Children in the Ago-Egun community in Bariga, Lagos have had it tough and rough for years with access to basic education and healthcare. These hapless children who also lack access to shelter, water, sanitation, and hygiene depend on charity for survival. ANGELA ONWUZOO reports:
Goodness Emmanuel, a 13-year-old basic six pupil of Eagle’s Wing Nursery and Primary School, Ilaje, Bariga, Lagos, and his two siblings, Favour and Godspower, have been finding it hard to survive since the death of their mother, Comfort in 2018.
Goodness says life has been traumatic for him and his siblings since their 32-year-old mother who was the breadwinner of the family died two weeks after childbirth.
Every morning, the young boy from Akwa Ibom State remembers how his late mother, a foodstuff seller at Odo-Eran Market, Bariga, used to wake them up from sleep, prepare food for them to eat, and get them prepared for school. According to him, they were feeding well and attending a private school when her mother was alive.
But all that is in the past now as Goodness and his siblings could no longer continue with the private school after their mother’s demise, prompting them to drop out of school as their father, Mr. Emmanuel Akpan, could not afford their school fees from his okada business.
Akpan, an okada rider, could barely provide for them from his okada business when their mother was alive because he got the motorcycle on a hire purchase and had to be paying for it.
Unfortunately for the family, after the death of their mother, the owner of the bike took it back from their father. Since then, he hasn’t gotten something meaningful to do forcing the young family to depend on others for survival.
“After my mother died in 2018, life became very difficult for me and my siblings. My sister, Favour is 10 years old and she is in basic four while my brother, Godspower is seven years old and he is in basic two. My father is unable to take care of us because my mother was the breadwinner when she was alive. We then stopped schooling and could barely feed.
“We no longer attend Bufad Primary School, a private school in my area that we were attending before my mother’s death because our father can’t afford the school fees.
“Our father does not have a good means of livelihood. So, in order not to die of hunger with my siblings, we started going from street to street to pick up discarded plastic water bottles and sell them to women that are making zobo drinks.
“Depending on the quantity that we can pick per day, sometimes, we make N250 to N500 per day and that is what we used to feed ourselves.
Children roaming the streets
“But as we were roaming the streets to see how to put food on our table while our mates were in school, a neighbour who was worried about our plight and future decided to bring us to Eagle’s Wing Nursery and Primary School believing that the school will be of immense benefits to us considering its nature and mode of operation.
“The school is free. It’s built for orphans and vulnerable children in this Egun community. So, with the help of the operators of the school, we were able to start school again after our mother’s death.
“And since we started schooling here, the school has been providing us with free education and free food,” Goodness told PUNCH HealthWise.
Visits to the Ago-Egun community, Ilaje Bariga, in Bariga Local Council Development Area of Lagos by our correspondent show that Goodness and his siblings are not alone as many children in the community are also struggling to survive.
Findings by PUNCH Healthwise revealed that a lot of the children are not going to school despite the mega city status of Lagos state.
Our correspondent gathered that there were children in the community who have lost both parents or either of them and are not getting the support of family members to get the care they need. Some of these children live with their grandmothers and grandfathers who are unable to take care of themselves let alone their grandchildren.
Battling with rashes, other skin infections
Our correspondent also observed during the visit that many of the children are battling with rashes and other skin conditions. Many of them have rashes all over their body, no doubt due to the filthy environment and lack of access to good nutrition, clothing, and proper shelter.
Many of the children, findings revealed are not only impoverished and malnourished but are also battling with different health challenges such as incessant cough, and catarrh. Our correspondent during the visit sighted many of them with runny noses.
Their poor health condition is not helped by their exposure to the cold weather with many of them seen by our correspondent moving around the community without clothes, pants, and footwear.
No access to water, sanitation and hygiene
PUNCH HealthWise findings also revealed that the Ago-Egun community lack access to water, sanitation and hygiene.
The community is a neglected slum located on the mainland in the heart of Lagos. It is a close-knit community mainly occupied by Ago-Egun people most of whom migrated from Badagry and the Republic of Benin.
The people are mostly fishermen and women who live in structures built with woods, sacks, and trampoline. The community is also very dirty.
