The Covid-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it for children of school age around the country. Instead of cheery interactions and in-classroom learning, education has been moved to computer screens as teachers and schools embrace innovation to help their wards complete the school year.
However, for many children, these resources are simply unattainable. In the face of a lack of access to technology, they are left out in the cold. Abayomi Adeola Della and an army of volunteers are bridging this gap by holding school lessons for children across three cities in South-West Nigeria. In this interview, we discuss her journey into volunteering, her motivation for this particular project and the challenges so far.
How did you get into volunteering?
Volunteering came as a result of one event, the first program I had when I was in part one. I just wanted to have a Christmas party for orphans in an orphanage home. So I just like gathered my friends and said I want us to go to this particular place- It was one orphanage home in Moro in Osun State. So we went there, and we had a Christmas party for them, gave them stuff, saw movies and all of that.
After that experience, because I was able to go there and see how they were treated, how things were going. It was not like they were being treated badly, but I just felt like it could have been better. I felt very bad because of the kind of children I saw there, a lot of them were very bright, so I wondered how a parent would just abandon a child in an orphanage home. As well, around the time when I went to the orphanage home, there were like 65 children in the orphanage home. It was just a few people that were taking care of them, so much stress for them and all of that, but I realized that people coming to visit them helped relieve the stress. For me, I felt like I could do something better and help these people to become better and so that orphanage home became like a point of concentration. I was always going there.
How did that experience evolve into an organization?
After that one experience, I wanted to disperse the group and say; guys, I hope everyone would continue individually on their own, but it did not go that way. I had to start up a charity organization from it. It was basically me just saying alright instead of us disbanding or dispersing the group, let’s have a charity organization and that was it.
What is the name of the organization?
It’s the Della’s Diary Foundation.
Inspired by Jenifa’s Diary?
No o. At that time, I was running a blog, and the blog was Dellasdiary.com.ng. I just felt that I wanted to name it after my blog.
What motivated your decision to start the foundation?
I don’t want to sound so spiritual, but that’s me. Before you start saying, I sound too spiritual.
Lol, no worries, we are all spiritual beings here.
I get you! For me, God was just like I could not just end the group like that. At that point, we had started having Christmas parties for children every year because it was just something I wanted to do. Normally I love children so I could have just said that maybe we can keep having this every year. But God was like it was more than that. It was more than an outreach for just that December. That was December 2016, and I was in Part 1. After the project, God was like I should go on with the organization and so from there, we started to reach children based on their basic needs – shelter, clothing, food and all of that. Now we are dealing with education. Like we have switched our focus to education. Asides from that, we make sure that we always recruit people who we trust so before we recruit you as a volunteer, we make sure that you go through a certain amount of training before you can be a part of us because we do not want people who do not…
Understand the vision?
Yeah. You don’t want people who do not understand the whole thing like some people now, you take them to orphanages, and they start crying. Okay, you that you’re crying, what do you want the children to do.
Has that ever happened?
Yes, it has happened. My first time going there, I started crying, but I had to stay outside because you cannot go and be crying where children are. It happened the first few times that we had to go there. We had to train ourselves to be able to take care of children. Not get too emotional when you are around them and make them feel like there is hope for them. The objective was making them realize that there is hope, and there can always be a brighter future.
That’s why I picked Della’s Diary because Della means bright and honourable and diary means everyday life, so we are trying to give them a bright and honourable daily life.
When did you officially start?
December 17, 2016
Can you tell us about your current project – Teaching children in low-income communities, does it have a name?
Yes, it does, it’s called Brand a Future. Brand a future started last year, and the objective was to sponsor children who could not afford to pay for JAMB form. So what we did was that we paid for JAMB forms for some students in Osun state and Lagos state. But this year, we could not have the Jamb thing because I was not in Nigeria to coordinate it, so it was not easy.
Lol. Overseas gang, we see you.
Lool. When I came back, registration for JAMB was over, and people had Jamb lessons, and “corona” break came again. So I just thought about it that there are a lot of children out there who are not doing anything, they are just there, and some of them will go and learn work, and when it is time for school, they will be uninterested in going to school. So I felt like what can we do. I just talked to a few friends who were in different locations, and we presently have two centres in Osogbo, one centre in Ilorin and one centre in Akure.
In Osogbo, we have two centres. The first centre has two volunteers and 20-25 children. The other centre has l0 volunteers with 60 children. In Ilorin, we have up to 10 volunteers with 200 children. In Akure, we have up to 20 children with one volunteer.
When did you officially start?
December 17, 2016
So to confirm three cities- Akure, Ilorin and Osogbo over 300 children.
What was the motivation for the Brand a Future initiative?
