As someone and an organization that has dedicated her life to work with the vulnerable women and youth in the slums/rural communities, I have wept some nights from certain experiences especially when strategies deployed to improve the lives of these vulnerable groups failed.
I have mentored scores of vulnerable and uneducated girls, some are married today. While working with them, we undertook talent discovery programs that enable my team channel their energy and talent properly to meet with the right opportunity.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in 2020, Schools were closed for months, our target group could not afford devices for online learning for their kids, and the kids went into hawking and some causing nuisance in the neighbourhoods. Our programming model quickly was adjusted to ensure we save and protect the lives of these vulnerable groups.
Without waiting for funding and material support, I and WHAIafrica volunteers put in our resources and taught the less privileged students basic computer skills; programming languages and creative works for free. We also discovered their talents and counselled their parents appropriately. We preached the gospel of STEM/Arts Education and allowed slum-based youths utilize their talents. We’ve assisted some commercialize their talents (see photos of mural paintings and creative costume accessories and do patronize them).
WHAI Resource Center (WRC) is always open for the Youth, and adolescents to walk in at their convenient hours to utilize the resources and keep learning. More so, all the video tutorials for the coding and other skills are installed in every system, so they don't need a teacher to be there always.
On return from a US trip early this year, one of the girl beneficiaries, Chioma, (not real name) ran to me with tears that her parents stopped her from learning digital skills, rather paid 15k for her to learn catering which she has started. I consoled her and asked if I could meet the parents. The parent and I met though the outcome wasn't positive.
Chioma wrote WAEC in 2020 and she is passionate about STEM. She took a teaching job with a local private Nursery school and went for catering training on weekends. I offered her career counselling and mentored her on the enterprise. She is currently producing and selling peanuts and fish pie, saving the profits to buy herself a laptop.
Recently, Chioma said to me, "Since I came from poor slums where most parents are not educated to know the values of technology, I am facing disapproval from my parents to learn digital skills which I love so much. Though my parents have put me off from the tech program, I have made up my mind not to let anyone kill my dreams. I resolve to keep learning the digital skills". Hence, after closing from the school where she teaches, Chioma will sneak into WRC where she learns in secret. She was able to achieve learning coding and other digital skills by drawing up her schedule and programs for each day. Last week, she was excited and showed me the website she is currently building for her first client.
Also got her applied for the Zuri Training Coding Program for girls which she was shortlisted for but due to her parents’ refusal, she dropped out from the program. Other opportunities I reviewed with her to apply, she said her parents won't permit or support her. And she has no laptop at home, so will lead her to WRC to use our facility.
Chioma plans to write JAMB this year and she said to me, "Five years from now, I see myself as a graduate, utilizing my technical IT skills acquired from this program to good use. I visualize establishing a programming company based online that is in rhyme with times. I see myself giving people motivational talks on life, opportunities, challenges and success. About 70% of teens like me from poor homes are not yet exposed to technology due to poverty and unaware of the values. I will teach them because the more I teach, the more I learn too, strengthening my skills."
There are few of them like Chioma we have been mentoring at WHAIafrica. Some got shortlisted to opportunities that will transform their lives but their parents have been the roadblock.
We mentored Blessing (20years old), she applied to the VSO, UK organization, and was shortlisted despite the competiveness and high standard of VSO. It was a good news for everyone. However, getting home to inform the parents, they refused her to participate in the program. The parents called WHAIafrica and appreciated our modest efforts for their kids but, said she hasn't crossed the Onitsha Niger Bridge before, not to talk of going to Abuja for the program, hence I should forget about it. That was how Blessing lost out from that opportunity with all the benefits therein.
The same group of parents would always approach to ask WHAIafrica help fix their high school graduates to job opportunity, and when I recommend they learn the free skills we offer, they will frown and say, they want where they will get financial benefit immediately. We often lose some of them benefitting from our programs because their parents secured them jobs to work as fuel station pump attendants and sales girls in the markets, which are good because they support their families with financial support in the short term but cut them short of their live ambition of acquiring skills in digital technology and its long term benefit them, family and the community..
There are several such experiences in the slums and rural communities where WHAIafrica work in. I have wept, meditated and mourned over them. Such parents remain in my prayers as we keep re-strategizing. This has troubled me for years. I have more to share but can put all here.
When I read the news of African students and youths doing well in STEM with the backing of their parents, I weep for the parents in our slums who are the ones limiting the performance of their kids. This indeed is affecting the growth of tech related enterprises in our clime.
How do we bridge this digital divide? What else can be done about this? Share with us.
©Udegboka Tessie Nkechi