Makoko: A strange kind of saviour
A 40-year-old tailor takes it upon himself to rescue the future of endangered school dropouts in
Lagos community Makoko, a riverine community in Lagos State, began as a fishing village.
And while many of the residents have embraced other forms of occupation, it remains primarily a fish market bedeviled by environmental and infrastructural problems. The community, one of the poorest in the state, suffers from high rate of maternal mortality, youth restiveness, child abuse and insecurity.
Most worrisome, however, is the fact that the community boasts a lot of young women who have dropped out of school and roam the streets without any hope of a brighter future. But seeking to redeem the rather hopeless situation is a 40-yearold tailor, Jerrad Avleffi, an indigene of Badagry, who has saddled himself with the onerous task of helping about 20 young women, many of whom dropped out of school as a result of early pregnancy, to have a feel of education.
Although he trained as a tailor, Avleffi, does not only teach them tailoring, he organises evening classes for them, teaching them French and Arithmetic with the local Egun language as the medium of expression.
Ironically, his desire to impact knowledge on the young women was impelled by his own lack of opportunity of early education because his parents were too poor and too ignorant to appreciate the value of education. Not willing to see the young women suffer the same fate that befell him as an uneducated child, he decided to do something to help them improve their literacy level.
In a chat with our correspondent, Avleffi said he was born in Badagry about 40years ago but was taken to Cotonou, Benin Republic at an early age because his father could not afford his fees in high school. His mother hit on the idea of taking him to Cotonou so that he could learn tailoring.
“There, my boss taught me Egun language, which became an invaluable asset for me to trade among the Egun and French communities here in Nigeria,” he recalled. I do not understand Yoruba or English language, but my boss made sure I learnt the language, art and culture of Egun people as well as French language.
“I was an apprentice for 12 years because my father could not send me to school. Even paying the fee for my graduation after my tailoring apprenticeship was a bit difficult. Instead of seven years, I ended up spending 12.”
Asked why he chose to settle in Makoko when he returned from Benin Republic, Avleffi said that after his apprenticeship as a tailor in Cotonou, he returned to Badagry about 10 years ago only to find that he could not easily communicate with the people because he could not speak their language.
“My father then advised me to come to Makoko where I would see people who understand
my language and trade with them,” he said.
Given that Makoko community is built on water, his journey was a bit of an adventure. “Ihad an inkling of the people’s living condition, but in spite of their deprivation, the residents are warm and friendly to visitors,” he said.
“In Cotonou, fishermen also live in riverine areas where it is easy to practice their profession.
So, I was not moved by the people’s living condition. What was uppermost in my heart was how I could make a difference in their lives.
Avleffi, who spoke with our reporter through an interpreter, noted that teaching the young women Egun and French language had been a big relief for them because they could not read or write before then. “I am just trying to help them in my own little way,” he said.
He observed that most of the youths in Makoko are exposed to early sexual relationships, restiveness and other forms of undesirable acts because of illiteracy and lack of exposure. But he feels a bit of satisfaction that he has been able to empower them and they now have some basic knowledge in French and even Arithmetic and general knowledge.
He is, however, pained that his efforts to get a teacher who would be willing to teach them English had not yielded results.
He said: “Some of my apprentices now understand a bit of French and Egun, and would be better off with English language.
If I am able to get somebody to complement my effort in educating them in English language, I will really appreciate it.
“There are lots of tailors around Makoko who only teach the children how to sew but do not understand the essence of literacy, which is key to success in any business or profession. I believe so much in literacy and that is why I am teaching them French, Maths, measurement and morals. I have graduated 43 tailors who at least are confident of themselves and are able to communicate with their clients, which gives me so much joy.” Avleffi says he sees the possibility that a number of them could even further their education and learn more. “What I am only doing is to ignite their interest in education,” he said.
The lessons, which are taught in French and Egun, include spelling, arithmetic and general knowledge. Each student comes into the class with a chalk, a 4-inch chalk board, a ruler and a notebook. They are mostly in their late teens and early twenties, and many of them had dropped out of school between Primary Four and Junior Secondary.
The lessons start at 5pm and end at 6:30pm. As soon as it is 5pm, the apprentices leave whatever they are doing and rush to the classroom. The class begins with a prayer by Avleffi, followed by a song in Egun, which literally means ‘our language must keep moving forever,’ is sung at intervals throughout the one and a half hour lecture.
The evening class begins lessons in spellings and pronunciation.
On this particular day, Avleffi started by teaching the pupils how to pronounce letter G in French. He then told them to bring out their notebooks for a brief exercise.
After the spelling and pronunciation sessions, he taught them Arithmetic. It was highly interactive session as the pupils asked questions and the teacher responded. The class ended with the song says ‘We must to learn our language for it would remain relevant in the society. We have to know and understand this language anywhere we find ourselves.’ After that, the pupils exchanged pleasantries, saying “PIFA wawu ton”, meaning the peace of the Lord.
Asked the Challenges he had faced in teaching Egun Language, Avleffi said the literature materials on Egun language were gradually fading away. “To get the books on this language is difficult. There are no enough materials for learning. I am only using the material given to me by my master about 10 years ago.
I try to get up to date materials but it has been a hard nut to chew.”
He added: “I have trained a lot of out-ofschool teenagers in Makoko, but because of their inability to communicate, some have dropped out and some could not finish the four-year training because their families had to relocate.
Speaking with our reporter, one of the apprentices, 20-year-old Avlessi Philips, said: “I was contemplating working at the plank factory in Ebutte, a riverine community in Yaba, Local Government Area, Lagos State, until before I met this tailor whose gesture has contributed immensely to my life.
“I dropped out of school in JSS 1 and all the efforts I made to go back to school proved abortive. Recently, I made an attempt to go for evening classes, but that too was not possible because I was asked to pay N10, 000 per session. But coming to this tailor has added value to my life. I am now skillful in tailoring and have learnt a lot about Egun and French languages from our evening classes.
“I can now write my name and alphabets in Egun and French languages and also design clothes. I have decided that after my freedom, I will further my education and help other youths here in Makoko.”
Another apprentice, 18-year-old Christiana Tosse, could not further her basic education for financial reasons. But learning spelling and Arithmetic in the tailoring trade with Avleffi has given her a lot of courage.
She said: “My tailoring apprenticeship and literacy class has helped me a lot. The first time I came here and indicated interest in apprenticeship, I had no money to register. But Mr. Avleffi told me to start and forget about money for now.
“I can now sew gown, shirt, blouse and other female dresses. I can also write 1 to 20 in Egun language.”
Twenty-year-old Kelvin dropped out at Primary Four but says the literacy class has changed his life dramatically.
“I appreciate our boss for the literacy class. I only desire that we have an English teacher who would complement his effort,” he said.
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