Tosin Taiwo is a passionate volunteer and social worker with years of experience working directly with children and women in rural communities, with focus on education and empowerment programs.
As Founder of Street to School Initiative, an NGO that focuses on child education sponsorship and empowerment programs for women and girls; Tosin says her workstations include rural communities, slums, motor garages, and streets, seeking to identify with out-of-school children, and, devising strategies to sponsoring their education programs. Tosin has worked with many local and international social organisations as a volunteer, trainer, coalition member and facilitator.
Her devotion has earned her numerous accolade including Pioneer and Best Mentee award by Idea Builders in Partnership with Vital Voices, USA.
In this interview with Ventures Africa, Tosin talks about her experience as a volunteer, Street2School and lessons she is learning along the way.
What sparked your interest in launching Street2school? Is there a personal story to it?
During my NYSC service year in Lokoja, Kogi state (North-Central Nigeria), I embarked on a project that sought to provide mobility aid appliances for young people with disabilities. As at that time, the price of a wheelchair was about N35, 000. As a serving corps member my meagre monthly allowance was not enough to bring about the needed support. These young people needed mobility aid appliances for ease of movement, but how to get the money was the challenge! So, what I did was to design a donation sheet with columns for donor’s name, amount received, date etc. I walked around the streets of Lokoja in my NYSC uniform, soliciting for fund from fellow citizens to buy the wheelchairs.
Eventually, through mutual support and donations received, we raised funds that got us six mobility aid appliances and loads of educational items to support children in school. I did not see the social challenge as a community issue, or an issue for the state government to intervene. I saw it as a collective responsibility where everyone needs to be involved in making the difference we hope for.
In December, 2008 Resource Sharing Network was birthed to give impact-driven people platform to share their resources (time, money, resources etc) to make indelible impact in the lives of less privileged children. We focus on supporting education programs of children in underserved areas, pairing high school girls in rural communities with young professionals as mentors. In 2013 December, we tried to register Resource Sharing Network with the Corporate Affairs Commission, unfortunately, that name was not available, so we ended up with Street to School nomenclature.
Please share one unique experience you had in the cause of doing this work?
In 2012, we sponsored a 10 year old out-of-school boy to private school. He was attending school for the first time. He could neither write the alphabets correctly nor the numerals. After much tutoring and huge school fees payment (Lol), Basit Kamoru can now identify letters he could read and write so well. Last academic term, he had Grade A for the first time in his class. This is so incredible and fulfilling.
The children who benefit from the Street2school programme, how do you pick them and identify their needs?
As an education-centric, non-profit organisation, our core mission is to give every child the opportunity to education. We believe every child can learn, and every child deserves a chance irrespective of the gender, ethnicity, religion and financial status of the parents/guardian. We aim to promote education for all, so often our work areas include street, garage, rural communities and schools in underserved areas.
We identify with children who roam on streets, and are involved in child labour. We approach parents who keep their children indoor and also visit low-cost private schools and public primary schools in rural communities to identify with children who do not have basic educational items and we get them those materials for them so that they could stay in school and be less distracted in their studies.
Apparently, our mission is two-edged, such that while we try to bring in more children to school, we also endeavour to support those vulnerable children who are in school but do not have basic educational items such that the statistics of drop out would not add up to UNESCO statistics. According to UNESCO report Nigeria is home to more than 10.5million out of school children.
How do you get support for your project(s)?
Over the past years, we have had terrific individuals and organisations (United Parcel Service, A Ray of Hope and Idea Builders Initiative) support our cause. It is so humbling. At present, we have volunteer sponsors and girl-mentors in Sweden, Denmark, United Kingdom etc. who communicate with their mentees (high school girls in rural communities) via social platforms, phone calls etc. We have had Senior Bank Managers and Organisation CEOs showing up for our Career Seminars/Talkshow for High School students in rural areas. Apparently, we could not have been able to do all we do without their amazing supports! We feel so blessed.
Where does the pressure come in your work?
Work pressure comes when there is no adequate funding to support the education programs of children on our waiting list. Work pressure comes when sponsors do not show up to pay the bills of their wards, any more, it could really be disappointing, sometimes however, we thank God for all things.
What are the blessings and challenges encountered?
The blessing encountered is the fulfilment that comes from helping a child fulfil his dream. It is beyond words. It is a great feeling to know that a child is in school because someone out there is kind enough to pay his or her bills. Since inception, we have sponsored over 100 young people to write the GCE, JAMB, NECO, WAEC examinations, and the good thing is that these young people are no more where they used to be, some of them are now undergraduates in Polytechnics, College of Education, Universities etc., while a few are still awaiting admission.
Indeed, investing in education is one of the most important things we can do, not only for our children, but for the benefit of our whole community. Our challenges? We have not done enough, we wish to support more young people and women out there, we need funding, and we seek for partners, donors, sponsors and mentors. We need help to sustain our projects.
From your volunteering working experience, what is the most shocking thing you have discovered in your line of work that people generally have misconception about? One of the most shocking things I have discovered in my line of work that people generally have misconception about is that you do not need a lot of money to make impact.
What projects are you working on at the moment and what are your future plans for Street2school?
At Street2School, we just concluded the summer computer literacy class for high school students. It was a long vacation because schools would not resume, due to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) scare. At our resource centre in IkolaOdunsi, Ipaja, we trained over 25 young people/women in computer skills. Also, distributed educational items to orphans, and needy children in African Church Nursery and Primary School, Ikolayeye, My future plan is to establish non-profit schools in underserved communities, where a child could obtain some high quality education and be able to stand with his counterpart from private schools. I believe that every child would learn, if given a chance.
Do you think the government is doing great in bridging the divide in terms of provision of education, especially between the privilege and less privilege?
The government has played a huge part in making education free in most part of the country, however, the standard of education in public schools need to be improved on. The academic curriculum for basic classes need to be reformed, such that the quality of education a child receives in private school is no different from what another child receives in public. This is attainable if we have the end in mind. The world is changing, so must the education we give to our children must be dynamic, to meet present and future needs.
What innovative ways will you recommend to the government or the society at large in getting street kids back to school?
As a growing nation, it is recommendable that the government make education accessible to the growing population. Unfortunately, there are still some communities where there are no public school structures and children are forced to either stay at home because they cannot afford the easily accessible private school fees or they take the risk to walk the long miles to neighbouring schools. Other innovative suggestion is the creation of mobile or street schools for street traders and u7hawkers. Education remains a powerful weapon to change the world.