MAYEIN: Providing mobile classrooms for children in Nigeria
"When I was 14 years old, I witnessed a little girl of about age 6, miss the opportunity of schooling. Every morning, with a basket balanced on her head, the little girl walked with her aunty to a street corner where they sold roasted plantains to menial workers until the sun set. Seeing this painful loss of opportunity put me on my path working in child advocacy."
Edem Ossai, founder of MAYEIN
Edemawan (Edem) Ossai was just fourteen years old when she saw two six-year-old girls who both lived nearby with their families, but were living very different lives. One of the girls was sent to school daily, while the other accompanied her aunt to sell roasted plantains on the street. In Oyo State, South-Western Nigeria, the decision to send a child to school or to send them out on the streets to earn money is a daily dilemma for many households. The need for a daily wage often takes priority and many children are left without access to quality education. For those who do make it to school, the schools themselves are critically ill-equipped, with many struggling to maintain electricity supplies, let alone provide the books, resources and digital technology that modern education calls for.
Observing the contrast in opportunities for these two girls all those years ago ignited what would be a lifelong passion for promoting equal access to education, and led Edem to found the Mentoring Assistance for Youths and Entrepreneurs Initiative (MAYEIN) in 2012. In response to the lack of formal educational and community services, MAYEIN provides mobile computer classrooms for 4 public secondary schools, delivering practical training sessions and e-literacy lessons on computers and tablets for over 150 students. MAYEIN also brings a mobile library service to local communities, providing storybooks, educational resources, reading activities and a team of mentors to engage and promote equal opportunities in education, positive youth development and gender empowerment. Edem has also established community centres which focus on showcasing the positive effect of education for the whole family, and highlighting alternative sustainable ways to generate household income.
QCT is working with Edem from 2020 to help her to expand her organisation through the purchase of a second mobile-library van, a further 15 internet-ready laptops and 20 tablets, as well as hiring two additional staff members. QCT will also work with MAYEIN to provide advice and guidance on organisational areas including safeguarding and financial management.
Continue reading to learn more about MAYEIN, and hear from Edem herself in the Q&A and video below.
MAYEIN is working towards SDGs 4. Quality Education.
Oyo State has the largest number of children out of school of in south-western Nigeria, with many having to support household income instead of accessing education. When children do make it to school, the schools themselves are ill-equipped to provide quality education, struggling to access electricity let alone the books, resources and technology needed to help children and their families break out of poverty in the future.
MAYEIN organises digital literacy programs for children and young people across schools and community settings in Oyo State, including a computer classroom to visit local schools, mobile library services, competitions and community clubs. Parents are also encouraged to engage at local community centres, developing skillsets and learning new sustainable means of household income.
MAYEIN’s mobile classroom teaches over 150 students across three schools during an active school term, whilst at the same time engaging school-based teachers to monitor and guide the students in an e-club. They have recently added a fourth school which will add another 50 children per term, and with the support of QCT, Edem hopes to reach 5 new schools, totalling 500 additional students, over the coming year.
Getting to know Edem Ossai
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Edem Ossai and I am a development practitioner working at the intersections of education, youth and gender. In 2012, I founded MAYEIN, a non-profit that exists to promote inclusive learning and positive youth development. I believe that young people are a great positive asset in their communities, and every society must develop their potential and establish pathways to engage them meaningfully. My work has led me to provide a series of consultations at both national and African regional level. In 2017, I was appointed a technical consultant on the globally award-winning project ‘Girls Connect’, implemented by Girl Effect, Nigeria. The Project positively impacted over 7,000 girls in Northern Nigeria with financial literacy, safety education, and live role model conversations. I have also been an active member in consultations for developing gender and youth strategies for adoption by the Gender Directorate and Governance Secretariat respectively of the African Union Commission.
Why did you decide to work in this area?
When I was 14 years old, I witnessed one of my neighbours – a little girl of about age 6, miss the opportunity of schooling. Every morning, with a basket balanced on her head, the little girl walked with her aunty to a street corner where they sold roasted plantains to menial workers until the sun set. Seeing this painful loss of opportunity put me on my path working in child advocacy. In 2002, at the age of 17, I attended the biennial AFRICAST Conference of African Heads of States and media entities as a UNICEF delegate, and I advocated for the passage of the Child Rights Bill in Nigeria, so young girls like my neighbour would not be denied the education they deserve. But years later, I discovered that the law I helped pass was not enough. Every time I visited my mother in Ibadan during my work leave periods, I witnessed a tsunami of street children, alternatively hawking or begging on road corners instead of being in school. A UNESCO report published in 2011 also showed that my home, Oyo State, had the highest number of out-of-school children in the South-West region of the country, as well as an alarmingly low literacy rate amongst secondary school graduates. Worried about the consequence for young people’s future readiness, I initiated my mobile library project aimed at improving both formal and digital literacy for children in poor communities.
What were your first steps to get the project off the ground?
First, I quit my job in 2011 and relocated to Ibadan, a town in Nigeria and the capital of Oyo State. I started the mobile library in Ibadan, taking books, non-formal learning activities and e-learning resources to children in poor communities and fringe parts the city. To kick start the mobile library, I visited several book publishing firms and bookstores in the city, requesting book donations in order to build a small library collection. I identified a community with a high at-risk youth population and an absence of positive youth development (PYD) activities, and visited the Association of Landlords and Residents in that community, delivering a presentation requesting approval to launch my mobile library and PYD programmes for local children and young people. I then designed a program of activities and recruited a volunteer who would co-facilitate the sessions and help supervise during library hours. Thus began my organisation’s first programme. By the first year, over 200 children had become registered users of the mobile library program and each Saturday, we would record an average attendance of 60 children participating in a range of activities, from reading, basic ICT skills training, spelling bees and interactions, with guests as formal mentors. The number of our volunteers also grew, and I knew this idea had the capacity to scale up further.
