Giving back to my alma mater, Reagan
Education is a very important aspect of our lives, and in particular, secondary school education during which we attain puberty and recognition.
In late Nelson Mandela’s words – “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
Most of the educational establishments in Nigeria have been impacted by the generosity of western influence when missionaries from various countries, mainly the United Kingdom and United States of America, came with a vision of enriching the lives of people through their missionary activities and schools. They established several missionary secondary schools from diverse denominations such as Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Anglican etc. in Nigeria. At the time, the primary objective of the missionaries was to convert people to Christianity through education. The mission schools eventually proved to provide better quality education than state schools, because at the time in our educational history, there were very few state schools. Parents therefore preferred to send their children to the mission secondary schools, in spite of difference in religious backgrounds. The mission schools did more than simply teaching students to read and write; they also introduced western ideas and beliefs about family life. They preached the Christian faith and provided humanitarian aid.
In 1975, the Federal Government of Nigeria decided that all schools should belong to the state because it was perceived that there was a level of discrimination with some faith-based educational establishments, including Islamic schools. If the students were not of the same religious beliefs as the schools they made application to, they were rejected unless highly recommended. Consequently, majority of the schools taken over were not properly maintained, and some became derelict, that it was hard to believe notable Nigerians attended them.
With students’ academic performances plummeting during the time the schools were forcibly taken over by the Federal Government, several stakeholders opined that the schools would be better managed by the various religious denominations that established them.
Furthermore, proponents believed that returning the schools to the original owners would revive the fall in educational standard. There was evidence that when the missionaries were in charge of their respective schools, discipline and stringent regulations were in place, which helped shape the students better. Teachers seemed demotivated due to the usual indolent attitude associated with working in the public sector where they would still be paid despite not meeting up to their KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).
Thankfully, by 2001, the schools were returned to the missions to manage. Each school was then left to improve its standards such as renovation of buildings, procurement of laboratory facilities, fully equipped libraries were built, up-to-date technologies for teaching were provided, amongst other things. No doubt a humongous task to bring each school back to its former glory and focus was on the recruitment of quality teaching and academic staff to service the students they aimed to attract. It was at this point that the support of Old Students became imperative which led to the establishment of Alumni Associations.
I played my part by establishing the OId Girls’ Association for my alma mater – Reagan Memorial Baptist Girls’ Secondary School, Yaba, Lagos – which I aptly coined as ‘ROGA’. The acronym – ROGA – means Reagan Old Girls’ Association – which I knew would be easily remembered and added ‘UK’ – making ‘ROGA-UK’, to denote United Kingdom (the abode of its formation). The inauguration was held on 25 March 1995. The name, ROGA has since been replicated by other chapters of the Association to represent their various locations across the world. A name that now resonates with other Alumni Associations, and synonymous with ladies in blue pinafore with neatly tied bow and matching white blouse tied; and burgundy beret – all worn elegantly to signify students properly attired and schooled.
In my capacity as the Inaugural President of ROGA-UK (25 March 1995 to 9 September 2003), I had the pleasure of returning to my alma mater, Reagan in Nigeria, in August 1996; after several decades of leaving the school. I made enquiries on how the Association could give back as a way of showing appreciation for the exemplary education given to us. Part of my contributions was to offer financial support towards the School Library, which was under construction at the time, in addition to other projects whilst continuing with other charitable work in the United Kingdom. I met my former English Language and English Literature Teacher Mrs Dawodu (nee Oriyomi) – an Old Girl from 1959 to 63/64. Her passion for excellence in education made her return to teach at the school from 1969 – 1982. Thereafter, she became the Principal from 1994 – 2001. The catchy name of ROGA made a huge impact on her that she admitted several decades later to me, that the full name of the school previously adopted for their association had to change. In the spirit of uniformity, she mentioned the proposal to the President of the association at the time (Deaconess Oluremi Omotosho) and conducted investigation for approval of the name – ROGA in Nigeria which then became officially registered. Little did I know that a seemingly innocent discussion would evolve to a name that would now be globally recognised.
