Miss Comfort Alli is President, Board of Trustees/Project Director, Street Child Care and Welfare Initiative (SCCWI). Through this initiative, she has been giving meaning to the lives of street children
MISS Comfort Alli is not a biological mother yet although you would often hear her speak about “my children.”
Some people do tell her to take it easy about these children of hers, but it is difficult not to get as involved in their lives of as she confesses to The Guardian. As the President, Board of Trustees/Project Director, Street Child Care and Welfare Initiative (SCCWI), she says that it has become a passion to take in these children who live on the streets to give them the chance to a good life.
When the non-governmental organisation began in 2007, the idea was to give these children a sound intellectual education, but they have discovered that reading and writing would not make for a total development of an individual. So, they included empowerment and skills acquisition as part of their teaching scheme.
SCCWI takes the adage that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop seriously, she says, adding that everybody in their care goes to school in the morning but comes back home to learn skills like barbing and tailoring. “We have barbing and a tailoring shop in the centre but we are looking at partners who can make other skills available to us.
According to her the organisation was founded in 2007 by Frenchmen, Messieurs Vincent Paturel and Perrine De Le Court, to give back to the Nigerian society. Since activities began in 2008, they graduated the first set of students in September 2012. Presently, three are in the university while three more have been admitted into a polytechnic to study Accounting, Banking and Finance, and Economics.
“Our focus is equal opportunity for all children; we want to reach out to all children outside the centre also,” she notes.
Comfort can be described as a cerebral person; she points out that equality cannot come about where there is segregation or discrimination as she reveals that some of their activities involve other children in their community in Yaba area.
“Our vocational centre is open to other children, we have a book club on Fridays and the children love it, we read mostly inspirational books, and we have read Dr. Ben Carson. Professor Makanjuola, a Professor of Psychology from the University of Lagos has come here to read with the children. We visited Mr. Fela Durotoye after reading his book. We have children from other schools pay us a visit and to interact with the children.”
SCCWI, she says, not only wants to find solution to the problem of children running away from home, they work on the preventive aspect on situations when for an example, a child would think of leaving home because of issues with a step-parent. They go to schools where they hold forums with parents of ‘at risk children’ as she calls them, stressing that even children from well-to-do homes run away, too.
To nip issues like child abuse and domestic violence in the bud, the organisation leaves boxes in schools in their community. Those boxes, she explains, are meant to encourage children to state their feelings in times of happiness or sadness.
“They write them down because children may not know whom to talk to in difficult times. We have psychologists, counselors, social workers and psychotherapists who may not be employed by schools.”
Alli has just come back from Israel where she went on a course at Golda Meir Mount Camel Training Institute in Haifa. Psycho-social Support and Well Being was the title of the course which she says was about childcare. “It was a class of psychologists, social workers and psychotherapists from all parts of the world, we called ourselves, United Nations.”
And what her trip taught her was that the case of Africa in childcare needs to be improved upon. “There are things we do right, there are areas that we still should do it better. But we will continue until we get it right.”
But it would take the attention of the government and the community to tackle the issue of the street child “who translates to out-of-school child,” she notes, adding that, “in Israel, in every organisation we visited, we were told that 70 per cent of budget and money goes to social welfare.”
“We started a community project on environmental sanitation which holds on the last Saturday of the month. We want to teach the children the importance of hygiene; people think less of it when they throw bits into drains but they clog gutters and lead to flood.”
Taking care of people began early, while she was about eight years old. “I had many people around me and when I began to teach them, my Dad bought me a board which he increased the sizes as my crowd grew. I still come across people who would remind me that I taught them when they were in primary school but I had forgotten about them.”
“I never thought that I was brilliant but I could remember that I represented my primary school, Army Children’s School, in a competition organised by Lagos State.
“I have experienced life in the streets too,” she points out, “We sold fruits at Oshodi to help the family’s income and the experience makes me a better person. I tell the children that to make them understand that, a person should build on the positive aspect of the past.”
She supports it with this saying; “Among the roses are thorns, how you manage the thorns to get to the roses is the key to success. And to make them know that there are people in worse situations, we make them to volunteer in homes like Red Cross Orphanage during the holidays.”
Pretty and jovial Comfort confesses that she likes to have fun. “I love music and dance, some people do not know that I have a serious side to me.”
A Geography graduate who takes keen interest in the environment, she says that Nigeria could only suffer disaster like ocean surge as a result of increase in the water in the ocean. Bar Beach was one of the highest eroding beaches in the world at some time, but structures put up there now, she says, would stem erosion.
Comfort studied Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. She is a Chartered Teacher of Personnel; Member, National Association of Social Workers, Maryland, United States of America, Alumna, Enterprise Development, Institute of Personnel Management, Pan Atlantic University. She is undergoing an Executive MBA at the Lagos Business School, presently.