Societies make progress by the conscious efforts of its members at development, both mental as well as physical. The continuous focus on articulating, communicating, connecting, building, and sharing core communal values distinguish communities and determine if they deteriorate, stagnate, or progress.
Just imagine – what would happen if we all took responsibility for our immediate communities and made an effort to right the things around us? What would our society be like if we developed a maintenance culture by following the old saying that “a stitch in time saves nine”? What would happen if we stop complaining and pointing accusing figures and get more involved in our community’s well-being? How would our communities be if we co-operated with our neighbours to do the much within our abilities and then follow up with the individuals, groups, or authorities who can assist to complete the solution?
For the average person in the busy Lagos environment, this is not anywhere near his agenda for today nor is it likely to be for any day for that matter. With the daily challenges of life and living: food, shelter, and clothing; add power, fuel, and school fees; now throw in security and politics? No, in typical fire-fighting warrior psyche, there are many more immediate issues to attend to.
Yet, time management and productivity experts say the effective person is one who knows and acts on the fact that what is important is not necessarily what is most urgent or vice versa. And if there is any urgent and important issue it is our rebuilding the community ethos and values that make life more humanely meaningful as different from the jungle community. This is the inspiration behind the Spirit of Lagos. The Spirit of Lagos is the community development initiative that encourages all of us to actively contribute to the well-being of our Lagos community. It seeks to restore, share and protect the excellence that Lagos has always been associated with.
It was in this light that the Spirit of Lagos created the Students’ Challenge initiative which aims to assist the students take ownership of their community. The Challenge for secondary school students in Lagos is solely for the students to utilize their resourcefulness in identifying challenges, articulating solutions, and finally bringing such solutions to reality. The Challenge encourages the core values of team spirit; civics consciousness; and a focus on solutions while the skills of ingenuity, observation, problem solving, research and presentation are in focus. In the final analyses, the key factor will be the extent to which the students are able to come up with and execute any idea that will improve Lagos: be it in the physical, motivational, mental or any other area of life.
The students constitute their own team either from one school or preferably from across schools within the same area. Ideally, they also select not more than two supervisors who they believe will work best with them to excel. The idea being to ensure that they have total control of the project with the supervisors working in an advisory role.
Six public schools are participating in this year’s Challenge which is the pilot edition. Each represents one of the six educational districts of the education ministry in Lagos. At the presentation event of their identified problems and articulated ideas, the teams displayed an inspiring grasp of the programme’s goals. The issues identified were as diverse as their school locations and communities. Their presentations, unique and varied, impressed members of the panel from various walks of life which included Gbenga Akintola, executive chairman of the Lagos state public works corporation; and Segun Bright, lead developer in Thgirb consulting, and Architect Ayo Ojo, managing partner of the architecture and building firm, Haus limited. Others were Ifeoma Okoye of the public affairs and communications department of the Nigerian bottling company, NBC; Mrs. Babs-Adeyeye, director in the ministry of education in charge of co-curricular activities, and Kelechi Nwosu, president, association of advertising agencies in Nigeria, AAAN.
Some panelists at the Students’ Challenge: Right to left: Kelechi Nwosu, president, AAAPN shaking hands with Ifeoma Okoye of the Nigerian Bottling Company, NBC; and Olaniyi Omotoso, project director, Spirit of Lagos
From Ikorodu, Badagry, Epe, they came. Surulere, Ikeja and Agege were also there. First on was the team from Ajara Senior and Junior Secondary in Badagry whose project focuses on security consciousness. In a dazzling presentation made in both power point and a drama sketch, the students identified the porous nature of their school where undocumented and unapproved characters enter the premises at will, sometimes right into the classrooms. Instances of kidnapping, cult activities, unhappy parents and unapproved food vendors who invade the school with little or no challenge were recounted. Their solution? Control the human traffic by building a reception with communication facilities linking it with all other areas in the school. And wait for the clincher: make the reception out of thatch and bamboo materials. Not done, the students decided they will also earmark each area with signposts such that with coded identity tags, even those approved are limited by colour coding.