Mrs Dawodu has been instrumental to the implementation of several projects during her tenure as principal of the school. Her passion for giving back to her alma mater is illimitable. To date, she is always available to support laudable projects which involves giving back to her alma mater, of which she is very proud. As the Principal at the time, she spearheaded the commencement of the Anita Roper Library. Miss Anita Roper was the Baptist American Missionary who spent several decades at Reagan – a lady admired by Reagan Old Girls because of the Christian values she impacted on all who passed through the school. Other initiatives included the re-introduction of Prefects wearing black beret with a special badge displaying their position. Mrs Dawodu, in her interview with Sunday Vanguard on 18 May 1997 entitled “Our dream is for Reagan to be Reagan again”, will forever be remembered for the erection of the statue of a Reagan girl in uniform – which is conspicuously positioned in the middle of the school’s driveway to date.
Some notable Old Girls who have made impressive contributions, include Mrs Jolomi Atimomo (1966 set), who made generous donation of a fully equipped computer room through her previous employer – Nigerian Breweries Plc. Mrs Morin Babalola-Desalu (1974 set), the former Chief Executive Officer of Risk-watch, an Insurance company – has been relentless in her support for ROGA, served in various capacities and now a member of the Board of Trustees for ROGA Nigeria. Another admirable Reaganite is Deaconess Oluremi Omotosho (nee Yewande) – 1960 set. She was the first Nephrology Nurse in Nigeria. She served as ROGA Nigeria’s first President, a previous member of the Board of Governors for the school, and despite her advanced years (83), still a member of the Board of Trustees for ROGA Nigeria.
I had the privilege of meeting Deaconess Omotosho in October 1996 and shared beautiful moments of the joy of giving back to a school which has produced so many honourable professionals in Nigeria – one of whom was Deaconess Joanna Ayo – a former Permanent Secretary and Senior Special Assistant to former President of Nigeria – General Olusegun Obasanjo. Deaconess Ayo gave back through the book she co-authored with me – ‘A Life of Service in the Nigerian Baptist Mission Field’ celebrating the life of Miss Anita Roper, the missionary who impacted Christian values on Reagan students as a Teacher in the school, and other positions she held whilst in Nigeria. Other members of ROGA chapters have also made immense contributions to the development of the school.
In 2019, I decided to establish an independent and solo initiative which would encompass various projects, tagged – Giving Back Initiative to my Alma Mater – Reagan. In October 2019, I organised a seminar for the current students on Mentoring. There were about 120 Senior School (SS1,SS2 & SS3) students. This was an uplifting session where they learned the importance of mentoring. During the pandemic, which was a time everyone lacked motivation due to the global lockdown, a programme on Motivation was hosted in 2020 via Zoom – the popular video-conferencing tool. The students were ecstatic and shared their thoughts on challenges and coping mechanisms of online learning. Thereafter, an online exciting Quiz competition was organised, and cash prizes were presented to the participants. In March 2021, I organised an online Public Speaking Competition – first of its kind for any alma mater. The participants were presented with enviable cash prizes.
Amongst the Old Girls who witnessed the laudable event was Mrs Yetunde Ogunlana (nee Cole). She was in the first set of students admitted to Reagan in 1957. The delight of witnessing such occasion brought back memories for the much older generation, which affirms the need to give back.
Reagan is indeed a great Alma (kind and nourishing) Mater (Mother) to be celebrated and which is why a day in May of every year, is earmarked the ‘Founder’s Day’.
The pith of this piece is that Old Students can give back to their alma mater in many ways – either as an individual, small group of people or as an association with hundreds of old students. Giving back does not only have to entail renovation of buildings, donation of huge office equipment but could also be as little as buying books or stationery. Some Old Students, in pursuit of promoting the reading culture, launch Book Clubs. They organise Career Talks, Wellbeing Programmes, Counselling Sessions, etc. Others prefer to make financial contributions to support projects whilst some encourage their employers, as part of their corporate social responsibility, to sponsor programmes and events hosted by their alma maters. A way of giving back is also to sponsor or award scholarships to students from less privileged backgrounds or students with exemplary academic brilliance. No amount of money or support of giving back is too small for an alma mater. The most important aspect is the positive impact of the contribution to either the development of the school and/or empowerment of students.
At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished… It’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve helped make better. It’s about what you’ve given back (Denzel Washington – Hollywood Actor).
Fatusin is a Freelance Writer based in the United Kingdom. An Alumna of Reagan Memorial Baptist Girls Secondary School, Lagos (1979 set).
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