Speaking further about his plight with PUNCH HealthWise, Goodness said, “As we speak, even the roof of the house we are living in is leaking. You can imagine our situation whenever it rains.
“We now depend on Eagle’s Wing Nursery and Primary School daily for survival and it is not easy for the school because the owners have a lot of vulnerable children like us to take care of.
“Besides, the school has challenges confronting it, especially the issue of flooding. Whenever it rains, water normally enters our classrooms.
“Now that we are in the rainy season, we are always coughing, having catarrh and runny nose because of the cold and wet environment.”
Goodness told our correspondent that he and his siblings are grateful to the operators of the school for their support and care, stressing that life would have been more miserable for them without their support.
Continuing, he said, “The school is free and they also provide us food once a day. And that has been helping us. We wear slippers to school. Some of my classmates even come to school without sandals or slippers because they don’t have any. We want the good people of Lagos to help us with school sandals.
“We also want them to come to the aid of our school and provide us with learning aids and beautiful structures with playgrounds so that our future will be better.
“We want to be happy like other children, right now, we need help, our school is flooded and there are many children here that are depending on the school for their educational, food, and healthcare needs. The school also takes care of us when we are sick.”
Eagle’s Wing Nursery and Primary
Eagle’s Wing Nursery and Primary School is a school for orphan and vulnerable children established in the Ago-Egun community by a South African non-governmental organisation called Handsatwork.
The NGO PUNCH HealthWise gathered has brought succour to children in the community and has changed the story of children abandoned in the community.
The NGO ensures that children under five who were abandoned by relatives as a result of the death of their parents get a meal at least once daily by providing a care point where over 130 of them are fed daily.
Going to school barefooted
A 12-year-old boy, Nextdor Humenu and his seven-year-old sister, Elonei are among the children struggling with life in the Ago-Egun community. They live with their grandmother after the death of their mother who was the breadwinner.
“I am in basic three and my sister is in kg one. We have been living with our grandmother since our mother died.
“My father is unable to take care of us. He will travel and go fishing for two weeks without giving us money for food. We beg to feed. We go to school without shoes because our grandmother is sick. It is not easy for her to take care of us. If not for the orphanage school here there will be no education for us,” Nextdor told our correspondent.
Somie Kolawale, 11, who is also living with her grandmother and other neglected children struggling to survive in the community also shared her plight with PUNCH HealthWise lamenting that life is rough and tough.
20 million out-of-school children in Nigeria
Nigeria now has about 20 million out-of-school children, according to the latest global data on out-of-school children recently released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
According to the statistics, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan have the highest figures for out-of-school children globally.
Save the Children International, a leading humanitarian organisation for children, says education is no doubt at the heart of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
“It is a singular act that is needed to reduce inequalities (Goal 10), reverse cycles of intergenerational poverty (Goal 1), and improve health (Goal 3) as well as the vehicle to achieve gender equality and eliminate child marriage (Goal 5),” the organisation said.
Our correspondent during the visit also finds out that it is not only the young school-going children that are facing tough times in the community as children from age zero to five years are also facing dire conditions due to the high poverty of their parents.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, a nurse working with Handsatwork, Mrs. Ebere Idowu, disclosed that many of the children are only sure of one meal a day which is provided for them by the NGO through its care-point.
“We have over 132 children in our care-point in this Ago-Egun community. Some of them are orphans while many of them are vulnerable because their parents can’t take care of them.
“Instead of them going to the streets to beg for alms and be exposed to all kinds of risk, Handsatwork created what we call a care-point, where we bring these vulnerable children together and provide them food.
“We provide them free food once daily from Monday to Friday. We also use the opportunity to teach them and treat those that are sick among them. Many of them even with the filthy environment move around barefooted, some don’t have pants to put on,” Mrs. Idowu said.
Children sleeping inside church
The building serving as a care point our correspondent learnt was provided for the NGO by a Celestial Church of Christ in the community.
Our correspondent also gathered that some of the children who are homeless sleep inside the church at night while others take refuge at the homes of some of the workers of Handsatwork.
Some mothers whose children go to the care point daily to get fed told PUNCH HealthWise that the burden of taking care of their children became heavy on them after the death of their husbands.