Next came Agidingbi Senior Secondary School, Ikeja. Their project was on encouraging the reading culture among students to improve success rates. With the aid of statistics from their research, the team showed what one of the panelists referred to as ‘scary’ failure rates among secondary school students. They reiterated the maxim that if you want to hide anything from the black man, put it in a book because he would never read it! While majority do not read, even the few who read do neither read regularly nor read quality materials. Their motivation was from reading the story of Ben Carson in “Gifted Hands”. Ben’s single parent mother noticed the enormous amount of books in the house where she worked as cleaner and quickly ensured her children read regularly by limiting television time among other steps.
The third team was the team of Ideal Junior and Senior Girls’ Secondary School, and Obele Community Junior and Senior Secondary School. Their research found that of the 94 secondary schools in the Surulere district, not one had a standard usable sports pitch. (Any wonder why we, as a nation, are struggling with producing school athletes as of yore?) They thus, decided to work out enhancing the dilapidated field into a standard or near standard sports pitch. Complete with diagrams and cost implications as well as their execution plans, the presentation was masterly. After the fever pitch excitement at this point, it was time for a short lunch break.
A few minutes later, the room became animated again with the presentation from the Gumptions Team of the Government Junior and Senior Colleges, Ketu in Epe. Here was an eclectic mix of presentation modes starting with a succinct PowerPoint to a video play while physical work was going on in right in the room. Yes, you guessed right, the students intend to build a mini workshop where they will repair bad and broken school furniture. Their acronyms of SOT (Save our treasures) and DIY (Do it yourself) drove home the point that it is our property from our taxes and not government property to be abused. Working with their principal, all desks have been numbered and allocated to students thus enabling easy trace of culprits who will be made to partake in the repairs and ‘counseled’ on SOT and DIY.
SOT (Save our treasures) and DIY (Do it yourself). Students from the Government junior and senior colleges, Epe on repairing school furniture.
Then came the Ifesowapo Aboru Secondary School from Agege with their science inclined ‘waste to wealth’ project. Arising from a recent flooding experience, they were intent on turning the culprit waste of pet bottles and plastics into crude oil. Again, the room erupted. Is this possible? Will it not be too cumbersome? The panelists didn’t think so. Seeking a solution to a germane problem does not mean the first idea will be the best but the journey had begun. If they could as much as show that this idea could work or build a prototype, then society is better for it as alliances with the most appropriate entities could be struck in the ‘gown-town’ global best practice.
The sixth team was the Community Senior Grammar School, Gberigbe, Ikorodu, and their project was wiping out litter in their school. Here again, the problem was clearly isolated and analyzed. A solution was developed and a path to success articulated. This was a bare knuckled approach with all required facets also identified and compiled. The problem of filth, according to the students, is pervasive even with a refuse dump nearby. They decided to ensure that their school environment is hygienic and measured out areas where they would place refuse baskets around the premises.
The obviously impressed panelists applauded the PowerPoint presentations and the innovative community development ideas from the teams. The quality of research and fact-finding as bases for process development was also commended as appropriate in this knowledge age. Some of the panelists indicated they would mentor specific teams by way of contributions or supervision and possibly use that as a way of soliciting help from the public.
In rounding off a lifetime experience, the project coordinator, Mr. Olaniyi Omotoso described as very productive the rounds of visits to each of the schools by the Spirit of Lagos team. He said the quality of critical thinking and process-driven projects were very rewarding to the efforts injected into the Challenge. Commending the state government and the ministry of education for passionately supporting the challenge, Mr. Omotoso said the students will be supported by the Spirit of Lagos and willing individual and corporate citizens of Lagos to bring their project to fruition culminating in the May 27 Citizens’ Day programme.
– Tony Ajero is Communication Consultant to The Spirit of Lagos.