SANGOSANYA: Turning The Fate Of Poor Children Around
UNLIKE many rich Nigerians that pay lip service to helping the poor, Tolulope Sangosanya took purposeful steps towards achieving concrete result in this regard. Her ‘workshop’ is an estate situated in AJ city. Aptly named the Dustbin Estate, it is a cluster of shanties on a huge refuse dump, where a very poor set of people live in Ajegunle.
Residing on a large heap of rubbish naturally poses a myriad of health hazards to both adults and the children, not to mention the attendant environmental issues. Whenever there is rainfall, the situation is worsened as the entire ‘estate’ is flooded, but the people still go about their normal duties in this deplorable state. And one cannot but wonder how these people survive, as they eat, drink, bathe, sleep and do virtually everything in this ever-smelly settlement.
But this is the estate Tolu is so passionate about and desires to rejuvenate. She is a fund-raiser, PR/Admin manager, as well as a planner and organiser. She studied mass communication at the Olabisi Onabanjo University. And one thing you cannot take from her is the fact that she loves her country. It comes as no surprise then that she won the Future Award for Best Use of Advocacy for her philanthropic work with the children living in Dustbin Estate, a popular ghetto in Lagos.
Tolu embarked on this journey when she was 23 years old, while celebrating her birthday. Then, she had begun feeding, showing love and attention to kids. Despite being from a broken home, she has so much love and attention to give others.
“People that grew up in situations like mine usually seek love and attention from other sources and not from the normal ones. I read in one of Zig Ziglar’s books that if you want something, you have to give it out first and then it automatically comes back to you,” she says.
One day, while coming from Maryland to Ikeja, she saw a child leading her father to beg. She found herself looking into the girl’s eyes and didn’t like what she saw.
“Her eyes were full of hopelessness: no spark or life. I asked myself what future such a girl has. There and then, I prayed, ‘Father Lord, I need you to use me to show the kind of love you have for humanity to other people.’ That’s how we started,” she recalls.
So, she invited friends and the first event planned was tagged “Feel Their Pain For One Day”. But that programme never held. It was supposed to involve fashion designers taking sewing machine round the streets of Lagos and making clothes for street kids instantly, without shelter from the sun or rain, so that volunteers could have a feel of how the poor people lived, sitting daily under the sun and begging.
“There’s something about begging that doesn’t do justice to your esteem. It kills the way you view yourself and belittles you,” she says.
She realised that for people to be able to do anything in life, they must first ‘kill’ themselves for people to believe in what they are saying. That precisely was what she did in order to touch the lives of others. And as she gave, she received in return.
“I studied the Bible over a period of time, and I realised there is a reward for everything we do while on earth, whether negative or positive. Indeed, our eternity largely depends on what is done while on earth,” she explains.
She discovered that giving to the poor, whether in the form of food or clothing and welcoming them into one’s homes is biblical and it has eternal rewards.
“It didn’t make sense initially because people have forgotten that others are made in the Lord’s image. When you treat someone kindly, you are treating God kindly because that person is made in His image. He is the One and only Source. And that is the level I am right now,” she says.
Her LOTS Charity Foundation started a literacy class for the Dustbin Estate kids with 25 children on February 14, 2009. This number later doubled. By 2009, some 120 children enjoyed the literacy programme. Though some of the kids stopped attending, but new members were also joining. Today, the number is about 100.
Meanwhile, gifts and donations from churches, friends and family come handy. People drop by to share joyful moments with the kids, who enjoy all the fun while it lasts. For instance, Banky W, the popular artiste celebrated his birthday with the kids. Fountain Church, VGC, Women’s Fellowship also came with clothes, toys and stuffs for the kids. Pan African University came in 2009 to also make some donations to the estate.
Since inception, an estimated 2,000 children have felt the impact of the NGO’s efforts. And Tolu says that next month, about 5,000 kids will be fed in Lagos with 1,500 kids simultaneously in Makoko, The Beggars Colony in Oko-Baba and the Dustbin Estate, including 500 other children, who are those begging and hawking.”
