Two Nigerian teenagers had never touched a computer keyboard before they joined a learning programme known as the Ajegunle.org Capacity Building Exercise. Nwanyiego Ijeh, a girl known as Ego, and a young man, James O. Raphael, lived and worked in Ajegunle, a dangerous part of Lagos, populated by three million people from all the tribes of West Africa. This year, former Ajegunle trainees will be coming to eLA to tell their own story about the revolutionary success of a project that has changed their lives and given them ICT and entrepreneurial skills. Their programme manager Ugochukwu Nwosu first presented the scheme at eLA 2008. He returns this year to let the personal success stories speak for the project.
Ajegunle, trapped between the docklands of Apapa and Tincan, is notorious in Lagos for poverty, crime and prostitution. In English, its name means “residence of wealth” or “land of commerce” but until recently the only escape for young people from the vast slum known as “AJ City” was for the precious few with a talent for football or music. That was how it was before Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) arrived in Ajegunle. This was a social enterprise for young people, working with other self-help organisations, including the unusually-named Uncommon Man Network, to start a training programme for ICTs and entrepreneurship.
The Ajegunle.org capacity building exercise
Every other month, 25 students get the chance to participate in ICT and entrepreneurship training – free of charge. The deal is that the students are then expected to give back ten percent of their business profit to the project for the first six months after they complete the programme. Through orientation sessions they gather an understanding of how the project works and appreciate the notion of giving something back to their community. Successful young professionals from Ajegunle are on hand to persuade the trainees that growing up in a slum does not dictate failure in life. They use one particular exercise known as “Shine Your Eye” to demonstrate business opportunities in the community. Former trainees can earn money as second-level trainees training the next generation of learners.
James and Ego were among the first 25 Ajegunle participants and started their training on July 30, 2007. James had already started work as a cobbler and soon adjusted to combining his job with his studies. Ego learned about the programme through the Uncommom Man Network and was eager to join the new programme, even though she had never touched a computer keyboard.
Ugochukwu Nwosu remembered: “When we started Ajegunle.org in 2007, our main aim was to help under-served communities to create wealth through applying ICTs. As the years rolled by we noticed huge leaps – not just in the participants’ knowledge – but in their integration into broader society.”
Nwosu helped to design the project as a one-month exercise with networking events introducing trainees to experts and delegates from international partner institutions such as TakingITGlobal (Canada), Computer Aid International (Kenya), and the UK Trade and Investment department of the British Deputy High Commission in Lagos. There are now internships for some of the trainees.
Opening up new opportunities
Ego got her first work experience on a four-month internship at the British Deputy High Commission. It turned into a permanent position working in the visa section of the High Commission. She is also a part-time student at the University of Lagos.
James benefited from the “Community PC Ownership Idea” where trainees are encouraged to acquire personal computers for their own business. He is now very comfortable with ICTs and handles his own finances with information technology. He said, “Prior to the training, I never kept books for my business and I was unable to make progress.” Since graduating from the programme he re-invested in his growing business and found employment for other young people.
Nwosu has now trained more than ninety students: “Due to poverty, these young people were ignored by their parents and left to join their predecessors as motor boys or juvenile delinquents. They turned themselves around with ICT-supported learning processes“.
Growing interest in the project and its proteges
Successful graduates encouraged support for the project: “Last year we noticed increased interest from the community – even from local government which had previously displayed a lack of interest. We have received visitors like Nick Baird, the UK’s Director of Europe & Globalization, and Bob Dewar, the British Deputy High Commissioner in Nigeria, hosted a breakfast meeting urging organisations provide internships for our trainees.”
There have now been 27 internship opportunities and three graduates moved on to permanent jobs. A new group of trainees gathers on May 26, 2010 – the fifth since the programme began. The alumni group work as a team and to create the Ajegunle Innovation Centre to serve as a new location for training with workspace for the entrepreneurs and ICT services.
“We are also realising our plans to bring the programme to other slums in Lagos such as Mushin and Obalende and to the cities of Fastac and Itoku, both known for high crime rates and absence of organised business projections”, says Nwosu who is keen to enrich the lives of young people in other poor areas of Nigeria.
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Photos: © Ajegunle