By Vivian Onyebukwa
Adedolapo Osuntuyi is the founder of Dolly Children Foundation, a non-governmental organisation. Her aim is to inspire the African child to adopt 21st century skills through education, capacity building and advocacy. Dolapo is eager to impact on children from low-income backgrounds to achieve equal opportunities. This desire, according to her, was borne out of personal childhood experience, which her family faced due to lack of basic needs. Her work in the foundation has impacted over 22,000 children in 25 communities in four states.
Having put in about 14 years in child protection and community development programmes, Dolapo recently got a scholarship from Africa-America Institute Scholarship to study Social Sector Management course at the Enterprise Development Centre, Pan-Atlantic University, Nigeria, and was also recognized as one of the 50 African Women in Development.
In 2017, she became a fellow of the Young African Leaders Initiative, West Africa Regional Centre, a United States government initiative, and a recipient, one of the best three awardees of her cohort in Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ). She also serves as a director on the board of Bloomgate International Schools and the Mums Coordinator for Social Good Lagos (an initiative of the United Nations Foundation).
Dolapo is a graduate of Botany from the Lagos State University. She also holds a master’s degree in Child Health and Social Care. She spoke to Daily Sun recently:
How do you identify the children that your organisation helps, who are on the verge of dropping out of school?
We go through the communities, because all our programms are around communities in natural environments. For example, during the Children’s Day celebration, we bring children from public and private schools together. Unfortunately, public schools rarely go out. Even if they go out, it is only for public functions. Those in private schools always feel like second class citizens, but when we bring them up, it challenges their mindset that they become mindful of the way the dress, relate with people and conduct themselves, generally.
In that regard, we organise events like reading clubs, and we go to these schools every week. We identify the lapses and gaps in their educational abilities and record them. You know that, when the foundation is weak, it becomes a problem, so that is why we started the reading club. It helps to close the gaps, because, as a social worker, I realised that, for most of the children that had been abused and molested, it happened during holidays or after school hours. Some of them don’t even have time to read because, after school, you find some of them hawking, doing house chores, or doing other menial jobs till late in the night.
Also, whenever we go, we identify these children through their dressing. We find out that some of them have no uniforms. During the holidays, we teach them the basic subjects that are difficult, and entrepreneurial classes, so they can participate and also learn skills like tailoring, and so on.
Every Christmas, we try to create a new experience for them. This year, we received about 400 letters from the children we cater for in the communities, informing us on how bleak the Christmas would be for them because of the downward economic situation of their parents or guardians as a result of COVID-19. While we were still thinking of what we could do, we got some help from some good-spirited Nigerians to make clothes for the children, in the spirit of the Christmas season. Again, people always remember orphans in orphanages, what of the ones in extended families?
How long have you been doing this?
Unofficially, I started it in 2006, but, officially, 2009.
How did you get this idea?
Although I am lucky to have come from a bit of some privileged family, but my father always told us stories of his growing up.
I remember when I was in JSS 3, I came home from school and complained that my shoes were tight. Of course, I was aware of his stories, he reminded me of his days and how difficult things were for him. He almost wept as he told the stories. He told me how he walked to school bare-footed. During the holidays, he recalled that there was no extra lesson for him, even though other children enjoyed it. Instead, working in other people’s farm was his favourite pastime. He worked that way until he benefited from Awolowo’s free education programme.
Is it from his personal experiences that you chose to start this foundation of helping indigent children?
Yes, of course. For me, if Awolowo’s free education programme could assist my father and lift him out from his lowly background and, today, I am what I am due to that process, I would like to help other children to attain their goals. From that day onwards, I promised myself that, if I have the opportunity, I would also help other children.
That was why I changed from Child Health and Social Care in my master’s degree. When I did that, I was able to work with children in foster care in Nigeria, children with special needs. I am a volunteer, from where I got a close experience.
What has been achieved so far?
The foundation has reached out to over 6,000 children through the following interventions:
Our weekly reading club meetings, which hold in the public primary schools and the communities, encourage children to read at least a book per term. Also, they are expected to learn new words, act drama, compose and develop their own thoughts from every book read.
The reading materials and educational activities carried out in the clubs are initiatives that inspire excellence, leadership and increase their literacy abilities.
This initiative has resulted in a marked improvement in the interest of children towards reading and has improved their ability to express themselves.
Another is Sponsorship
The Sponsor-A-Child programme has assisted children whose parents lack the financial backbone to support their schooling. I must say here that most of the children we sponsor have either lost a parent or both or are caregivers to their parents. Before our intervention, these children were unable to access desired and quality education, which hindered their learning processes. Over the past year, DCF has provided sponsorship in the form of educational aid and welfare to these children.
There is the Back-To-School initiative. Basic educational tools, school uniforms, shoes, bags, et cetera, have been provided to children with financial needs by the foundation.
The initiative has also helped in bringing out-of-school children back to school by covering tuition fees and other needs.
Training and workshops for public primary school teachers
In the past year, over 70 teachers and still counting have been trained in DCF workshops. Workshops and training sessions are organized for teachers to bring them up to date on 21st century teaching methods.
These workshops have focused on topics like Numeracy made easy, 21st-century teaching methods, phonics, understanding your learner, managing diversity in your classroom, et cetera.
After School and Holiday School Tutoring Programmes
Our extra tutoring programmes, which are available after school and during the summer break, are targeted to help children from low-income backgrounds that are lagging behind academically.
The motive behind these interventions is to engage the children in academic exercises that would effectively improve their academic performance and reduce child labour and child abuse. Child labourers, street children, and dropouts have especially benefitted from this programme since inception.
School building projects
School rebuilding is a project we took on from 2015 where we refurbish public primary schools with dilapidated structures.
We move into these outdated facilities to upgrade and equip them with the necessary educational materials and infrastructures.
Thus far, a block of four classes, a staff office, library, and store have been built from scratch.
The project estimates to provide a healthy learning environment for over 1,000 children.
The bottom line here is that no child should be left behind. Our approach to these interventions is a holistic one whereby children lagging behind in school would catch up in our reading clubs; if they are not catching up in the reading clubs, they would catch up in our after-school and summer programs, if they still need support, they would get it through our back-to-school initiatives.
What are your challenges?
Our primary challenge is that people do not like to report when they have abuse cases. This hinders our progress and does not help the process of prosecution and justice.
What do you think government needs to do to take care of these types of children?
Government cannot do everything but then our welfare system in Nigeria is not developed. So, what government needs to do is to liaise with more organisations at the grassroots, and offer any form of support to ensure that no child is left behind. The authorities should extend a hand of fellowship to more organisations working at the grassroots.