Margaret Innocent is the chairperson of Deo Gratias Initiative; a nongovernmental organisation that supports students of public schools with educational materials majorly mathematical sets. A broadcaster with a golden voice and a heart of gold, she is particularly passionate about students especially the girl child. In recent years the organisation has distributed hundreds of mathematical sets to students who have gone ahead to improve in their studies especially in subjects that require mathematical set like mathematics, fine art and technical drawing. Innocent in this interview with DAYO EMMANUEL hopes to get support from well-meaning Nigerians in order to reach more students in need believing that societal ills could be minimised when every child is well educated. Excerpts:
When did you start on this project?
As an individual it’s been on since 2017 but as an NGO it started this year and we hope to distribute to other schools basically public schools in Ilorin and of course much later spread our tentacles to other states of the federation just in a bid to encourage education. We very much know the importance of education, not only to the girl-child that am passionate about but to all growing children. So, if we can, in our little way give out writing materials like pencils, biro, text books, math sets, textbooks, exercise books we are very much sure we would be able to contribute to the growth of education in Nigeria.
You distribute Math set to students for free, this costs money definitely. How do you fund it?
We are still appealing to well-meaning Nigerians, philanthropists, companies, organization. The fund generally is basically from personal income. We are hoping that organizations individual that have the same drive towards education can someday contribute to what our NGO is doing. Deo Gratias for now is still getting funds from its members, to do all these that the organization is doing. We hope that someday, we will get contributions from other people that are also interested in helping the girl child, other than the girl child, indigent school children; both boys and girls. We very much know the importance of education to any given society. We talk about insurgence and unrest in some parts of the country. In the Niger Delta we talk about kidnapping, I tell you one thing, if a child is well educated his disposition to some of these vices might be reduced to an extent and that is the reason we are concentrating on education. Fine, we will advocate for peace in our society, there is this saying that ‘he who opens the school gate closes the prison gate.’ Literarily, what that means is that the more you concentrate on education, cum exposure to the positives, the more you would reduce the negatives among the teeming youths, so that is what we are doing. We are trying to encourage positivity, we are trying to encourage peace in our society via education, we hope we would get contributions from those that share the same views with us.
What informs the schools you chose to carry out distribution?
We know the story of one of our leaders who had to go to school with no shoes, we rarely have those children who have no shoes in private schools, basically what informs the schools we go to, (public schools) those are schools where we would find those children who ‘have no shoes’ in quote. So, we select public schools because we know that those in public schools are likely going to be the ones who would need those materials. For private schools we are making plans to have seminars for students. So, what informed the choice of Okelele and the rest of them is the economy of the country that speaks for itself; those in public secondary and primary schools are most likely those in need of the materials we give out.
How do the teachers respond to this noble gesture?
Teachers in these schools are grateful for what we give out. Like yesterday we also distributed biros to the teachers as well. They actually appreciate that we are giving these materials to their pupils. For a technical drawing teacher for example, seeing us distributing math set to the students would be very happy because no teacher would want to see a child come into his technical drawing class without a math set. So teachers in these schools so far so good are happy. Most of the time we have interactions with their principals and head teachers they have shown appreciation apart from the formal vote of thanks that come at the end of every distribution, there is a personal ‘thank you we appreciate’, prayers and all of that when we go distribute these materials.
What impact do you think Math set can make in the academic performance of the students?
I would answer this question from my experience while in school. I remember while in school you would realise that if you have to draw in mathematics or technical drawing, the quality of what you would draw as a student is highly dependent on the quality of your pencil like HB pencil is of higher quality than the rest of them, you would be surprised that at some point or the other there might be some students that might not be able to afford N20 HB pencil. So what are we saying? The same applies to the compass and other instruments we find in the math set, you would discover that some students cannot afford that. Some can just be able to afford a 2B pencil when they are supposed to be using HB pencil and I can bet, if you have to draw with a 2B pencil when you are supposed to be drawing with a HB pencil what you would come out with will be very much different from what someone with an HB pencil would come out with. So, we very much believe that with a quality math set, pencil, compass, ruler and all of it that are found in a math set, they would be able to produce better works when they are to do subjects that require the math set either in mathematics as a subject or technical drawing in which the math set is required.
Tell us about Margaret Innocent
Margaret Innocent is very much passionate about the girl-child because as a female, I want a better future for every girl child I come in contact with. Not that I don’t believe our parents can’t do enough but I believe that if in my little way I can contribute to the wellbeing of the girl child we would have a better future for these children. Aside from the girl child I desire a good future for our society as well, we can’t achieve this without doing better for our children because children are the leaders of tomorrow so how well do you groom leaders if you don’t build a good foundation for them? Coincidentally, I’m a member of the society for Early Childhood Association of Nigeria so we very much draw from the idea that ‘early childhood is vital for every child,’ so a fortified early childhood is what we cannot compromise so it starts from the primary school cum secondary school so it is important we lay a very good foundation. We know the importance of foundation in any structure, be it physical structure in architectural design or any structure that we want to put in place. If a surgeon needs to perform a surgical operation he needs a foundation the same applies to human development if we do not build a somewhat fine childhood, we would possibly have a difficult future for those children, a difficult product from these children and at the long run a turbulent society, that is why Margaret Innocent is passionate about the growth of these children and about the quality of emotional intelligence that is accessible to these children.
Have you thought of extending distribution to rural towns and villages?
We have thought of extending the distribution to rural areas, rural areas in Niger State. I said Niger State because we have had interactions with people who have firsthand relationships with people in these rural areas via our churches; ECWA, UMCA so we are basically thinking of rural areas we are not just thinking of teaching materials when going to Niger State we are thinking of getting clothing, food items and other things that might be useful for them and of course because some natural disasters are inevitable so we might have to fly on the wings of the need to reach out to people that have been displaced by flood recently; that is basically why we are thinking of food items and clothing materials apart from the learning materials that we are going with.