As the founder of a consulting firm devoted to training young adults in business competence, Oluwasemiye Michael Larayetan readies a new generation for leadership. AYEM, African Youths Empowerment Movement, has been providing business training in Abuja, Nigeria, since 2000. For the last eight years, though, Semiye Michael has gone farther … literally. A YALI Network member, he formed the OneKidProject, working to educate rural children who live far away from city life.
With the help of my wife, volunteers and donors, I’m working to give an abandoned generation a personal voice of emancipation and self-identity.
I started the OneKidProject to meet challenges impeding education in the rural villages in Abuja Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria. We want to identify the most vulnerable children and find funding sources to educate them. We provide rural children with tuition fees, school uniforms, learning materials and spiritual support.
Parental counseling is another critical part of our work. Getting parents to believe that education is an essential tool for human development is an ongoing challenge. Rural Nigerians have inherited a culture where formal education is not valued. They have little or no explanation about why they should value learning, and some don’t believe they need to improve their way of life for themselves and their children.
I want to help educate these rural children because we cannot leave people in darkness and expect them to walk in light. The future of these rural communities depends on expanding their capabilities and opportunities. These kids will become adults, taking calculated decisions about growth in their communities. Preparing these youngsters for that challenge with education will change their history and culture.
The “One Kid Project” was a funding plan and not a name in the beginning. Friends and family started giving financial backing when I told them they could provide help for “just one kid.” Annual support of one child is about 5,000 Nigerian naira [$26.30 US]. Then we found the slogan was an effective way to convince people that even small donations are valued. Soon enough, we got many people helping just one kid.
Another reason I began this: It bothered my heart that government and other civil society organizations provide minimal support to rural areas for social or infrastructure development. These organizations and agencies complain greatly about the terrain one must cross to reach these villages and may use that as an excuse to say greater support can’t be delivered.
But my volunteers and I travel to these places for the OneKidProject. Some of the closest villages are reached in three hours’ driving. A new volunteer is offering an all-terrain vehicle for transport, but we use motorcycles mostly and paddle canoes to reach villages that are surrounded by rivers. Some are inaccessible during rainy seasons.
Even while coping with the risky and challenging adventure, we have been able to team up with the few teachers in these villages to improve their methods, and allow accommodation of new children without creating an excess workload for the available teachers.
Health problems are another challenge for these children. In one village, some of our students became sick from bilharzia [schistosomiasis]. This is a parasitic disease, spread by snails in contaminated water, and it makes the children ill with diarrhea and vomiting. Some can even die.
OneKidProject launched an advocacy campaign about this health threat. That brought a national television station to the village for a video story they broadcast. The news coverage caught the attention of other organizations, and we’re hoping that we may get help to build a borehole [well] for the village.
We have 120 kids from five villages receiving school fees from the OneKidProject. Our rural kids are learning English little by little. Seeing the improvement in these children, other parents now want to enroll their own kids for schooling.
The OneKidProject goal is to provide 50 kids full sponsorship yearly, with a few others receiving more limited support, in the form of books, school bags or sandals.
If democracy will do human beings any good, education remains the vehicle to that destination. That’s what I am doing with these children.