Saturday, June 28, 2014

How pupils in Oyo community school are forced to drink cattle urine

Found this shocking and long report in PUNCH and just had to share it here! In Opoo, a remote community at the outskirts of Okaka in Itesiwaju Local Government Area of Oyo State, life is a different mix for Abiola Bankole and her two little siblings – Yemi and Ibukun. Their school, Community Primary School Opoo, boasts only three classrooms with no basic facilities to support any meaningful academic exercise. Two out of the three classrooms have their roof completely blown off by the wind while the only surviving one shared by the entire school of about 150 pupils is half way from finally caving. More than half of the schools population wear mufti to classes because their parents cannot afford uniforms. Many of the children carry their books to school in sacks or with their bare hands. Not only that, pupils drink water mixed with cattle urine and faeces as the only source of water in community is shared by both animals and human begins. For the three siblings and dozens of their little colleagues in this tiny agrarian community, there is nothing to dream about in the future.

The harsh environment they live in and the terrible condition under which they learn at this dilapidated school building rob them of the frills that come along with formative years. "We have encountered a lot of problems in this place especially on the bad condition of the school," Ojelabi David Abioye, headmaster of the school, explained to our correspondent. "We have taken a lot of pictures to the local government and written several letters yet nothing has been done about this. They have promised us several times to do something about the situation but it is still the same.

"Last week, we were also at the local government office to complain to them because there is almost nowhere left for the pupils to learn. The only classroom the entire school is managing at the moment is gradually being taken over by termites and other dangerous animals that are destroying the entire building and the little furniture in it. Whenever there is heavy wind and storm, we can't stay in the classroom because the remaining roof might collapse on us," he said.

Abioye, who became head-teacher of the school about 17 years ago, told Saturday PUNCH that the present situation is making learning almost impossible for the children of Opoo and surrounding settlements who are serviced only by the school. Giving an insight into how bad things really are, Abioye revealed that himself and one other teacher, Julius Solola, are the only ones teaching the entire school of around 150 pupils because government has refused to post in more hands to assist them. The workload, he says, is neck-breaking. "Government has not employed teachers for a long time and that is why the situation is very bad at the moment. The other teacher (Solola) joined me here nine years ago and we have been doing the job of about 10 people alone. We used to be three here but one person was transferred to another school outside this locality.

"Personally, I have lodged several complaints at the local government office but all they tell me is that the government has not taken a stand on our case, that until that is done, nothing will happen. "This is really affecting the pupils because the environment is not conducive for any form of learning. In fact, most times we have to bring out benches and desks for some pupils to be taught under a tree outside the school building while the others manage to learn in the only classroom. There is no library or any modern equipment with which to teach the pupils. "Once it starts raining, we ask all the children to go home because the roof is very bad. For that day, that will be the end of studies," he said. The size of each of the classroom is only a few yards larger than the space inside most commercial buses in Lagos and other major Nigerian cities, our correspondent observed during the visit. Pupils squeeze themselves into less than 15 desks in the only surviving classroom while several others watch the teacher from the corridor, leaving a sizable number to sit on the bare floor under the orange tree outside the school building, waiting for their turns to be taught in the classroom. While teaching was going on, two pupils from Basic One engaged in a scuffle, attracting the attention of the headmaster who whipped them lightly for distracting the rest of the class.

Shortly, pupils from Basic One and Two who had been sharing the only one class at the same time were asked to move out for their seniors in Basic Five to come in for their turn. On other days, the three categories are taught at the same time crammed into different rows inside the same classroom. The commotion of having at least 100 pupils in this tiny room at the same time on such days can best be imagined. Screaming, crying and distraction of all forms are always the situation. The pupils can hardly concentrate in a classroom whose temperature is far below normal, leaving many of them drenched in sweat while the two teachers attend to them the best way they can. Following the jam-packed nature of the class when Saturday PUNCH correspondent visited, many of the pupils looked worn out and very stressed by the time they came out of the classroom. The situation is not peculiar to this particular day; it is a familiar scenario which now threatens the academic and wellbeing of the young pupils.

