Lagos, Nigeria. Wikimedia Commons

The Little Bamboo School

The lagoon children, the youth, and the sick of Lagos: love for these people gives rise to works that have an impact on the structure of society and overcome divisions, even religious ones.
Paola Ronconi

They call it, fondly, the “little bamboo school.” This is the kindergarten and elementary school of the village of Ikate Waterside, on the lagoon on the outskirts of Lagos. It is attended by 400 children, most of whom are sons and daughters of fishermen living in stilt houses above the water. These are very poor children, who find a serene and welcoming environment at the school. “The numerous authorities (diplomats, members of the European Commission in Nigeria, and government officials) who have visited the ‘little school’ of St Peter and Paul,” Gabriella Bigi, a teacher and head of educational activities connected with AVSI here in Lagos, tells us, “have been able to see the serene atmosphere, the festive welcome of the children, and their level of learning despite the humble structure.” In order to take the final exam and go on to secondary school, the children must be registered in a public school. But this year, the 31 children who will finish elementary school already have a “place” in the public school, because the representative of the government authorities, a Muslim woman who visited the school, does not want the valuable work done for these children to be wasted.

Here, in the little bamboo school, the GS students of the Seed Remedial School (an afternoon remedial school for secondary school students) come for their caritativa (charitable work), to play with the children. Gabriella goes on, “The kids come from different tribes: they are Muslim, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal. And there are some atheists.” The Seed has become a point of reference for them. If they didn’t have it, they would spend their time on the streets. “Instead, here,” she continues, “besides study, their science teacher, Willy, gets them involved with vacations and with activities like a newsletter, theater, choir, and soccer. Then he proposes School of Community and caritativa to them.”

This situation was the stimulus for the presentation to the European Union of a project for the construction of an educational center to house these scholastic activities and to be a point of reference for the young people and teachers in this area on the edge of Lagos. The Nigerian NGO called “The Seed Trustee” may become the permanent organization for conducting educational work and an instrument for approaching organizations like the European Union.

The question of education is also something to be proposed to the teachers. “In Lagos,” Gabriella says, “for two years now, training courses for teachers of all levels have been offered, with the text of The Risk of Education as its starting point. The most recent course for high school teachers brought together about twenty principals of Catholic and state schools with different religious backgrounds. The topic was The Risk of Education, and we followed the order of the text, using films and slides as teaching aids. At the end of the course, one of them said that he was ‘pleased because religion was not a cause for division.’ In a country like ours, this is rare!”

AVSI in Lagos is not just school. The St Kizito Clinic, a center for basic medicine, has been active since 1990. “The number of patients grows constantly,” said Chiara Mezzalira, a doctor and head of medical activities at St Kizito. “Every day, about 200 people pass through here.” The clinic is located on the outskirts of the metropolis of Lagos and serves the population of the lower-class neighborhoods and the villages on the lagoon. It is currently run by local people whose training is ongoing and continually brought up-to-date. Chiara explains, “For six years now, we have been organizing training courses and updates for health workers in both the private and the government sectors. The participants have been impressed interested in the courses and the attention paid to the real needs of the person that were studied in these courses. In this past year we have begun doing home health care, in particular for AIDS victims. Some university students are in the groups doing home health care; with their affection and friendship, they are a concrete help to these people who need everything. One patient said that when Emeka (one of the students) goes to see him, for him it is as though the sun came out.”