What challenges have you faced along the way, and how did you overcome them?
A major challenge I faced was moving from a passionate change advocate to an organisational leader. I began my journey out of an intuitive desire to do good in my community, but I quickly discovered that managing an organisation is more complex than simply leading a passion project. So, in order for my organisation to survive I had to acquire critical organisational and managerial competencies. Maturing into the type of leader that could run an effective organisation hasn’t been easy but every day I am improving. So far, I have taken many relevant online courses, gotten a graduate degree in international development, attended useful workshops for non-profit leaders and I frequently engage with professional mentors. A crucial milestone in my leadership growth came in 2016, when I was selected by the US State department into the Mandela Washington Fellowship program. This resulted in a 3-month leadership exchange with other civic leaders who, like me, were exposed to outstanding experts in the field of non-profit development, a practicum-based experience with a US non-profit, as well as a network of vast tools and resources for strengthening non-profit systems and processes.
What has been your proudest moment with this work?
My proudest moment since I began my work in social impact was being selected as an Obama Foundation scholar in 2018. Here I had the opportunity to interact with the former US President, Barack Obama, attending a meeting organised for 25 young global changemakers in Chicago, USA, to talk about what we think transformative leadership really means and the demands it asks of us. My other proudest moment was when I opened the doors of my first ever community youth centre in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria, where hundreds of teenagers and youths are now able to freely access library resources, soft skills development, vocational skills training, as well as basic ICT skills opportunities and resources.
What is the most important thing you’ve learnt?
The most important thing I have learnt in my journey of social impact is best captured in the African adage: “If you want to travel fast, travel alone but if you want to travel far, travel with others”. I have learnt that my zeal, good intent and even skilfulness are not enough to realise real lasting impact… I need people. In the beginning I didn’t fully appreciate this but now, after many years of limping along the path of sustainable impact, I understand the vital role that people play as partners, champions and supporters. Currently a major strategy I employ is connecting, engaging and mobilising committed people as partners in different ways for my organisation and our various strategic objectives.
What are your future goals for your organisation?
A major goal is to establish MAYEIN Youth Centres (MYCs) across all 774 local government areas in the country, especially in the poorest and most underserved communities, delivering a range of programmes, learning resources and skills opportunities to thousands of teenagers, adolescents and young people who are economically and socially at-risk. Another important goal is to effectively deliver basic computer and ICT training to 1 million public school children in Oyo State over the next 5 years, to improve the digital literacy of school children in Oyo State.
Why do you think it’s important for young people to be equal partners in driving change in the world?
It is important for young people to be equal partners in driving change because we are equally affected by societal problems, and if these problems aren’t resolved the consequences for the future are ours to bear. But more importantly, because we too have potentially viable ideas, we are bold enough to launch them and are technology-savvy, making us capable of finding the solutions that work best. If we are engaged as equal partners in development rather than as people to be helped or managed, then we will have co-ownership of the tools and resources needed for solving these myriad problems, and we too will add our voices to the planning that is often led in our absence. It is now clear that previous models which failed to involve young people as partners in development have not worked. The world will not record real progress if leaders do not meaningfully engage young people in driving solutions. I and other QCT partners across Commonwealth are proof that, with the right measure of investment in us, we are capable of dealing with huge problems in a real and lasting manner. It is essential that the world fully optimises the energies, capabilities and disposition of youth towards positive change. Not doing so would be tragic.
What are your top 3 tips for young people who have a great idea, but are wondering how to get started?
1. Believe that you can make a difference. Always hold on to that bold belief that you can make change happen. That precious optimism which served as your catalyst in the beginning is going to be the fuel you need throughout your very challenging changemaking journey. You must do all you can to nurture it amidst the tough constraints and disappointment that the world will ever so often dish out, because If you lose it then your engine comes to a grinding halt.
2. Network. My second piece of advice is find and surround yourself with the right people. You must be intentional about seeking a support system of experienced people and leveraging them continuously throughout your journey. For me, I have discovered that belonging in a cohort of other changemakers is a powerful driver, so I am constantly seeking to belong in active cohorts of young leaders. I engage other young leaders by constantly asking questions, working on projects together and seeking tools for improving my work. Young leaders should avoid walking in Isolation.
3. Actively scale up. Finally, scale your work. You can achieve this by being ambitious and setting bigger targets each year. Every time your organisation succeeds in reaching a specific target and you have evaluated the impact, the next step should be to set an even bigger target. Development gaps are huge and too many people in the world are left out of development, so corresponding our interventions should be huge and targeted at many. Good luck!
What does working with QCT mean to you?
The QCT support holds both tangible and intangible meaning for me. The tangible aspect lies in the value of the grant and the opportunity it presents for my organisation to scale its programmes. This is very huge! But the intangible aspect gives me an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and pride. When I recall my journey over the past 8 years of struggling to impact young people in my community and to evolve from a passion-driven actor into an organisational leader, it is as though by offering this support, QCT has given me an invisible pat on my back and is saying to me "Well done Edem, we are proud of your efforts in your community". The QCT support will enable me empower, through my organisation, an additional 450 school children in 6 public secondary schools in Oyo State, Nigeria, with basic ICT skills so they too can access the world of the internet and leverage technology for learning beyond the classroom.
Article published: May 2020
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