While I have never met Jacob in person, our paths continue to cross. Last week, I shared a story of some time spent with the founders of Inspire Citizens in Beijing. This week, I introduce you to Sule Jacob Olaoluwa who is also a member of the Inspire Citizens team of educators and unlikely founder of an organization dedicated to quality education in Nigeria. Here’s his story of how iREAD to Live Initiative came to be…
Though I have only lived in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, for a handful of years, it is clear that rural Nigerian schools do not possess the same opportunities for children as found in the capital city.
A few years back, as my parents shared in my educational dreams and vision, they gave me support to pursue my education. I journeyed to the rural community of Ifetedo, Osun State, Southwest Nigeria and enrolled in the law school there. It was my first experience into Nigerian rural life, and I must admit, it was quite a culture shock.
I became frustrated and deeply saddened. In the capital city of Abuja, I usually had access to power supplies, access to uninterrupted internet facilities, and a few moments each day to listen to the news. In Ifetedo, I had none of these within my reach. Here, I realized that there was poor network reception from all network providers, and I was forced to accept that Osun State had many other notable challenges. The area has been without electricity for many years. They lacked banks and had no standard health care center.
As weeks continued to pass, I had several thoughts about the luxuries I had living in Abuja and about the reality of studying and living in this rural community for the next four years. I asked myself why this community was so underdeveloped. The children especially hit a chord of concern for me. Large numbers roamed the streets barefooted and without slippers. Many were inadequately clothed. These children hung around the hostel where I was staying even during school hours. More upsetting to me was the fact that these children seemed content--in acceptance that this was their place in life.
During my course work as a second-year law student, I became familiar with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Act of 1948 which addressed inequality issues. I felt strongly that these inequalities were not being adequately addressed by the Nigerian Government in this small rural area. The children, especially, were being unfairly denied access to a quality and equitable education. Hence, I began to formulate the “iREAD TO LIVE” initiative.
Feeling a need to give back to the community that so welcomed me as a law student, I began to formulate a plan that hopefully would engage many of my law student peers and help the children of Ifetedo strive for a better and more meaningful life. I wanted to propose an initiative that would directly impact Ifetedo by advancing the course of quality education. Thankfully, I was able to share my vision with a special group of law students who agreed with my thinking, and together we embarked on our journey.
My team and I were ready to begin! We first wanted to understand the community. We sought out the help of Mr. Bello Samuel, the proprietor of New Hope Group of Schools.
He was kind and patient and answered many of our questions regarding community traditions since we wanted to be sensitive to rural culture and morals. He also shared with us many of his frustrations with the current educational system. He lamented about the increasing rate of “examination malpractice,” lack of discipline among the student body, lack of interest in education, and the poor attitude of parents toward education. I also met and obtained the support of the Elders and Traditional rulers of the community. I interviewed them and also shared the gospel of the Sustainable Development Goals with them.
To further gather relevant information and facts, I also met with the Executives of the Community Progressive Union. They expressed their gratitude and were astonished that a non-indigene had decided to contribute to the development of their community. They gave me their blessing.
Following these interviews, my team and I decided to gather additional information by visiting every school in the community, both government and privately owned. We interviewed administrators, teachers, serving corps members, and students.
Not wholly trusting our motives, some management and teachers were reluctant to share pertinent information. We had to assure them that we were not reporting back to the government. We truly were a group of law students wanting to assist and give back to the community. To gain their trust, we had to include some community members on our team and partner with the Community Union -National Ifetedo Student Union and facilitate debate competitions as moderators in subsequent visits.
We were overwhelmed by the list of challenges that presented themselves during our visits. The list was long: inadequate teachers, lack of basic furniture such as desks and chairs, lack of writing materials, notebooks, textbooks and other educational needs, unpaid full teacher salaries by the government, absence of perimeter fencing to secure the school environment, undisciplined and unmotivated students to name a few.
Motivating students to want to learn was by far the most important and challenging problem. We held career sessions in some primary and middle schools emphasizing the importance of education and encouraging students to be serious and focused.
We reminded them, “Education is the best tool with which one can change the World for the best.” To further our cause, we donated writing materials, exercise books, dusters, and chalks after every student interaction.
On subsequent visits, teams of volunteers of iREAD to Live initiative who were undergraduate law students of Osun State University, College of Law emphasized again the need to work hard and take learning seriously. Students were told they could do anything if they are resolute and diligent. Sponsorships and endowment funding have become available for support for students’ examination fees for the Junior Secondary School Certification Examination. Children have also been given the opportunity to join the iRead to Live Reading Club where reading habits and improved literacy are fostered.
Much has been accomplished since the iREAD To Live Initiative began. Although other organizations have identified many of the same issues, they have chosen to use seminars while our program has a more hands-on approach. We reach out to individual schools and work directly with students. We have taken to the streets to engage directly with students through training and mentoring. Hopefully, this nurturing will make a positive effect on the future of our society and the world as a whole.
Facing the Future
We are still looking toward the future and are anticipating the following proposed projects:
Purchase furniture for students and teachers
Renovate and purchase books for abandoned community library
Purchase or receive donations of writing materials, textbooks, school wears, and furniture for 10 schools in the Ifetedo community
Equip reading clubs with books and journals
Establish SDGs clubs in every school in the community
Provide Wi-Fi access and power supply in the schools through the purchase of generators and Wi-Fi facilities
Provide clean and potable water to at least five schools
The overall goal of this plan is to initiate, execute, and manage projects that will drive the organization’s vision to contribute to quality education for 80% of the government- owned schools, private schools, and attendees of the basic and primary level by September 2019. To learn more about iRead to Live or to discover ways to support this work, please visit http://iReadToLiveInitiative.com.ng.
Some really exciting news that I’m happy to share about Jacob is that he is “one of 30 literacy leaders named to the International Literacy Association’s (ILA) 2019 30 Under 30 list. The list celebrates rising leaders in the literacy field—a cohort of young innovators, disruptors, and visionaries creating positive change in the global literacy landscape.”
“The 28- year-old Literacy campaigner, was recognized for his recent campaigns in strengthening literacy in rural communities in Nigeria, he has established Reading clubs in public schools in Osun state and held several literacy and oratory competitions. He is also a TEACHSDGs Ambassador working tirelessly to Teach the Sustainable Development Goals in Nigeria. Representing 13 countries, this year’s list of honorees includes educators, school administrators, nonprofit leaders, authors, volunteers, researchers, and social entrepreneurs” (ILA Press Release).
Sule Jacob Olaoluwa is an Under 30- aged change agent, an Advocate for the UN SDGs Goal 4 of Quality and Equitable Education for All. He is the Founder of iRead To Live Initiative, a non-profit organization which focuses on Supplementing Government Efforts in Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of Quality Education in Nigeria. He is also an Ambassador for @TeachSDGs. Connect with Jacob on Twitter @SuleJacobs.