The Story oF ILAjE Community
Ilaje is located within Lagos, Africa’s largest ‘city’, which is situated on Nigeria’s southern coast. Lagos holds 16.5 million people and is home to some of the worst slums in the world. Ilaje is notorious for its location on the edge of an ocean bay and for the scale of overcrowding which is mind boggling. In some homes, up to 15 people live in single room shacks where they are required to sleep in shifts. More than 250,000 people are packed into a small area. There are government schools in the area, but they cost money to attend which makes them inaccessible for the poorest children. Half-dressed children roam the streets during the day, working as peddlers to create at least a small income. The ocean bay floods the community at most high tides, leaving residual sewage and garbage soaked water lying around homes which not only feeds a malaria epidemic but also poses a huge health danger for all those living there. HIV is prevalent in the area and there is no access to clean water.
CHILDREN CURRENTLY SUPPORTED: 75
NUMBER OF CARE WORKERS: 7
DISTANCE FROM LAGOS LOCAL OFFICE: 14 km
BASIC SERVICES STARTED: 2017
Aside from children, the community consists mostly of the aged and unemployed adults, many of whom are immigrants from neighbouring countries like Benin. The majority of those who are employed, are engaged in unskilled, temporary work such as cleaning construction sites, warehouse packing or selling smoked fish. Fishing is common among those living on the water, however there are many months in the year where the fish are absent from the waters and thus many fishermen are out of work and cannot provide for their families. Many girls, desperate for funds to even attend school, are involved in various forms of prostitution, resulting in a score of unwanted children born to young vulnerable girls.
In early 2007, a pastor was transferred to take over a tiny church building in the slum. When he saw the community, he was shocked at the living conditions. Along with his wife, they challenged their congregation members, as well as others in Ilaje, that something had to be done about the situation, and so began walking the streets as a team to seek out the most vulnerable among the children, widowed and sick in the community. Eventually they formed a formal organisation that is today called Eagle Wings Community Based Organisation (CBO) and started a community school.
Unfortunately this model wasn’t able to include the care of the very small children and thus younger children were then left at home when their siblings would attend school.
In the last several years, Hands at Work has made it a priority to ensure that the younger siblings of the children attending the Care Points across Africa are being cared for. Hands at Work recognised that the children attending the Eagles Wings CBO were aged 5 to 12, therefore leaving children under 5, and over 12, not receiving care. At the end of 2015, the pursuit to start a secondary Care Point in Ilaje Community began. Several of the South African Regional Support Team leaders started walking in the community alongside the Hands at Work Local Office team in Lagos; identifying the most vulnerable children and mobilising new Care Workers to serve at the new Temitope Care Point.
Currently, seven Care Workers, who are themselves vulnerable, have committed to serving the most vulnerable children in their community. Their service has therefore made a way for children, from infants up to five, to start receiving access to food, education and basic health care at Temitope Community Based Organisation from the beginning of 2017. The dream for the Temitope Care Point is that these young children will receive the preparation that they need to start primary school.
One of the goals for 2018, is to have a Maranatha Workshop for the Care Workers in Temitope. To prepare for this, members of the local Hands at Work office in Lagos, particularly Toyin, have been diligent in spending time with Care Workers in their homes each week. She and the others have been building relationships so they feel loved and supported as they face many of the same challenges as the children they care for.
At two years old, Chinelo* is very slight with a distended belly; a sign of malnutrition. Chinelo’s father is a tailor, and her mother, Redeem* is one of two wives. Chinelo’s father is unable to care well for his family. Both Chinelo and her four-year-old sister attend the Temitope Care Point. Often, Chinelo is the first child to arrive in the mornings, seeing it as a place of safety. Previously quiet and withdrawn, she now smiles.
The Hands at Work office in Lagos currently supports three Community Based Organisations, which exist to care for the most vulnerable in their communities. The office provides training, networking, and encouragement to those Community Based Organisations like Temitope. It also gives administrative support, including helping with funding proposals, monitoring and evaluation, bookkeeping and reporting to donors.