Mending the Broken Bridges: How Israel Balogun's Initiative is Giving Hope to Homeless Street Kids in Ibadan
Despite the investment in education and basic knowledge acquisition by the government and concerned individuals, the number of out-of-school children seems to be a stubborn bone in the throat of Nigeria, posing obstacles against the future of the country and its teeming population.
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The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in a recent report labelled Nigeria as the epicentre of out-of-school children in the world, with the figure estimated to be 10.5 million as of the Quater one (Q1) of 2022.
This clearly negates the goal of the United Nations-owned agency that "all children, no matter where they live or what their circumstances, have the right to quality education."
"Only 61% of 6-11 year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6% of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education... even though primary education is officially free and compulsory," part of the report read, in what puts a peg on the effort channelled towards child education in Nigeria.
It is against this backdrop that a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Save The Street Child Foundation, came to the rescue as a solid complement to the effort of the government and international bodies toward child education in Nigeria.
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SSCF giving hope to wandering street kids
Armed with strong determination and undeterred purpose, the foundation said its biggest objective is to ensure that poor and disadvantaged kids wandering on the streets are given a ray of hope through the lengthy arm of education tripod: classroom learning, skills acquisition and scholarships.
Israel Balogun, its founder, told Legit.ng in a conversation:
"Our goal is to save children who live on the street by either returning them home to their parents or providing a shelter for them and giving them scholarships to go back to school or learn a skill."
The foundation, based in Ibadan, was established in 2019 as a response to the clarion call by the government which is seeking collective efforts in the fight against factors militating against Nigerian kids not having access to basic skills and education.
Economic barriers like poverty, illiteracy, and socio-cultural norms, according to UNICEF, are responsible for the growing number of out-of-school children. Save The Street Child Foundation said it is defying odds in its attempt to spread light and quash these factors with its limited resources.
How kids are 'arrested'
Asked how the foundation gets these kids out of the street to the classrooms, its founder Israel Balogun said some of the children under the care of the foundation are guttersnipes and waifs left to fend for themselves with bleak hope due to irresponsible parenting.
He said the foundation visits the streets and under-bridges where some of the homeless kids sleep and embrace them with life-changing offers beginning with food and clothes.
They are then enrolled in schools after reorientation and rehabilitation on scholarships solely powered by the foundation.
"We visit them where they sleep under the bridge, market or parks and offer them the scholarship," he said.
The running cost of the foundation
Like every non-profit organisation, the Save The Street Child Foundation expenses are run with personal money and individual donations.
Its founder told Legit.ng that there are 25 kids currently under the custody of the foundation whose mandatory needs like school fees, uniforms, books are being catered for.
"We have estimated of 85-120k for per year for a child that we are able to take back home the covered his/her school fees, uniform, books, shoes and launch food with some other needs. Basically, every child we saved from the street is sponsored by the foundation."
Giving familiar home
The Save the Street Child Foundation does not only introduce these wandering kids to formal education but also, according to its founder, give them the exposure to discover their individual talents.
Part of the efforts channelled by the foundation is to provide shelters for the vulnerable kids and integrate them back to their homes and reunite them with their parents.
Balogun said while this requires monetary and physical inputs, the foundation is always ready to give everything to "end the homeless street children menace in our country Nigeria."
Possible partnership with government and kid-hearted individual
Although the Save the Street Child Foundation remains largely a non-profit and non-government organisation, the foundation will not hesitate to accept contributions and supports from kind and well-meaning Nigerians willing to support child education in the country.
According to its founder, the responsibility of moving homeless kids out of the street and ensuring they are safe from the danger of society while being prepared for the future is the responsibility of everyone, not only the government.
"The problem (of out of school children) is complicated and requires a lot of effort, commitment and readiness of the government... and everyone. That is why I am seeking a partnership. We can sit down together and develop a workable system that will help us to end homeless street children once and for all."