American, Grushkin, brings education to Tomaro-Onisiwo Island
Tomaro-Onisiwo Island comprises 26 riverine village settlements located near the port of Lagos in Amuwo Odofin local council of Lagos State. The island plays host to tens of thousands of barely literate inhabitants. Transportation within communities on the island is strictly by boat.
Some villages on the island are Araromi, Irede, Okoata, Ifako, Agalla, I and II, Shiku, Agbojedo, Ito Agan, Maja Estate, Sagbokoji, Akponowa, Bishopkoji Ganviekodji, Ilutitun, Igboelejo and Nanti, among others.
Sadly, the island presents a classic picture of a community whose educational needs have been grossly neglected over the years by successive administrations. Apart from this dearth of educational facilities, social and economic development within the community , which The Guardian visited remained at its lowest ebb.
In other words, the island is in obvious denial of the much-trumpeted democratic dividends, as they lack access to basic infrastructures like electricity, potable water, health centres facilities, among others.
When Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, recently announced that his administration would provide free education up to senior secondary school level to ensure that no child was denied his/her right to education, it was not clear whether children from Onisiwu Island Kingdom were included in such plan, as a recent tour to some of the villages put the 2016 Lagos State Strategic Plan to revamp its education system in doubt.
Before 2009, schooling for youths of Tomaro-Onisiwo Kingdom ended at the primary level. Those who had the will and the enablement to go further had to go upland for secondary education, where they had to cross the river on daily basis. Ferry fare to the Liverpool Boat Jetty, which is the gateway to the communities used to be N100 for unpainted, rickety boats and N200 for painted, serviceable boats befor the ongoing fuel scarcity. “Now we are paying N150 for the shabby boat and if you want the beautiful one, it costs N300, because of fuel scarcity,” a villager said.
The intervention of a school teacher from Teaneck Middle School, Texas, United States, Deena Grushkin, turned things around.
Grushkin who is also the Founder and Director of The Nigerian School Project (TNSP), in 2009 constructed a six-classroom block, which houses Tomaro Junior and Senior Secondary School. It also has an administrative block and staff quarters.
Upon completion, the school was officially handed over to the state government to provide administrative services. Today, the school has over 300 students with six teachers including the principal and vice principal. Up till this moment, the school remains the only secondary school in island, servicing students from 26 indigenous communities.
For her kindheartedness, the people of community recently honoured Grushkin with a chieftaincy title of “Amuludun of Tomaro-Onisiwu Island.” This was during a reception organised in her honour.
At the ceremony, the excited villagers showered praises on Grushkin for making it possible for their wards to attend secondary schools within the island.
Speaking on her accomplishment, Grushkin said, “I have been coming to Nigeria for the past 14 years, but I visited Tomaro-Onisiwo for the first time in 2008. The Baale asked me to build a school and I picked interest since I am a teacher. I went back to America to raise funds and the junior school was built in 2009 while the senior school was built in 2014.
“We also built the staff quarters to encourage quality teachers to come here. The junior school has consistently come 13th in the state examination for three years in a row. That is out of 3,000 schools. I know that the schools have needs and that is why we want the state government to create a sustainable project.
She continued, “It is not my job to keep the school alive. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that the schools continue to have enough teachers. But I am happy that there are results already. The school was recently given computers as a reward for doing well in the state examination and now we have a solar power project provided by the government.’’
Eulogising Grushkin for doing what government has failed to do over the years, the Baale of Tomaro, Alhaji Sulaimon Aliu, said, “An American teacher built the two schools in this community. Before she built them, many of our children did not go beyond primary school. They could not brave the water to attend school every day. Only a few of them attended secondary schools in Apapa. The schools now have more than 300 students from many communities on this island. Many of our children would have become traders like us but for Grushkins.
“Absence of secondary school in the entire community was a big challenge for us because there is no way to come or leave this place other than through the boats you saw at the Liverpool Jetty, or you have access to a helicopter. Many of us here are traders and fishermen. We are peasants. All we want from government is to treat us as citizens. The only thing we have benefitted is the solar power project and it is located within the junior and senior school.”
On the part of the Balle of Agala I, Alhaji Isa Okeshina Olusiwo, “The foreigner has done us well in this kingdom. What we need from the government is to help establish more schools and recruit more teachers for the school and we need a general hospital. These are the major challenges the community is going through.”
Principal of Tomaro Junior School, Mr. Titoni Dumas Ekiugbo, who informed that the school needs additional classrooms and up-to-date learning infrastructure to meet the learning needs of the communities said, “We need additional classrooms because our classrooms are choked up. We have about 229 students in three classrooms. The remaining three classrooms are for senior school and they received permission to operate late last year. We started the senior secondary school with 30 students, we are thinking of converting the staff quarters to classrooms.
“We need the government to help us with learning facilities and books especially now that we have senior school. The facilities that we used to have for the junior school are no longer sufficient and they are meant for the junior classes.”
On her part, the principal of senior school, Mrs. Akinlosotu Gladys Abimbola, urged government to help provide facilities needed for 21st-century learning so as to be able to produce students who can compete with their peers anywhere in the world.
Project Coordinator, TNSP, Rev. Andrew Duya, stressed the need for the state government to establish more structures so as tackle the educational needs of the communities and offer the youths opportunities to develop themselves, rather than staying idle in the community.
He said, “The initial problem was to stop children from crossing the dangerous water in an effort to attend school in Apapa. That was why the school was built in 2014. But approval was not granted for the senior school until 2015. You can see now that more classrooms are needed.
“The community has supported the school and you can see that they cherish education. There are two teachers for the junior school and five teachers for the senior schools. You will not believe that the government pays the salaries of only six teachers in the junior school while the community pays four teachers. That is how much committed they are to educating their children.”
Although there are two primary schools established by the state government, a resident in Tamoru community, who identified himself as Tajudeen, said the school were presently in a sorry state.
He wondered why government was yet to construct more primary and secondary schools on the island to save pupils/students from crossing the river in their quest to gain knowledge.
However, a concerned parent, Mrs. Agatha Mordi who stressed the need for government to focus its attention on rural communities, urged Ambode to come to their aid since they were also indigenes of the state.
A youth who identified himself as Soji, complained that most of them were denied access to the secondary school.
Reacting to the claim, Ekiugbo explained, “Yes, some youths are coming from the neighbouring communities, but we cannot just accommodate them because of government’s policy. If they don’t go through the primary school and take the common entrance examination, we cannot admit them. Those accepted are those whose names were sent from the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB). So, once admission seekers come to us, we refer them to SUBEB.”
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