Thirty-four school children are off the streets today thanks to a young woman, who picked them, housed them, sent them to school and taught them to perform. However, despite their successes, that the children may be back on the streets, KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE reports
Ihuoma Harrison is not yet married but is a mother to 34 children aged five to 17. The children were once living on the streets and not going to school. Because of funds and accommodations
Today, she houses them, feeds them, sends them to school, and teaches them performing arts. The young group, called Gifted Steppers, is already attracting attention. Last Thursday, they performed at the Lagos Primary Schools Poetry Festival organised by the Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (LASUBEB) in collaboration with Artswax Communication to launch the book, Eko Poems, an anthology of nursery rhymes.
Chairman, Lagos SUBEB, Mr. Wahab Alawiye-King was one of those impressed by the group’s performance. He praised their interpretation of the programme which included some of the poems in the book written by some 33 public primary school pupils.
I applaud this young woman. She is doing great things. She picked these children from the streets; sent them to school and is training them. I urge you to support her,” he said after the children’s performance.
In an interview with The Nation, Ihuoma said she decided to help the children because she was once homeless like them.
She said she exposed the children to the arts because that was how she left the streets, got trained and got an education.
I was once like them because I remember when my father died, there was no way my mother could assist. The landlord threw our load outside. I and my siblings started sleeping at different points – just like the children started sleeping at different points until I started dance group in the church. I started dancing there. And from there I heard of another professional dance group, I joined. From there also I heard of the national troupe audition. I went. I was among those selected out of more than 100 people.
That was how God used the arts to give me a life. God used the arts to send me to school. I sent myself to the university. I studied Marketing. So I said since God used the arts to save me, I started giving back to the less privileged through arts,” she said.
Asked if the children have families, Ihuoma said their families were aware she was taking care of them.
The children have families. Some have single mothers or fathers. They (parents) know that they are with me. They were once helpless; sleeping under the sun. When it shines, it is on them; when it rains, it is on them. The kids were not going to school. By the grace of God today, they can all read and write. They are all in school,” she added.
Apart from attending school and performing on stage, Ihuoma said the children also learn vocations.
Gifted Steppers uses the arts to reach out to less privileged children, disadvantaged school kids. We are using the arts to send them to school. They dance, they act, drum, draw. They also learn how to sew. I register them in a professional fashion designing school where they go twice in a week to learn how to sew, while the boys go to learn professional shoe cobbling academy to learn how to make shoes,” she said.
While all these efforts have transformed the lives of the children, Ihuoma however said raising the funds does not come easy. She said funds for their upkeep which is over N400,000 monthly ( with food and utilities costing N350,000 alone) comes from performances and goodwill which may not come steadily.
“We are trying to seek for help. In two weeks, we consume a bag of rice, bag of beans, bag of garri. In a month, we spend close to N350,000 on feeding, light; gas. If we have people donate foodstuff to us, our expenses monthly drops down to N105, 000, N110,000. However, when there is no donation, we spend about N350,000 monthly,” she said.
Regarding funding the school fees, which is about N300,000 a term, Ihuoma said the group sometimes gets people who pay for a while. However, she is seeking for longer term commitment so she does not worry about their fees.
“I wish we could get people who could sponsor their education so that is taken care of. That will really help us,” she said.
However, a more pressing need now for Ihuoma and the Gifted Steppers is getting accommodation. She said the rented three-bedroom flat they live in located in Ikorodu, has been sold. They have little time to seek another conducive accommodation if not, they would be back on the streets where they came from.
This is what we need in our society, to look out for the less privileged and help them to stand if you are privileged, help the unprivileged once, your reward will never be invain.