see their parents in order to confirm the authenticity of their tales. And painfully enough, what I get to see oftentimes at their various homes is more gloomy than the way painted by the children. It is a clear indication that Nigerians are still suffering from extreme poverty”.
From the initial stage, 29-year-old Amaka who was born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, vowed to do whatever she could to ensure that the children were prevented from every possible distraction that could hinder their learning processes. With this determination, she resolved to float Amazing Edu-Care Foundation to specifically provide solution to provide uniforms for indigent pupils.
Interestingly, the first official project of Amazing Edu-Care Foundation was the donation of 1,000 school uniforms to 10 public primary schools in Ajeromi/Ifelodun Local Government Area of Lagos State.
Tagged ‘Operation kit the pupils’, the project was implemented last Thursday with no fewer than 1,000 pupils selected from 10 different public primary schools within the Ajeromi Local Government Area and Ifelodun Local Community Development Area as beneficiaries.
According to Amaka, the gesture was in response to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals requests, which fundamentally sought non-governmental organizations’ contributions to the development and sustainability of universal basic and qualitative education projects.
She said the project, which gulped over N2 million was specifically designed to motivate the downtrodden elementary school pupils who are naturally brilliant but whose parents are poor and cannot afford to buy them new uniforms. The gesture, she said, would encourage the pupils to face their studies.
“Essentially, cultivation of right dress sense amongst our children is part of good manners and home training. Interestingly, the values of good and proper dressing early in life would help in an unquantifiable measure to curb indecent dressing in the society.
“To make this project achievable, we went through a lot of solicitation processes for financial assistance. But unfortunately, we were not lucky enough. I had to sponsor the project almost by myself. The donation was our first official project and it gulped over N2 million.
“So, for the next phase of the project, which has been slated for first quarter of 2010, to be successfully achieved, we need financial assistance to produce quality uniforms for students. Already, we have opened a tailoring outfit where all the uniforms are made. Therefore, help could come through donation of sewing machines, clothing materials and cash to enable us meet the high demand of school uniforms we have discovered in the various schools across the state,” she said.
To ensure the continuation of the project, the Amazing Edu-Care Foundation, under Amaka’s watch, has built a fashion designing factory specifically dedicated to sewing of school uniforms for public primary schools across the country.
“In the factory, we have 15 sewing machines and about 20 workers. We still intend to purchase machines and expand the scope into a big initiative that would also become an avenue for creation of employment opportunities for jobless Nigerians.
“We are already planning for our second project, which is slated for March next year. The intention this time around, is to carry out investigation on another 10 public primary schools within the jurisdiction of, for instance, Ojo Local Government, and see how we can kit the most poorly kitted students there. We have earmarked N5 million for this project and we hope corporate bodies like banks, oil and gas companies and enthusiastic individuals would be interested in this initiative and offer to partner with us,” she added.
Prior to the establishment of her current initiative, Amaka had worked with several companies, including Diamond Bank Plc, as a marketer. As a banker, she reminisced that although the job was competitive, it was at the same time financially rewarding.
After her primary education in Gwagwalada, Abuja, Amaka proceeded to Federal Government College, Gwali, Abuja. From there, she gained admission into the University of Port Harcourt where she studied Economics.
“I served as a Marketing Manager with Ahmed Rufai Nigeria Limited, an umbrella body to Samen Computers and Ahmed Farms in Zamfara State. The company was owned by Ahmed Rufai, the younger brother to the former governor (Yerima). During my service, I was the only corps member in the whole state who was given an apartment, a Toyota Starlet car and security. Interestingly, my NYSC experience really helped in shaping my professional career. This is because I read Economics and as an economist, you can do anything anywhere, anyhow, any day and any time.”
Immediately after her youth service in 2007, Amaka’s first employment opportunity came from Diamond Bank Plc. She said although the job was financially rewarding, she was always feeling unfulfilled. Thus she quit after six months.
Thereafter, she was employed by Franchise Industry Limited as a marketer. The company, which was into importation of tyres was then the sole distributor of Michelin tyre in Nigeria.
Owing to her excellent performance with Franchise Industry Limited, after a year’s stint with the company, Amaka was successfully lured by a Lagos-based communications company which made her its Marketing Manager. She had six subordinates under her.
“But these jobs were not really comfortable for me. Despite getting good position and considerable pay, I didn’t always feel comfortable with the routine engagement. This made me quit midway. However, I feel more comfortable now because what I am doing is what I promised my parents and God that I want to do: take care of less privileged children in the country.
“This idea was developed from my childhood days. When I was a little girl, I remember that children used to flock around me. Sometimes, they would come to our house in Gwagwalada, Abuja and play and even pass the night. Because of this, my mother added a new nomenclature to my name: Amaka-Amazing and my older sister simply called me Amazing”.
For the successful realization of her mission for the less privileged children in the society, her father, Chief Clement Ogbonna, prior his death in 2006, had started to build an orphanage home for her in Gwagwalada, Abuja. But his sudden demise, which she was allegedly fast-tracked by 419ners who swindled him of his N6 million business capital, truncated the completion of the project.
“Because of this temporary setback, I told my mother that for me to continue where my father stopped, I have to briefly deviate into owning an NGO, with specific obligation of taking care of pupils in public primary schools.”
Amaka recalled how disciplined and loving her parents were while she was growing up. As a secondary school girl, she recalled that she was properly brought up and trained on various statutory responsibilities expected of a complete woman. Part of the training, according to her, was the culture of saving, which she was already used to at age 13.
Her parents made her to realize that whatever position one occupies in life was an opportunity which would not last a lifetime. She also remembered that her parents used to tell her and her siblings that whatever amount of help given to a less privileged person, is an act of God.
“Although, my father died midway to the completion of the project mission which he wanted to help me accomplish, I have vowed not to let him down. I have also promised myself and my mother that I would do everything possible within my reach to continue with the mission of kitting the less privileged children, using the school uniform initiative, as the channel.