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Kahani Bazaar

Youths Who Can

youth who canYouths Who Can

As a boarding student at St Finbarr's College, any family member on my signing-out list can come and sign me out for the weekend. One Saturday in February, my grandmother had come per my request earlier in the week. Since she lives in the high density suburb of Lagos and is considerably less affluent than my parents, we had to take public transport. What I saw that day on my way home changed my life forever.

Our journey started at St Finbarr’s Boarding House. We walked the long stretch like always, but the road ahead was riddled with more difficulty. Usually, we would take a commuter omnibus to the local bus station, find one that takes us to our neighborhood, and that would be that. However, there wasn’t a single commuter omnibus in sight that day. The few that did pass by were either crammed full or way too expensive. Thankfully, due to my grandmother’s vast connections, a family friend managed to drop us off near the bus rank.

It was then that I saw the first major problem faced by not only youths, but many of Lagos's citizens. There was absolutely no transport. About two years ago the bus rank would have been bustling with life as omnibus conductors hustled to attract passengers to their mini-bus, yelling and making a perfect racket. Now, the place was completely free of omnibuses. Sure, a handful were there, but they didn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

The bulk of people who had come to do their Saturday shopping and did not have access to private transport and had to wait for the government-run KEKE NAPEP mini-buses. To make matters worse, there was a fuel shortage, which meant that there were fewer mini-buses taking people — the far too many people without access to private transport — so crowding was inevitable.

After nearly two hours of waiting in the boiling African sun, my grandmother and I finally found one mini-bus that was going our way. It was cramped and expensive, but it was the only way to get to LAGOS 19, apart from walking the approximately five kilometer distance. On the way home again, I witnessed subsequent horrors which considerably rattled me.

Traditionally, most sixteen-year olds sit for their Ordinary Level examinations and proceed to the Advanced Level in February of the next year. However, the vast majority of them — teenagers my age –were loitering the streets with nothing better to do. It absolutely shattered my heart to see hordes of teenagers who have the basic right to education have it cruelly stripped away from them. Despite a lot of us claiming to hate school, many of us would find attending a few lessons better than staying at home doing absolutely nothing all day, every day. Those unfortunate children could not even get the opportunity to attend school because of the harsh economic crisis that many Nigerians have to deal with.

A few days later, I was scrolling through my BBC News Feed and stumbled upon the latest on Nigeria. It appeared that more parents than I had thought were removing their children from school because of their inability to pay the fees in full, which was a prerequisite for the child to be able to attend school. The essay had said that many parents opted for cheaper, albeit illegal, backyard ‘schools’ set up by those who could not afford to have their children entirely miss out on an education. In addition, the government was sentencing parents to two years in jail for failure to send children to school. Alternatively, they could always pay a two hundred and sixty dollar fine, which they could not afford in the first place. One woman had even been quoted as saying, “I was so ashamed to have a grade-three student sitting around when it’s so obvious to everyone that she should be in school.”

Despite many government officials claiming that the high dropout rates are attributed to teen pregnancy, child marriages, long distances to school and a lack of interest everyone knows the underlying issue is the poor economy. From intense hyperinflation to shortages of foreign currency, food and medicine, many people are suffering, with multitudes losing hope for the future.

As a global change maker, this is where I would step in. The dismal state of affairs had long bothered me, but I between settling into school and taking up the many extracurricular activities offered, I had little to no time for anything else, let alone myself. My African pen pal, though, urged me to help out when we were discussing the economic woes of Nigeria.  Slowly, I began to consider the idea of reforming education in Nigeria for the many youths who needed it. Inspired further by Oluwaseun Foundation , the youth-led organization ‘Youths Who Can’ was born.

Though the organisation is still in the planning stage, I believe that I am capable of making a difference. The organization operates on the belief that every child has the right to not just education, but a quality education. Its aim is to reach out to all the corners of Nigeria and provide basic Primary level education, and later, Secondary Level education to children without making their parents pay an arm and a leg. In addition, the organisation will petition for better education policies and will not stop until Primary and Secondary education is made available for all young Nigerians

Youth-led organizations such as ‘Youths Who Can’ are integral parts of our community because they allow the youths to exercise their rights as citizens of the country. We have different views of the world as compared to our parents since the world is constantly evolving. To remain firm in the traditional beliefs of our ancestors would be detrimental because the future needs visionaries who can visualise the level they would expect education in Nigerians to be at, not idlers who complain instead of coming up with solutions.

Youth-led organisation also allow new ideas to come into play. Many young people in Nigeria are creative and imaginative, with the potential to revolutionize the world.

Author- Mariam Abike Kareem

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