Today, the beautiful children of the “Dustbin Estate” are learning in the midst of decay. And although she is recording tremendous success, Tolu is facing sundry challenges, which are expected.
“The first major challenge is inadequate funding. The second is actually getting capable hands to work with. Though I had people that volunteered in the past, but I soon realised that their motives were wrong. The major challenge of volunteering in Nigeria is that everybody expects something in return. Everyone is looking for what to get from something. I did this job for five years without getting paid.
“So, I’m constantly wondering how to work with such people. This kind of job is a non-for-profit. You can make excess and surplus, but you’ll have to plough it back into the business. Even when we get people who have the competence to do what we want, most times, we can’t afford to pay their salaries, at least for now. And because of that, I’m wearing too many caps: I’m the fund-raiser, the PR, the admin manager, and I also do the planning and organising.
“I’m looking for other alternatives making money and raising funds. Thank God we have teachers, but again I need more people who are self-driven and trustworthy. A person who is not passionate about children and does not love children will fade out,” she says.
LOTS Charity foundation needs organisational structure.
“I’ve seen NGOs that are run more effectively because of their structures, but I don’t have that. We are willing to pay for professionals to help, but right now we don’t have the funding. I do not intend to still be the leader of this outfit in the next 10 years. By then, I should only be giving ideas and advice. I want a company that will outlive me,” she says.
Another challenge confronting her is the lack of cooperation of some parents. Some of them stopped their children from attending classes for reasons as flimsy as that the children don’t get material gifts when items are occasionally shared by private and corporate donors.
“What such people don’t understand is that what we plant in the lives of those kids will have an impact on where they’ll be in the next 20 years,” she says.
So, how has she been managing these children, especially with uncooperative parents?
Tolu says she is more concerned about what happens to these potential leaders in the future. Each time she sees the kids, she sees something big.
“But while some parents value education, others think they are doing me a favour by bringing their children to come and learn to read and write. I usually tell them that I do this just because I love Nigeria and their kids, because God loves me. If I am like every other person, I’ll just mind my own business and live my own life on an Island, but I can’t do that. I’m supposed to be the light and salt of the world. I cannot function as salt if I don’t mix with other people and I know the life of those children will actually be better, if their parents support what we are doing and begin to see something positive for their children. I can’t keep dreaming for their children, if they themselves can’t dream for their children.”
To keep body and soul together, She runs two companies— LOTS Charity Foundation and a real estate that engages in event planning, fundraising and organising charity parties among others. The for-profit business is intended to provide for the not-for-profit one.
After attending a social sector management course at the Pan African University, she learnt to grow beyond writing proposals and seeking people’s donations. Her plan is to establish a modern resource centre, which would cater for various needs of the children. In 2010, Africa Magic featured Naija Diamonds, a documentary on different young Nigerians making positive impact in the country. Tolu’s work was featured and as a result, a Cameroonian who works with the World Bank in South Africa showed interest in her work. Someone else who owns a furniture making company also wants to help with designing nice tables and chairs for use at the proposed resource centre.
“The resource Centre itself would be a refuge out of the refuse. Right now the kids live on a refuse dump. We want to have a resource Centre where they can visit and be able to think beyond their immediate environment; to stimulate them to think differently and say to themselves: ‘that we started from here does not mean we should end here’. They should begin to aspire for greatness,” she explains.
The Resource Centre will have a Common Room where the kids can watch educative programmes on some DSTV channels, a computer room for acquiring computer and Internet skills; classroom(s), where Montessori teachers will apply audiovisuals in teaching and a soup kitchen, where the kids will be fed three times in a week.
There will also be a vocational room, where useful entrepreneurial skills such as photography, carpentry, fashion design and tie and dye will be taught. Somebody has also provided 20 cameras for the kids, while another person has volunteered to train them in the art of photography. Also included in the Resource Centre plans are a library and an administrative office.
“My perception of myself is beautiful, but I didn’t get there in one day. It took me years of building plus the love of God and my mentors: Prof. Wale Omole and Fela Durotoye. I once had inferiority complex from where I moved to superiority complex and now I have moved to being simply Tolulope,” she says.