It was just basically for us to help them. We looked at the fact that a lot of people had their schools online, on Whatsapp, while some of them used Zoom. But at the grassroots, we were concerned with the children who are not presently doing anything, who don’t have phones, that don’t know what a TV looks like, and don’t even have radios. Radios.
You know when they were trying to solve this problem of education; they had to look at radios. I think that more children can be reached by using radios but if we are practical, do you think a child wants to sit down with the radio and be taking notes. So we had to look for something they could relate with, we had to give them a teacher to student relationship, people they can look up to, people they can ask questions.
Outside just educating them, we also make sure that we give them health and social education; we let them know what is happening around so even if you are in your own little space, you should know what’s happening out there. These are things that might be happening to them, but they won’t know because they are not exposed. So we try to let them know about all these things. It’s not just education but teaching them about staying safe in this period, reaching out people at the grassroots, people with no access to devices.
What are the biggest challenges in executing this project?
Number one thing is getting these children, teaching them, I won’t say the number one thing is money. It’s not money. It’s not like we have all the money but honestly doing something like that does not require a lot of money.
My number one challenge is teaching those children, a lot of them go to different schools so when you want to teach a Primary 4 student the 12 times or 8 times table, you think this child in Primary 4 should already know her 7 times table, but then you get there, the person is struggling with 5 times table. When you now have a class of like ten students who are in primary 4, Two of them already know 9 times table, two are still struggling with 5 times table maybe 3 others are still struggling with 12 times table, and you’re wondering are you not all in Primary 4 together, but all of them have different educational backgrounds. For us, it was a challenge. When you are taking a volunteer and saying this volunteer should teach primary 4, you now have to start all over for some of them, have to demote some of them which might not be good for them because they are already in the same class with their friends that they know. So this was a challenge for us, and it is still a challenge. We had to start teaching a Primary 4 student how to pronounce sounds. I’m like, “what are they teaching you in your school?”
That’s one, number two is volunteers, getting volunteers in different areas. Everybody is good at sitting down in the comfort of their home, saying this is the problem that is happening but to step out and do something is the issue. Finding volunteers is important; people who will be committed to the cause.
The last thing, I think it is the last thing is money.
You know sometimes you need something urgently, and you would not want to just overlook it. These children, we give them free books, free stationery then sometimes we give them snacks before they leave. We understand that their brains are very fragile and that they might not be able to learn enough if you don’t give them something that they need. We have to provide all of these things for them. Sometimes we have to have parties for them, on days like Children’s day or sometimes where it is a special holiday. But God has been helping, but sometimes it is always a challenge. So those are the 3 major challenges I can talk about.
What makes it worth it for you, and how long have you been doing this?
Twenty-five days, we took breaks for June 12 and weekends asides from that it is every day.
Wow! That is a lot of commitment.
I know right, for me it is just the fact that I can teach children and see the progress they are making in their lives. These 25 days have been transformative for me. I have seen children who had never been to school learn how to write. No matter how little the progress is, it’s a lot for me. It gives me so much pleasure. For instance, in Ilorin, you see a lot of Almajiri now attending lessons. You see the improvement it has made in their lives, and it has given them a different sense of self-awareness. They now understand what they can do better, and they now understand that school can be for them, it is not for a particular set of people. Seeing their progress and seeing their transformation in a period of 25 days is a lot for me In the lives of the volunteers, I have seen a lot of people who have never taught before teaching, and I have seen the difference in their lives as they experience the same things I have experienced so when they call me, and they say; “Della there is this boy in my class always smiling…”, I am not surprised, I am happy that now you can see the same thing I am always seeing. After this project is over, we would now have time to reflect and look at it as. That’s just it seeing a change in the students and also the volunteers.
This is incredible work! Well done. What are your long term vision for yourself and the project?
This question made me smile so much. I feel like this is my bus stop. I plan to have a school for children. The school is going to be totally free for children and the same structure I have carried with me where they have free books, free writing materials, free lunch, so it’s going to take that same mould. This is what I plan to do in different rural areas to bring a standard educational system for them to groom them in many ways, especially academics and its totally free. I would definitely go into politics, into spaces where I think I can make a change when it comes to women, children and girls. I feel like there is a lot that has to be done, and it’s not like the people there are not working. A lot of times it’s easy to judge the people who are there.
So last question! If you are featured on a magazine cover in the next five years, what is the headline?
I have never thought about this honestly. I have seen my name, but I have never thought about the headline. But I know that the headline will just be basically about me emptying myself to people because that is what I want to do. The goal is to die empty literally. Even when I die, I want people to be able to reach out to resources I have left while I was alive, giving out all of the gifts that I had. No matter how stressful it might be, giving out value, helping people to become better.
About Solomon Nzere