Street Urchins - the Street University to the Rescue
Lagos — Most busy streets in Nigerian cities are littered with children of school age, able bodied-adults, disabled people and beggars. What comes to one's mind is the job of these sets of individuals on the roads meant for transportation of goods and services.
The younger ones among them are either found cleaning the screens of automobiles especially when held in traffic go-slow even when they are not asked to do so, or hawking drinks, wares or other products. Group of beggars, regardless of age, are basically begging for alms to sustain their lives, partly because there is nobody to cater for them or because they are disabled. The last group, which apparently is the most dangerous, roams round the streets with the intention of stealing money or jewelries. They are popularly called 'pick-pockets.'
Virtually all these groups of people live under pedestrian bridges and raise their families there. Government has made several attempts to relocate or move them off the streets but these have never been absolutely successful.
Recently, a private organisation has joined the campaign against the continuous stay of these boys and girls on the streets.
Street University Project, based in Lagos, has come up with an idea to make the street urchins more responsible by giving them different kinds of vocational training, which will enhance their productivity.
The wise says, "Experience is the best teacher." The facilitator/founder of the Street University, Helen Sosu-Richmen, who also claimed to be a product of slum, told nfc that she decided to go on this mission as her own contribution to making Nigeria a better place to be, since she was also bred in the slum.
"I came from the slum and I know what it means to experience rejection and affliction. This project has come to stay. My aim is to try my best to make life comfortable for those people from the slum, by moving them from the street to their desired destiny as God helps me," she said.
At a recent stakeholder meeting of the Street University Project, where the newly enrolled students of the university, their lecturers and members of the Nigerian media were represented, one of the professors of the institution, Zeb Ejiro, a foremost Nigerian film producer, declared that there must be a history behind everyman, regardless of ones parental background and location.
"You can be whatever you want to be in life. It is a matter of determination. If you want to become Nigeria's president or governor, for instance, put the picture at the back of your mind and work towards it. You will get it," he said.
Ejiro told the audience that when he was young, he made up his mind that he was going to be one of the best film producers in the world and that because of his strong determination, regardless of his location or background, he has achieved it today.
"I told myself while in secondary school that I didn't want to be an actor but one of the greatest film producers. You need to hear my story. But I made it at last."
Ejiro emphasised that great achievers are sustained by their foci and undaunted determinations. He gave an instance of the current president of the United States of America, Barrack Obama, that he was able to become what he is today because "he knew what he wanted and he has achieved it."
Telling the story of his life to encourage the newly enrolled students of the Street University, Ejiro said he had no opportunity to attend tertiary institution despite the fact that he passed all relevant papers for admission. "I did not allow this obstacle to change my decision."
Somewhere along the line, Ejiro said he had the opportunity to present his scripts but was always facing oppositions and rejections. "Despite all these attempts, I forged ahead," he said, adding that, "my first job, Tears of Joy, eventually came out and I felt on top of the whole world."
Ejiro also told the audience that he spent the sum of N2500 to shoot his popular artwork, Ripples even at the point of frustration. Among other things, he advised the students to forget about their background and slum experience, and have a focus for their future, pursue it and work hard to achieve it. He stressed the need to persevere and drop the idea of making money through stealing or tricks as he maintained that nemesis would always catch up with evildoers.
"I smuggled my film into the NTA station where an officer agreed to help me to do some editing. The head of that department was going out for a meeting. Unfortunately, he forgot a document and came back and met my film displayed. He inquired for who the owner of the film was. The officer reluctantly told him it was I, for fear of being punished since he was not formally informed. That was how the boss called an emergency meeting of all the directors including advertisement and marketing over my film. This was how my dream was actualised and my film was accepted. All the corporate organisations that I had been begging for sponsorship started struggling to sponsor the soap opera," he said.
Vice Chancellor of The Street University and the managing director of Digiprints International Limited, Talal Wehbe, told the gathering that he developed passion in partnering with the founder of the Street University because he believed in liberation and freedom. "I have a very tight schedule but I decided to allow this because I know somebody somewhere there, will benefit from it and will be liberated," he said.
Among other things, Wehbe said the goal of the university is to raise awareness among Nigerian youth that they can make it without stealing or cutting corners.
Addressing the gathering, Ayo Salvador, the Dean of the university, declared that the future of Nigeria is in the hand of Nigerians especially the youth. She believed that if the youth folks can be properly monitored, there is a great hope for Nigeria. "If all the street boys vacate the street, you will have rest of mind and drive your cars leisurely without much apprehension. When you drive on Lagos roads, for instance, you remove all your bangles and jewelries until you get to your various homes successfully. Your handsets must be kept under your seat or somewhere that is safe otherwise you are taking a risk. This will soon become history with the inception of Street University."
What the organisers intended to do is to set up a system where students are sent on vocational seminars, to learn how to become self-employed in arts and related professions.
According to the management of the institution, tuition is free and there is chance for good employment for their graduates at the end of their training.
The first success of the project was the publication of a poetry book, entitled The Street University by the founder, Sosu-Richmen. Among other things, she expressed her positive believe about life outside slum. She stressed that living in the slum is not the end of life and that you are destined to be what you want to be, provided you don't write yourself off.
There are about 270 students that have been newly enrolled but the Vice Chancellor assured that the university has facilities for about 2000 students. One of the students that spoke with Daily Independent explained how he came across the university.
"My uncle sent me on an errand and I came across the handbill of the university in the bus I boarded. Though I didn't believe there could be such opportunity in Nigeria. Everything is free except my transport fare from my house to the centre. I never knew how to operate computers before I joined the school but today I can. I have a great vision for my future and I know that I can make it," he said.
The stakeholders' meeting was concluded with a poetry/drama sketch where a young lady found on the street by a money bag was mistaken for a harlot. To his amazement, the lady declared how her life has been translated with her contact with the Street University.
It would be recalled that Helen-Sosu Richmen was the former head, Creative Department of New Wave Production's Charly Boy Show. She was a model, actress and author. She edited Charly Boy's book entitled My Private Part.