Also, the once vibrant and well-stocked health centre established only in 2007 now lays prostrate. Overgrown by weeds and taken over by insects and dangerous reptiles, it is a pale shadow of its former self. Expectant mothers on the verge of delivery are either rushed to hospital on motorcycle, if it's available, or escorted on foot to the nearest town seven kilometers away. Some mothers have not been able to survive this tough test, community leaders told Saturday PUNCH. The babies had come too quickly along the bumpy and narrow road leading into the settlement just before their mothers got to the nearest hospital or received any medical help. It is a similar experience for sick indigenes of the area that have mostly relied on local herbal concoctions or had to make the long trip outside Opoo to get medical help. "One of our pregnant women almost died recently while we were taking her to the hospital in the next town," Orimatanmi Aderounmu, head of Opoo community told our correspondent. "It was late in the evening and we could not get a motorcycle on time to rush her down, so she delivered along the road.

Thank God one of our women had little experience in this aspect; she was the one who assisted in the delivery of the child before a nurse came in the following day to look at her and the child. "We are really suffering. The lack of a functional health centre or hospital is really affecting us. Whatever happens to us here, we have to go all the way to Okaka to get medical attention. "Personally I have been to the local government office several times to let them know what we are passing through but nobody seems concerned with our situation. I let them know that we are too many in this settlement not to have a good health facility with drugs and doctors to attend to our medical needs. But nobody is ready to listen to our cries. "The health centre we have here has been closed down since last October. Before that time, the doctor and other medical staff used to be on ground on regular basis and the hospital was regularly supplied with drugs. But since that time, we have been left to suffer," he said. Chronic typhoid fever, constant stomach upset and rheumatism are among the major sicknesses prevalent here. But the lack of potable water in the entire community now leaves many residents and especially children at the mercy of an even more dangerous disease. They are at risk of cholera and an epidemic outbreak. Opoo's only water source is a shallow hole that springs forth dirty water.

It is shared by both humans and cattle. The pupils wait for cattles to drink, urinate and pass out their faces before they take same water to drink. When our correspondent visited the site, Fulani women were seen washing dirty clothes directly into the water source just moments before children from the settlement arrived to fetch water. It is a practice that has gone on for a long time but now puts many households in this locality in grave danger. "If you see the water we drink, then you will understand why there are so many sicknesses in this community,"

Aderounmu cuts in. "We are suffering from typhoid and many of the children are always complaining of stomach pains. "The Fulanis take their cattles to the only source of water we are managing to drink here. In the process, the cattles urinate and defecate inside the water. But because we don't have a choice, we wait for them to finish before fetching water from the place. The water is not good at all but since government has refused to help us, we have to keep managing it like that." Like many tiny agrarian communities tucked away in remote parts of the country, Opoo and neighbouring settlements are yet to taste electricity supply. The people rely on a few transistor radios for latest information in the country. Mobile phones are mostly out of reach as a result of drained batteries.

"Only one person has generator in this place. It is only when he has petrol to put it on that we can charge our phones, if not we give anybody going to Okaka to charge for us. This is how we have been surviving over the years," Aderounmu told our correspondent. Indeed, life in this tiny Oyo settlement is a mix of pains, sufferings and neglect. It is a case of flagrant deprivation in the face of crushing and widespread poverty.

Predominantly farmers with little or no education, many adults have grown up the hard and tortuous way. The community's only school established in 1997 to connect their children to a world of limitless opportunities which education offers is now a thin line away from total collapse while the hospital in the centre of the town is a distant contrast from what it used to be. Unless relevant authorities and corporate organisations quickly rise to the occasion, little children like Abiola and Yemi might watch their dreams fizzle into thin air while sick residents could be swallowed by an impending epidemic hovering upon Ooo.


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