A 20-year-old widow and mother of two, Mrs. Mary Gbenga, said, “I lost my husband, 27, to a brief illness in February this year.
“The N500 gain that I make after hawking the meat pie that I’m selling can’t take care of me and my two children. The entire meat pie is worth just N5000.
“That is why I have been sending my children to the care-point of the NGO to feed and the place has been helping me.”
Two other widows, Mrs. Margret Ayeloja, a 40-year-old mother of five, Mrs. Temitayo Joel, mother of one, and other mothers who spoke with PUNCH HealthWise shared similar experiences with our correspondent.
An official of Handsatwork who disclosed that she has been working in the Ago-Egun community for the past 15 years, Esther Ofondu told PUNCH HealthWise that the mission of the NGO was to provide education, food and healthcare to the orphans and vulnerable children in the community.
“We care for orphans and vulnerable children. At our care point, we care for zero to five years children and above. We have more than 132 of them here.
“We provide them food once every day from Monday to Friday. We have care workers who are taking care of them. We take care of them by providing them with basic food, basic education, and healthcare.
“Once our children are seven years old, we send them to our school, Eagle’s Wing Nursery and Primary School for them to get basic education free. Currently, we have over 150 pupils there,” she said.
Ofondu appealed to the Lagos State Government and the good people of the state as well as organisations to support the school, lamenting that the school is usually flooded during the rainy season.
Baale of the community, Felix Joseph, also told our correspondent that the community was in dire need of a school, a hospital, and food.
“We need school for our children, we need hospitals. Our people do not have money to send their children to private schools.
“We also need a good water supply. I am looking for people that will provide all these to my people in the community. I have land where they can build schools and hospitals for them,” the Baale said.
A Consultant Paediatrician, Nephrology Division at the Federal Teaching Hospital, Katsina, Dr. Abdurrazzaq Alege, told PUNCH HealthWise in an interview that more under-five children come down with severe malaria in the rainy season because they are often exposed to more bites from mosquitoes during the period.
According to the health expert, mosquitoes tend to breed more during the rainy season because of the increase in stagnant water around residential houses.
He urged parents to protect their children against mosquito bites, noting that hospital admission of children under five with malaria is usually higher in the rainy season.
Poor nutrition leads to stunting
Also, a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Nwabumma Asouzu, told PUNCH HealthWise that inadequate nutrition leads to stunting in children, stressing that stunting affects children’s health by making them more susceptible to diseases and infections.
Asouzu said, “Stunting is said to be growth and development impairment which normally occurs in children as a result of poor or inadequate nutrition to meet up with their rapidly growing demand.
“What causes stunting in children can be categorised into direct and indirect causative factors.
“The direct factors which are also preventable include inadequate nutrition (not eating enough or eating foods that lack growth-promoting nutrients), recurrent infections or chronic diseases which cause poor nutrient intake, absorption or utilisation.
“This leads to a lack of care and stimulation for development because the body is lacking the basic nutrients needed for growth purposes.
“Poor nutrition and a lack of access to diverse and safe foods, poor sanitation and no access to clean drinking water.”
Primary education compulsory
Chairman, Bariga LCDA, Mr. Kolade Alabi, who acknowledged the vulnerability of children in the Ago-Egun community, told our correspondent in an interview that the LCDA has 30 primary schools in Bariga, stressing that there is no reason why any child should not be in school.
“I will send my education department there to check and give me feedback because we have 30 primary schools in Bariga and so I don’t know why they should not go to school.
“We provided six big buses to take children to school for those that are disadvantaged in accessing the schools.
“I am going to go there and do advocacy. We will have a system that will ensure that we make primary education compulsory for people to take their children to school because it is not good for parents not to take their children to school.
“We will go there and ensure that the children there go to school. It is good as you are bringing this to my knowledge. We are going to make sure that the children there are not denied primary education”. Alabi said.
On the issue of health, the chairman noted, “We have upgraded CMS Primary Healthcare Centre to a standard PHC facility.
“We are planning to go to Ashogbon PHC to also upgrade it to a standard and around Ilaje where we have a space of land, we are planning to build a hospital there. If you look at the proximity of the Ago-Egun community to access to health facilities, we have Ashogbon and CMS PHCs.”
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