The Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE Nigeria), engages with and fights for the rights of the most vulnerable of Nigerian children through its empowerment activities targeted at the most at-risk children in the urban slums and remote areas. Executive Director Betty Abah talks to Joy Ehonwa about “righting lives, restoring hopes, one child at a time.”
CN: Please tell us a little about your educational and professional background.
I am basically a journalist; I have a first degree and a Master’s degree in Literature in English from the University of Calabar and the University of Lagos respectively (1999 and 2012).
As a journalist I practiced with a number of publications in Nigeria and the USA for half a decade, majorly Newswatch Magazine, TELL Magazine and the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado, USA (as a media fellowship reporter). I have five publications including two collections of poems (Sounds of Broken Chains and Go Tell Our King) and a biography (Mother of Multitudes).
I also worked for another half a decade with the Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Nigeria’s frontline environmental justice campaign organization. Much of the time at ERA, I led the women’s programme desks which saw me working with women in polluted and impoverished Niger Delta communities hosting crude oil pipelines. I also worked at a point on same campaign at the sub-regional level in a number of African countries.
Generally, I decided at a point in my journalism career not to just report issues but to take the road less travelled, and that is to take sides. In this case, to side with the oppressed, using my writing skills to highlight the vast and unwarranted suffering in our part of the world, to see how they can be addressed. I have seen successes and I have seen failures. I have leapt for joy, and I have cried at failed steps, but I am still here, still striving, and I hope that in the end, it shall be said of me that I thrived. So help me God.
CN: Why did you decide to focus on children with CEE-HOPE?
As you know, children in Nigeria are some of the most endangered in the world, not by hearsay but well-articulated researches by internationals bodies (UNICEF, UNESCO, UNFPA, Save Our Children etc.), and this relates to high mortality rates, a low state of wellbeing, among others. In particular, in the last couple of years, Nigeria has maintained the status of having the highest number of out-of-school children in the world (more than 11 million). There is also an alarming increase in incidences of sexual abuse of children across the country. Again, children in slums and excluded communities are the most at-risk for these societal malaises. How can we be their voices? How can we help them outgrow the negative tags imposed by society and sometimes reinforced by government? How can we correct these anomalies, bring government closer to them? What can we do to make them grow up as normal children, embracing adulthood, maximizing their potentials?
We found out also that these children, young people in marginalized communities about whom most of society don’t seem to be bothered, and about whose existence and welfare governments at the various levels do not care often turn out to haunt the society as they grow into ‘children of anger’ eg Boko Haram and Niger Delta militants.
So, at CEE-HOPE, we believe that engaging these children, giving them a sense of belonging, of love, of responsibility, and empowering them via educational scholarships and other educational support (eg summer school programmes), grooming their potentials, rehabilitating them (eg enrolling teenage mothers back in school) and mentoring them makes so much difference. Not only are these children propped up to become assets to society, they rise above poverty and pull their families up the ladder, from the backgrounds of misery and vulnerability into which they are born. It’s been daunting, exacting but undoubtedly, very fulfilling.
We currently work in five states (Lagos, Ogun, Benue, Plateau and Bayelsa) and hoping to expand as we access more funding and resources.
CN: What conditions define a vulnerable and at-risk child?
For instance, children in slums, born by very indigent parents, a single mother or plain motherless. Every day survival is almost an impossible task. Feeding, clothing are luxuries and getting an education is almost out of the question. With time the child becomes disillusioned then radicalised by the environment and becomes vulnerable to all sorts of bad influences e.g. fundamentalism, criminal gangs, prostitution or trafficking rings etc.
CN: What kind of empowerment does CEE-HOPE offer these children?
Scholarships, educational support services (eg summer classes, school massive supply of school materials even to those not on direct scholarship) mentorship and re-orientation classes, skills acquisition, psycho-social support services, rehabilitation, sensitization campaign eg our Rise-Against-Rape-and-Abuse (RARA) programme, child’s rights advocacy e.g. against sexual or general abuse.
CN: What are some of CEE-HOPE’s more successful programs?
Our most vibrant and successful program is our Girls-Go-for-Greatness (‘Triple G’) programme, dealing with educational support, skills and rehabilitation of at-risk girls in slums and excluded communities. It has impacted on thousands of girls across Lagos, Ogun, Benue and Bayelsa. Our mentoring programme has been awesome and we have recorded several successes in our girl rehabilitation program ranging from our work with teenage mums, victims of child sexual abuse to even rehabilitating a street girl. It’s been incredible seeing that a little effort, a little gesture can make so much difference, can redirect people’s lives so positively. Our girl program is actually one of the things that keep me going with the CEE-HOPE vision. It’s been exciting.
Last October, we produced a short documentary film titled ‘RUN’ which focuses on the menace of child marriage, and most of the cast are girl club members drawn mostly from Makoko, Lagos, West Africa’s largest slum community.
Also, just on March 8, as part of the celebration of the ‘International Women’s Day’ 2017, a TV station in Germany, Sat 3, ran a documentary on our work (alongside two other organisations in Nigeria as part of the ‘Wiki Loves Women’ initiative by Wikipedia. Our girl program was the focus. It’s been an incredible three years running CEE-HOPE and we appreciate our supporters especially Nigerians at home and abroad who are sympathetic towards these children. We believe that God has more in store for us and for all His children.
CN: How can individuals and organisations support CEE-HOPE?
We are just a click away via our various social media and other platforms:
Address: Plot 397B, George Crescent, Agbalajobi Estate, Off WEMCO Road, Ogba, Lagos, Nigeria