Ben Dunno, Warri

Seventy years old Amaechi Eze is a butcher at Pessu market in Warri, Delta State. For more than 40 years he has been in this business of chopping and portioning meat, selling to customers and eking a living. Interestingly, the father of two university graduates with others in secondary schools attends, three times weekly as a primary two school pupil. He is determined to push it all the way to the university.

While Amaechi has crossed over to primary two, Dorcas Aloho, 68-year-old mother who sells fish at Ogbe Ijoh market is in primary one and she is not shy starting from the lower level of education.

Funmi Hassan is in primary six, the 45-year- old woman from Lagos State who has lived almost all her live in Warri, is a Muslim and a mother of four, two of who have already graduated. Funmi will be in JSS class next academic session.

Step in, Joy Anuaboh, a 60-year-old mother of seven who is presently in SS 11. The trader, who sells foodstuff, started her education from primary five and she is determined to run the race up to the university level no matter how long it takes or the challenges on her path. 

If you search the minds of the more than 200 pupils and students in the First Baptist Church, Warri, adult education class, one determination dominates their thought, to overcome the educational deficit that has reduced their self-esteem over the years. 

The stories of their lives are near similarly dissimilar, intriguing, yet full of hope and promise. 

To break the glass ceiling, and breast the tape of another life, they have for years nursed the urge to rise above the shackles of illiteracy. The portals of First Baptist Church, Warri not only gave them a second chance but did so without requesting them to pay and without discriminating in colour, ethnicity or religion. 

For all of them, the furnace of education was fired up by the sheer necessity of reading and writing. Like a magnet, the attraction, the allure of the possibility to interpret for themselves what they read propelled with a force that held the promise of transformation. 

Cecilia Emokwua, a trader said she just needed to know how to read the Bible particularly.

‘One of my sons is a pastor’, she said, ‘two others are in business, but I their mother could hardly read and write. Now I have started and I want to continue till I get to secondary school’. Thankfully they are very supportive. She added. 

If Cecilia’s story sounds interesting then you should hear the inspiring stories of Ameachi Eze, Anthonia Desi, Mufutau Seki, Oke Debekeme, Odion Afokoghene, Bose Bebor and Ngozi Ekwueme. 

I lost my father and lost the chance for early education

Eze says, ‘I lost my father when I was five years old and there was no body to take me through school. You know how it is with us Igbo people. It was better to learn a skill, a trade, have a vocation which can thrive without education. I grew up and entered the butcher trade. I have been in it for 40 years now, I have taken care of my children so   I felt time had come to get back to school just to know how to read, write and speak’.’ ‘Though I am in primary two today, I am happy I made the decision to go to school and my target is the university in a few years time’’, he concluded.

No one told me the importance of education

For 54 years old Anthonia Desi, who is a mother of five children, the opportunity to be in school earlier in life was allowed to slip because no one told her of its importance then. Anthonia whose three children are already graduates says, ‘’my desire is to be able to stand beside my peers, I feel shy to speak when I am in their midst because I could not read and write. I could not articulate in English’’, She added, ‘that does not mean I do not have the native intelligence to relate with others, but as you know it is a pride to be able to speak English, to be able to read and understand all by yourself’.

I want to set up a fashion school

The spur for the Ibadan born seamstress, Mufutau Seki, who has been in Warri for many years is that she makes clothes for society women and wants to relate with them at a higher level. 

Hear her, ‘I have trained a lot of girls, lots of ladies, but I am shy to train educated ladies because it will expose my weakness. 

So, I often turn down those who have gone to school but require my training,  but a friend kicked against this and I was determined that if I must train those who are educated, I need to up my scale so I will no longer be intimidated by their level of education’.  

The mother of eight who is presently in JSS111, says, ‘ I have great potentials and the knowledge I am getting is further sharpening my skills and communication abilities as well as the possibility of expanding the scope of my business in the modern era. I plan to open a fashion school’. 

My parents could no longer cater for my education

Oke Debekeme, who has been married for 37 years before picking the writing materials to be in school said she stopped at JSS111 when her parents were no longer able to sponsor for her education, a situation which made marriage a convenient alternative. When she stepped forward to resume school, she was sent back to primary four, she scaled primary and junior secondary school. Today, she is in SS111 and preparing for the school certificate examination that will launch her into the higher institution. 

