By Christine Onwuachumba
Growing up as a little girl in Ajegunle, Apapa, Chimanma Rushworth-Moore had experienced the full prism of the Nigerian reality. Her first-hand experience of the vulnerability of indigent children in the city of Lagos has remained indelible in her mind.
In order to help alleviate the challenges facing the less privileged, Rushworth-Moore has something more than a handout for them, through her Goldfish Initiative for Illiteracy and Poverty Alleviation, a charity organisation devoted to giving a lifeline to vulnerable children.
She spoke to Daily Sun recently about the organisation in Lagos.
What inspired you to set up this project?
It is a combination of a lot of factors. In the first instance, I share similar background with some of the children I am trying to give a voice through the NGO. For me, it is a way of giving a ladder to children whose parents live on less than a dollar a day.
It is a way to encourage those who are struggling with life and living, and giving them an opportunity through education to step up in life and step out of poverty.
When you are poor, it is one thing, but when you are an illiterate and poor, it is a different ball game, especially in this 21st Century.
These are the forgotten, voiceless children who have no one to speak for them; children who have fallen through the cracks of the Nigerian education system.
Our aim is to give them a voice. They have a right to education. It is a human right, not a privilege. I believe that the education of every Nigerian child, whether poor or rich, is key to nation building.
So, would you give a brief insight into some of the situations you saw as a child in Ajegunle?
Like I said earlier, my driving force stems from my personal life experience. I grew up in Ajegunle, Apapa. While growing up, I witnessed situations where the child of a gari seller rose to senior management position in a multinational organisation.
I have seen the boy who wore the most tattered pair of uniform while in school working hard to become an IT guru, helping his own family out of poverty. It is a chain reaction, which only literacy can bring. With education, we can effect a lot of positive changes in our society.
How is the Nigerian society perpetuating poverty?
Our society can easily be ranked among the wealthiest nations of the world, if we get our act right and do the right things right. Sadly, this is not the case.
The gap between the rich and poor is so wide. We lack simple, basic amenities for the average man like drinking water, electricity and health care.
Our major problem is the lack of infrastructure.
The Western world is not as blessed as we are in terms of resources, but they have built infrastructure to sustain their people. A nation that fails in such an area is not poised to empower of its citizenry.
When children don’t go to school, but are busy hawking on the streets or are used as instruments for political causes, it is a clear indication that the future of that society is in jeopardy. When our graduates are rendered jobless due to lack of jobs or source of livelihood, then we are giving room for crime and all kinds of dangerous acts. Education is the bedrock of a nation’s development, progress and survival. We need to prioritize education, put it at the forefront of nation building and the national budget. This is the only way we can empower the next generation, secure our future and if not completely eradicate poverty but alleviate it to the barest minimum.
What is the value and impact of your organisation?
The Goldfish Initiative is committed to the ideology that “No Child Should Be Left Behind!” We are dedicated to bringing out the best in the African child because every child can succeed when given the right support and direction.
We aim to nurture and guide every willing child to learn to read and write, and convince or persuade any unwilling child and their parents to see the benefits of basic formal education, the most crucial access to the socio-economic opportunities.
We are creating platforms adapted to suit every child’s abilities. Essentially, we want to enable every child to identify his or her strengths, talents and abilities, I call this “catching them young.”
Literacy is the only way to reduce poverty across Africa, and help the development of knowledge and capacity in other fields such as agriculture, politics, history, economics and human relations.
In pursuit of your vision, what are the challenges you see daily?
So far, funding and related logistics come primarily from earnings from my day job in the UK and support from close family and friends who believe that “together, we can make the world a better place.”
Another challenge is getting the right people to work with.
Generally, in Nigeria, it is a herculean task to get government to move rapidly in support of NGO-led initiatives due to the structure of government. And the population of these children in our rural communities who do not attend school for which there is incomplete data at best.
There is a limit to what we can do and achieve at a given time because of funds. We have lined up a number of projects in different locations at the grassroots level in the coming year, but, of course, achieving them is subject to the amount of funding we have to execute them.
It can also be quite tasking managing and dealing with people, particularly because I am not in close proximity to all of them. In some cases, too, we are faced with certain rules, conditions and demands, which can make working in some areas quite difficult.
For instance, when we got to one of the communities to donate learning materials and supplies to the children, we were approached by unemployed youths who were making demands and even requesting for money before we could get access to their community and work with the kids. In most cases, that is what is obtainable. It is quite sad and discouraging sometimes, but we will not relent.
What drives me is the hope of a better tomorrow. I believe that, beneath the surface, there is a successful person in every child.
What is your opinion on child illiteracy in Nigeria?
Child illiteracy is high in Nigeria. Child labour too is high. Most children who hawk on the streets and main roads or do things like cleaning car windows on busy roads when they are supposed to be in the school have become a regular sight on our roads. There is no system in place where parents are questioned by government, or even convicted, if need be, when their wards are denied this essential human right.
As a nation, we must work closely and together to eradicate illiteracy. I am afraid that poverty is all around us.
I am also aware that a lot of people cite poverty as a reason for not sending their children to school, but help can be sought and rendered. We hope to bridge that gap as much as possible.
How do you sort out children who are in urgent need?
Identifying children who really need help is quite easy, the difficult aspect is making sure that parents keep their own side of the bargain by supporting and encouraging them to go school when we set them on the right path.
Funding is also a challenge. We implore people who have the means, or come from similar backgrounds and have become successful, to join us.
Lastly, Nigeria is a big country. Most of the children who need help are in rural areas. Some of these areas do not even have electricity or access roads.
Nonetheless, we are poised to reach out. Thats why we say there is no hiding place for the African child.
Could you give an insight into your recent projects?
I have recently toured four states randomly. In these states, we identified pupils who were struggling more than others, and have offered scholarship to some pupils.
We hope to increase the number of states where children have been given scholarships under the Goldfish Initiative umbrella and would start up a “recommend a child per scheme.”
This is going to be a major project across the 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory. We also want the federal government, through the Ministry of Education, to invest more in our public schools.
Some of these schools are death traps and are in appalling conditions. We hope that, through the help of the federal and state governments, we can work closely in making a difference, by their support and the support of good citizens, to help reform some of the learning environments through volunteering and sponsorships.