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Ogun Proprietor: Why I set up tuition-free school

When the husband of 42-yearold Salimot Akintomide died four years ago, she was left with the burden of taking care of her four children alone. The death of her husband dealt a huge blow to her, and the education of her children was threatened because there was no one to help.

Husband’s death

This was because Akintomide was a full house wife during the period of her husband’s sudden death. As a way out, she withdrew her children from school and engaged them in hawking goods to make ends meet. “There was no one to help out and the education of my children suffered.

We struggled to survive and my children took to the street hawking, begging and engaging in other menial jobs for us to make ends meet. “This forced me to withdraw them from school because I could not pay their school fees.

Although I know the importance of education in a child’s life, I was left with no choice. “Life was very hard for us, but God sent help through Anfela Oluwaseun Tolulope, the founder of Sought-after Creative Academy,” Akintomide explained.

Free education

Anfela, the proprietor of Sought-after Creative Academy, a tuition-free school in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, took Akintomide’s children and others like them out of the street and enrolled them in her school, offering free education. She did not only take Akintomide’s children from the street, she also employed her as a cleaner in the school. The school, which started in 2017 with just 25 pupils, now has more than 80 students in both the primary and secondary school sections.

According to Anfela, the school is solely funded by her with help from Nongovernmental Organisations (NGOs), religious bodies, philanthropists and other well-meaning Nigerians. Funding the school has been very difficult for Anfela, a graduate of Science Laboratory Technology from the Lagos State Polytechnic.

“Presently, I have more than 10 staff and their salary on the average is N200, 000 monthly. “I engage in the production of artworks as a source of income to raise money in running the school. Any time I make any art piece, I take it to people that I believe have more than enough, they buy the art piece from me and use the proceeds to fund the school.

“Some people because of what I tell them that we use the proceeds to do, they buy the artworks for more than the actual price. So, that has been helping us for the past few years.

“But, the responses have not been encouraging because there are so many  things that we want to do, that the proceeds of the artworks are not enough to do and that has been really discouraging for a while now.

“For instance, I have been owing my staff their salaries and this is because I have not been able to sell any artwork so far and that has been discouraging, particularly for my staff, but we are still struggling to see how far we can still go,” Anfela lamented.

 

The school provides books, uniforms and other learning materials to students for free, this according to Anfela is to make learning attractive to the students and ease the burden on parents.

Encounter

Narrating how the idea of the school was conceived, Anfela said: “Soughtafter Creative Academy was given birth through an encounter that I had with a young boy. I just ran into a boy of seven years old then and the boy was just roaming about the street and I had this opportunity of talking with him. “I asked him why he wasn’t in school and I also met his mother.

And from my discussion with them, I realised that they could not afford to send that boy to school and so at that moment, I desired to have a school for such people where they can learn and have their normal education like  every other child. “That was where this passion came from.

So after some years, I decided to do this, I know I don’t have the finance to do it, but I felt I could do it by reaching out to some people that have the financial capacity that can help. So that was how I came up with the idea and I started the school.”

Transportation fare

She added: “For those pupils that come from far distance, we got a cab for them which brings them to school and takes them back to their houses in the afternoon. This is because oftentimes, they cannot afford the transportation fare; it is as bad as that.

Sometimes, after the closure of school, my staff and I would have to raise money to pay the cab driver who takes the pupils back home.

We were paying the cab driver N10, 000 every week, but we had to stop when we could no longer afford it and some children stopped coming to school because of this. “We also realised that, even after getting the children through primary school, their parents could not still afford to send them to secondary school, this prompted us to start the high school because of the challenge.

“Now we have some students in the high school already because we don’t want a situation whereby the work we are  doing will just stop midway if we don’t get them to secondary schools. Now we have JSS 1 and 2.” Anfela lamented the huge financial burden she has been bearing in keeping the school running, hinting that this may force her to shut down the school following her inability to pay staff salary regularly.

Her words: “I try to encourage my staff, talk to them about my passion and they believe in me and they are doing this with me and it is not as if I’m paying them so much, it is a token that they are earning for working here. “Sometimes when I seek help and people are not forthcoming, I feel discouraged, I feel like people are not even interested in what I’m doing.

Shutting down

“The idea of shutting down the school is something I’m not really happy about. The fact that I’m even saying that we might shut down is not something that is giving me joy because this is something I have put so much energy into, especially when I see those children out there being successful, it gives me joy.

 

“I cannot run the school all by myself, I can’t teach all these children by myself, if it’s something I can do, I would not mind doing it, but I have staff that have families too and I have to pay them. I can’t keep holding them down, making them believe in my vision and not giving them something to keep them going. I really wish I would not have to do this. “If we shut down the school, most of the children will go back to where we picked them from.

Some of the children even come to school without food. That is the truth. Is it the school that is even struggling to pay salaries that would now say we want to start feeding the children? The situation is that bad. If the school eventually shuts down then I’m afraid of what will become of the children?”

 

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