From Magnus Eze, Enugu
The United Nations recognised that “eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.”
Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Toby Okechukwu and his wife, Lillian, align with this assertion. They believe that “education is not just a way to escape poverty, but also a way of fighting it.”
They are motivated by how Singapore moved from a Third World and a small, poor, tropical island with mostly uneducated and unskilled tiny population, which it was at independence in 1995, to First World courtesy of education and visionary leadership of Lee Kwan Yew. They see educational empowerment as a potent means of changing the narrative in Aninri/Awgu/Oji River Federal Constituency, Enugu State.
In the twilight of 2021, the Toby Okechukwu Foundation splashed grants on 600 beneficiaries drawn from 60 public post-primary schools in Greater Awgu to help them pay for their West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE) fees. Students, teachers, community leaders and stakeholders were particularly overjoyed because the outbreak of COV- ID-19 pandemic had prevented them from gathering in like manner in 2020.
Prior to this period, about 3,000 students had benefited from the foundation’s grants, which enabled them register for the WASCE. It also donated instructional materials to public schools in the three local governments in addition to sponsoring the training of science teachers in the Scientific Equipment Development Institute (SEDI), Enugu.
Through these interventions, schools were renovated and new classroom blocks erected. He also assisted with school furniture. Furthermore, mobile science kits for Physics, Chemistry and Biology were provided for public secondary schools in his constituency with other instructional materials.
The grants over the years lifted the burden of WASCE registration on some parents, who could not afford to pay the fees. Even students with buoyant parents also benefitted from the largesse because beneficiaries were picked at random.
Okechukwu told Daily Sun: “My wife and I believe that a journey of a thousand miles starts with just a step. We also appreciate the fact the market will remain empty should everyone wait in the comfort of his or her home for others to fill the market before venturing out.
“Therefore, we decided to invest in the education of our people as the greatest and most basic empowerment there is and as our modest contributions to- wards changing the dwindling fortunes of education in Nigeria, and by extension the nation’s woeful economic and development narratives. It is a path we have chosen and hope to walk till the end of time, God’s grace.”
The foundation since 2012 has continued to give back to the society in the areas of education, healthcare, vocational training, poverty alleviation and capacity building of teachers.
He said he was only trying to complement the efforts of Enugu State Governor, Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, to lift education. He thanked former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, for setting the pace for him and other lawmakers:
“I must let you know that the intervention we do in education was set forth by Ikeoha Ndigbo. We have had testimonies of people who were able to go to school just because of his foundation.
“The difference between someone who is roaming about in the village, the Fulani boy who works in the bush and the person who has gone to school is education. Sometimes, people think that the best way to overcome poverty is to have education. It is not only the best way to over-come it, but it is the best way to fight it.
“You must always take education very important. I ensure that if we have up to 70/80 per cent literacy in Enugu State, the world will be in our palm and it will make the difference in our lives. Today, we are just trying to make efforts so that will transit to higher education.
“I believe our children will appreciate this gesture by being good citizens, read their book to pass so that as they advance they will remember this day. When they grow up and have the opportunity they can also do for others things like this, so it is very remarkable.
“Shun hard drugs and on no account should you join cult groups. People who made it in life did not do so through drugs and cultism. If we had indulged in drugs and cultism, some of us would not have reached where we have reached today. I implore you to concentrate in your academics and avoid anti-social vices.”