Listen to her, ‘‘Today, I can go to the bank, I can sign my own signature, I can read my letters, I can send text messages and no one can play on my intelligence anymore, nor do I need anyone to read for me before I understand. I appreciate the First Baptist Church, Warri for this wonderful opportunity to acquire education’’, she said. 

My father never believed in educating the girl child

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Funmi’s story is even more interesting. Her’s is that of the notion by parents that the female child does not need western education.

‘As a child,’ she said, ‘My father never believed in giving us, his daughters education. Even when I tried on my own to go to school, my father frowned at it. He denied me completely insisting that the place of women should be in the house taking care of the home. So, I ended up attending to my siblings while they went to school. 

She continued, ‘‘I thank God my children including the girls have gone to school, and two of them are undergraduates today, now I want to be like them, to live my dream, to live my live, to be able to read and write’’. 

Funmi was invited to join the adult education class by a neighbour.  She says, ‘‘immediately my neighbour told me about this school, I made up my mind to be there to learn. I am in primary six today and I started from primary two. My desire is to go further, I am very happy with myself.

My mother told me to be in school

‘My husband and children are encouraging me’, Mrs. Bose Bebor said.  Earlier in life, she felt that education was not important, not necessary. Though her mother encouraged her to go to school, Bose just did not want to have anything to do with school.

According to her, she found a good reason to be in school when she discovered that the ability to read and write carries with it a sense of pride and privilege. 

Her words: ‘I could not read the Bible. In Church, while others are reading from the Bible I will just mope at them. So, I challenged myself to be in school, to read, to have a certificate. Today, I am very happy I have scaled that obstacle in my life and I am proud to say I have the full support of my family, particularly my husband’. 

My sister preferred me helping her 

I had no one to train me, I lived with my elder sister but training me in school was completely out of the question. That was the position of Ngozi Ekwueme from Imo State. 

Today, she is in primary 6 and clawing her way up the ladder of education. She said, ‘My most beautiful day, will be the day I collect my primary school certificate result’ she said. 

Explaining how she came about the school, Ngozi said she was invited for the thanksgiving service of graduates of the school and when she learnt that the adult education class was free she clung to the opportunity with every breathe. 

‘Education has changed my life, she added. ‘Who would have thought that Ngozi Ekwueme’s daughter will ever sit down in class to receive instructions, who would have thought that today I can read and write, that I can reason intelligently, that I can read newspapers and know what is written therein, I give glory to God for using First Baptist Church, Warri for changing my level’, She stressed. 

We are giving the best form of evangelism 

However, no one is as excited as Reverend Justin Okoroji Junior, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Warri. To him, there is a great thirst for education which should be satisfied. 

Said he: ‘‘Education is also a form of evangelism. An enlightened society makes it easier to unleash talents, to navigate peace, to pursue development, to polish human capital.’’  

When we opened our doors for this adult education class, we chose not to discriminate knowing that a well informed society breeds progress and prosperity. 

According to him, ‘It does not matter to us that you are a Muslim, it does not matter to us that you are old, it does not matter to us that you are not from First Baptist Church, Warri what concerns us is your willingness to learn, that fire to change your life to add value to society. To be selfish, we want to see a situation where people can read the Bible, but we also want people to be able to discern what is right and do reason through by themselves’ 

Rev Okoroji is a lover of education and sits on several committees for education in the Baptist Mission. So for him education is vital. 

‘We will not stop the free adult class any time soon. If it is the only evangelism we do, then we would have done so much. We will keep our door open and the services free,’ he stated. 

Hear him,’’ the Church has resolved to help the society, to give these persons a second chance and as such the adult education service will remain free’’. 

Is the free education a burden on the resources of the church? 

The question to resolve is what can be done, how can the First Baptist Church, Warri continue this project with ease? 

The Church may not have asked but it is possible to send them books and other teaching aids as well as undertaking to pay some of the teachers whose passion to change the lives of the people is impressive.

According to the Coordinator of the school, Mrs. Mary Aghoghovia, ‘‘we are here to help and by the grace of God, one pupil, one student at a time we will do our best to add knowledge, vision and happiness to the lives of those who pass through us’’.