The Platform

Pictured: Fatimah Oshodi. (ATLAS Initiative)

A number of initiatives in Nigeria are helping to lift young people out of poverty.

When Fatimah Oshodi first signed up for Enriching Lives Through Education (ELiTE), an entrepreneurship training program by the ATLAS Initiative, little did she know that it would become a life-changing moment.

Out of school and seeking admission into a university, she was more interested in pursuing her academic dreams. Then the pandemic hit, forcing the government to impose a national lockdown which forced her to stay at home in Ikorodu, a suburb of Lagos. The 23-year-old then had one major worry: keeping herself busy.

Affected by the economic difficulties occasioned by the pandemic, she revisited the skills she picked up all thanks to ELiTE, which was designed for young people to learn the art of making crafts and artifacts with 3D epoxy — a combination of resins and hardeners to create a rigid plastic material.

Unlike regular vocational training, participants were also taught active citizenship, life skills, and business development. Fatimah was one of the 100 young people who participated in the program.

She decided to finally put the skills she learned to use and started to make personalized brooches, necklaces, bracelets, and pins. After several trial-and-error moments, she began selling to her friends. “It was more than financial freedom for me. I still can’t believe that a skill I barely paid attention to is now paying my bills. Now, I don’t bother my parents about money anymore. From my little profit, I can meet my immediate needs.”

How it started

In 2015, a group of five volunteers working with Voluntary Service Overseas, an international NGO, created a project to send children from vulnerable communities in the Ikorodu area of Lagos back to school. These young Nigerians would later fundraise to keep the project going, having sensed the need to create learning opportunities for kids in marginalized communities.

ATLAS Initiative
(ATLAS Initiative)

That singular effort transformed into the ATLAS Initiative, focusing on quality education and livelihoods and a vision to achieve “an improved world where lifelong learning is accessible and embraced by everyone…So far, we have reached out to over 25,000 persons and 150 communities in Lagos. We have also sent over 500 kids back to school, trained and engaged over 100 volunteers,” says Habeeb Balogun, ATLAS’ Executive Director.

Fighting poverty through education

Poverty is a major problem, with 70 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty, representing a staggering 33 percent of its population of 206 million. Nigeria’s unemployment rate stands at 33 percent.

For ATLAS, education is the key to self-empowerment for young people in Nigeria. Having sensed the urgent need to address poverty, the nonprofit created the ELiTE project in 2019 to empower out-of-school girls and boys with skills development to enable them to be financially independent and contribute to the income of their households.

Oriyomi Abagun, who volunteered for the first phase of the project, says it featured training on vocational skills such as fashion design, hairdressing, catering, ICT, and business development, among others. Over 60 young people in the Ikorodu area of Lagos were beneficiaries and are now running their own businesses.

ATLAS Initiative
Some of the participants of the ELiTE project. (ATLAS Initiative)

Balogun adds that the success of the first phase of the project earned the nonprofit a grant from Connected Development (CODE), Christian Aid, and Youth Hub Africa in 2020, to commence the second phase to train other young people, like Fatimah, on 3D epoxy art — the first of its kind in Nigeria.

Christmas with a smile

The ATLAS Initiative not only believes in fighting poverty through education but also through the power of social action. From April Academy, another nonprofit, it adopted “Christmas With A Smile,” a yearly charitable intervention for marginalized communities during the yuletide, impacting over 10,000 persons in four Lagos communities since its inception in 2018.

“The project mobilizes the support of social actors, companies, philanthropic individuals, and volunteers to address social challenges such as women’s healthcare, food insecurity, child poverty, and health disparities,” says Modupe Asama, the group’s Social Inclusion and Gender lead.

The 2021 edition of the outreach held in Iyafin, a community in Lagos, successfully impacted over 3,000 beneficiaries directly or indirectly through the administration of deworming medicine to children and adults; provision of free HIV screenings and counseling; donation of first aid kits, and gifting of food items to the elderly. There was also a sensitization talk on menstrual hygiene and reproductive health as well as the distribution of sanitary pads to hundreds of teenage girls and young women.

Not an easy ride

Like all nonprofits, funding is a major challenge for ATLAS. With many plans still in the works, Balogun says the organization hopes to attract more local and international donors to impact more lives through existing projects and new ones. “As we continue to reach out to more people and communities, we appeal to well-meaning Nigerians to donate to support us via our Flutterwave account.”

Fatimah, now studying Early Childhood Education at Lagos State University, says she intends to grow her small business and train others on 3D epoxy art, as her way of giving back to her community.

Ganiu Oloruntade is a Nigerian journalist and creative writer who is interested in telling important stories.