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After PUNCH report, NGO visits Lagos slum, gifts indigent mums, children shoes, clothes, other items

As a van stuffed with toys, bags of rice, garri, eggs and other food items including clothes approached Boola, a slum area near Magodo in the Ikosi-Isheri Local Council Development Area, children erupted in elation and swarmed around the vehicle jumping.

It was a hot Thursday afternoon, two days to the New Year. A few adults lurked around what looked like a sidewalk, wondering about what was going on until our correspondent alighted from the vehicle to address them. They were told the mission of the visitors who bore gifts like a Father Christmas for them to have a beautiful New Year after Saturday PUNCH report of their plights on December 25.

Saturday PUNCH had reported the situation at Boola in its Christmas edition where the indigent children and parents said they had no idea what it meant to celebrate the yuletide as it was like any other day to them.

“I don’t know what it means to have a Christmas dress. My dad has never bought one for me since I was born,” Miracle Nana, a child who lives with his four siblings, pregnant mother and expatriate father, had told this reporter on his first visit.

He had not changed much. He wore the same attire he had on at the time. This time, he had no footwear. He waddled from side to side, approaching the van which had halted in front of an open field filled with rubbish and dry mud.

Miracle is one of the many kids who lived in Boola. A rough headcount by Saturday PUNCH put the number of the inhabitants at nearly 1500 children who either had stopped schooling or combined schooling with begging to make ends meet.

Another boy who is Miracle’s peer had told our correspondent that he had to beg daily to support his parents who had nothing to do after they were allegedly evicted from the Jakande Market and could not afford to rent a shop.

Asked why he got nothing for Christmas, he said, “My father is not around. I live with my mother. She did not buy us anything. I didn’t even ask her for anything because I know she does not have money. I beg for alms on the streets when I return from school so that I can eat.“

This is the daily living of most children in the community. It’s the harsh realities they have to face early in life.

For a 17-year-old pupil, Yusuf Nurudeen, born and raised in the Boola by his mother, Jemilah, life has not been easy and he has no expectation for the yuletide season.

“To be honest, I don’t expect anything. I just turned 18. If I tell you that since I was born my parents have never bought me any new clothes or anything to celebrate the season, will you believe it? To eat is even a problem,” he said.

Yusuf said he started working at age eight in a block factory where he helped molders to fetch water for a payment of between N30 and N50.

“I have always had to work all my life. My mother, as you can see, is poor. My dad is late. He died over six years ago. The house we were living in before down the road caught on fire and we lost everything we worked for. My mother took us to her brother’s house to stay with him and his family of four. It is so discomforting so I have to always work because I don’t want to suffer the way my mother is suffering now when I grow up,” he added.

Recounting to our correspondent how he manages to go to school despite the work, he said, “I go to school late most times, because I now work as a barber. Sometimes, at 10 pm, I am still at the shop working. By the time I get home, I am already too tired to do anything. I will just sleep. The next day, I would wake up late. Even at school, I cannot concentrate because I am either hungry or distracted. I just want the school to close quickly so I can go and hustle.”

Union of different tribes

Boola mirrored the Nigerian situation with an array of people of different tribes. The area, fenced off northwards from the highbrow Magodo Phase 1 estate, Boola does not seem to have any government presence save for a street sign: ‘Ikuemonisan Str. Order by IILCDA.’

Findings by our correspondent showed that the residents relocated to the neighbourhood and had to either make their own makeshift houses after meeting with the landowners or stay in an already built house for N30, 000 a year.

On entering the community, one would see a community of mechanics and scavengers predominantly from the North. Further down, there were people from several southern states. There were Igbo and Yoruba as well living together with a common goal in mind – how to leave the area for a much better life.

Hope in despair

Other children and adults had also begun to advance towards the vehicle and soon a crowd robed in wonder surfaced close to the gift-bearing van.

A non-governmental organisation, Caring Hearts Heritage Initiative, touched by Saturday PUNCH report visited the neighbourhood in company with some of its team and our correspondent to know their needs and share some items to help them celebrate the New Year since they witnessed a bleak Christmas. The initiative’s Executive Director, Mrs Henrietta Otoabasi-Akpan, addressing the residents, said, “When I read the report by Saturday PUNCH, I was touched. I had to convene an emergency meeting of my team to see how best we can make New Year memorable for you since you could not celebrate Christmas properly.

“It has always been a personal passion for me to want to give back which is what prompts my drive to want to help you. These things are what other children take for granted, but a real necessity here. I would love everyone here to believe that this is not the endpoint for them; you will surely get above this and become a better person tomorrow who would also come back to help those in need.”

The residents were grouped into three – children, pregnant women and others. Out-of-school children or those who never attended school for lack of funds were attended to. Forms were given to them to fill in their details for follow-up and then, the van was opened.

Rain of goodies

It rained rice, garri, books, eggs, milk, on the inhabitants as the team made sure they attended to everyone present.

The crowd appeared unending. Stretched hands, strained voices lined the queue which at a point became rowdy.

Some aged women who sat by the van after collecting their gifts sobbed softly.

Enquiring what caused the emotional outburst, one of them who identified herself as Iya Bisi said, “I am not crying. It is tears of joy. I never thought I would be getting all these items today. It has been a long time since we received this kind of gift. My grandchild is also there. They have given him some books and he is in queue to get eggs and rice. I am happy.”

An ex-tailor and Miracle’s mother, pregnant with her sixth child, Mrs Nana, led other expectant mothers to get some supplements and baby clothes from the van.

Bearing an umbrella and a red head tie, she said, “I am really happy for what Saturday PUNCH report did for us. If not for that report, how would this kind of people see us and want to help us? They have given me rice, tomatoes, seasoning cubes, eggs and even beverages. For the first time in a long time, I will take tea when I get home. My children, too, have been given a lot of goodies. I am grateful.”

The Imo indigene had told our correspondent during his first visit that she and her Ghanaian husband moved to the slum area 10 years ago when things became difficult for them.

“I was born in Lagos; I schooled in this place and met my husband here. We moved to the slum in 2011 when things became difficult and we could not afford the rent where we were staying before. Since then, we have been living here. It has been 10 years and we are still here. I gave birth to four children in this place and would possibly give birth to the one in my womb here too.

“I am here but my spirit is not here. If I see who would help me, I would have moved out of this place a long time ago, especially because of my children. They deserve to experience what life is in the ‘outside world.’ This is not a place where a human being should live,” she had said sobbing.

Child rights activists react

A Port Harcourt, Rivers State-based child rights expert, Sowanari Jumbo, said she was thankful that someone came through for the children, noting that she was ‘touched deeply’ after reading the report.

“I read the first report by Saturday PUNCH and it made me angry for the better part of that day– Christmas day. I wondered how children would have to go through all that especially at the early stages of their lives,” she said.

She also urged the government and other well-meaning Nigerians to key into the vision and make sure they help the kids get a better life through skills empowerment and formal education.

A special needs teacher, Otoobong Umoren, advised the government to continually show the indigent children help for them not to become a burden to society in the long run.

She said, “We have always said this anytime we have a chance that everyone – poor or rich – are part of the Nigerian project and should not be forgotten to suffer alone. I am glad these children got some help and I wished more people showed them love for them to also feel part of society.

“It affects the psyche of the child when they see other children their age living quite differently from what they have known all their lives. We as Nigerians must continue to make sure we get as many households out of poverty. The next step for Boola is for the government to look for a way to attend to their needs and relocate the people to a better home.”

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