Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Why Children in orphanages are being marginalised, relegated--Engr Okolo

By O’star Eze

“What I gain is seeing these children happy,” says Engr. Okolo Cajetan, a young 
Electrical Electronics Engineer with the Federal Ministry of Science and 
Technology and the Executive Director of Okolo Cajetan Foundation, a Non-
Governmental Organization that looks out for orphans and other disadvantaged 
members of the society. He recently started up a computer training program for 
the attendants and children of Model Orphanage, Awka. He tells O’star Eze of 
Orient Daily in this exclusive chat what informed his passion and what his NGO 
seeks to achieve. 

What inspired your work in the orphanage?

After seeing, over the years of constant visit to the orphanage homes, how 
things are with the kids, I asked myself what I can do to improve their lives. 
So, I considered that computer is a practical thing. And given the fact they do 
not attend conventional school like every other privileged child, to get them 
back to such school might not be an easy thing. So, I needed to engage them in 
something that would hold and improve their interest in education as well as 
empower them; something that will make them develop passion for education 
and vocational skills. So, I started the training after getting the Anambra State 
government approval. The people I am training now are the staff, except for 
one of the children who should be about 12years that is also involved. My 
intention was to train three members of staff who will now be used to train the 
younger ones. But during one of my visits, I found the young girl teaching her 
brothers and sisters which impressed was at that point that I enlisted her 2
for the ongoing training. I felt that she might even teach her siblings better 
than the staff if well empowered. My intention is that any child that has gotten 
to eight years of age in our orphanage homes should be computer literate. The 
best way to get these children to acquire computer education is to start them 
with the various educational software’s and games in the computer. There are 
games you would be playing with the computer and you will be learning 
without even knowing it. These educational games, software’s and video 
displays are installed in the computer. You would see that in the course of 
playing the games, that they have learnt basic calculations, phonics, alphabets, 
current affairs and many others. The child might not be conscious of this but 
he/she is learning. This will make them learn faster when they start learning 
Microsoft packages and the rest. And when such a child goes back to school, 
he/she will be conversant with the basics of class work. So, our aim is to 
restore passion for education in these children and prepare their minds to go 
back to such school where they can mix up and compete with their pears 
outside the four walls of the orphanage homes. The computer training will also 
ensure that they are employable in the nearest future. The females among 
them might on the course of working where she secured a job, get married 
while the males would be able to fend for themselves and start up a family.

So, does your organisation have any plans for the children beyond the 
computer training programme?

Yes, we also intend going into improving their education, health care, social life 
and so many others. We only chose to start with the computer training. We also 
have plans of employing the best among each group at the proposed computer 
college which will be set up within the orphanage home after the training and 3
be placed on a monthly salary. Those who want to start their own computer 
centres would be assisted to do so. 

How many computers do you have so far and how often are they put to use?

We have three computers, a power generating set, internet access and other 
accessories. We also have a LaserJet Printer which was recently donated by a 
Philanthropist from Aguluezechukwu in Anambra State. These are all in the 
orphanage home where the government approved for the training to hold. The 
students are taught thrice every week. Other days, the students engage in 
doing the assignments they had been given during classes by the instructor. 
Everyday they are taught, they are given practical assignments which they are 
expected to carry out on the other days they are not being taught. I make sure 
the generating sets are fuelled always. For now, we have 2 trainers and 5 
trainees. While four of the trainees are staff of the orphanage and one, the 
young teen that showed interest in teaching her siblings was added to them. 
The government approved three persons for me, but when I got to the place, 
we discovered that the coordinator of the home was not included among those 
approved, so we accommodated her in the training. I am making plans to add 
one more computer for them which I intend to be exclusively for the young girl 
that is been trained with them. I noticed that she lacked the confidence to 
comfortably use the available computers when her guardians are on them. 

What are some of your concerns and recommendations with regard to the 

If you come to the home, psychologically, the children are not balanced. I will 
not blame the government because I know that the government provides for 
the home. I know that it was the State Government that provided the two 4
vehicles packed within the home which is not working again. The Anambra 
State Government have been very supportive but I still believe that a lot still 
has to be done by the Government.
The home also needs better medical attention. There is also a need to improve 
on the hygiene practice of the home. With regard to education, the children do 
not attend conventional schools. The State Government employed home teacher 
for them which I believe is not enough to secure their future. 
We also intend getting a sponsor to take these children to executions, 
amusement parks and other site seeing centers that are children friendly where 
they would play, have some fun and give them a sense of belonging. Even if it 
entails attaching security officials to guide and protect them. Once they start 
mixing up with other kids, their self-confidence will be restored and they will 
not have any cause to run away from the home. I believe that the computer 
training will go a long way to boost their sense of self-worth. We are currently 
making a proposal for a well-equipped Computer School which will be situated 
with the orphanage home. The state government has promised to provide a 
section of an existing building for the computer school. The computer school 
will give free training not only for the children in our orphanage homes but also 
for persons with disabilities, widows and the less privileged. It will also be used 
to raise fund to boost the children’s education.

Let’s go back to your passion; how did you acquire this passion?

During my secondary school days at St Peter’s Special Science School, Achina, I 
found out that I have passion for children. I started visiting orphanages when I 
was in the university from my first year. I studied Electrical and Electronics 
Engineering in Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka. I became more consistent in 5
my orphanage visit from my third year in the university and made it a point of 
duty to always mark my birthday and other festive periods with them. I spend 
time whenever I go there because most of the kids there knew me by name. I 
developed this passion for them, playing with them, to the extent that I wanted 
to adopt a child then in my fourth year but they refused, saying that I was not 
qualified yet. I pleaded with my parents to assist but they refused. When I 
finished school, I went for my youth service in Osun State. I did not see any 
orphanage home there. But when I went to Katsina State, I discovered one and 
I started visiting it. I did a short training for them and gave them one set of 
computer before I left Katsina though not under an NGO. I then moved to Lagos 
State to work. It has not been long I moved back to Awka. When I made 
enquiries, I discovered that the government closed most of the orphanages and 
moved the kids down to this government managed home. When I started 
visiting there, I discovered that there are so many gaps that need to be filled. 
So, I decided to take it upon myself and start addressing them. 

What is your message to the government with regard to these disadvantaged 

While I appreciate what the government is doing already, I think the 
government should start paying closer attention to these disadvantaged ones 
and the way they are being managed. There are things the government can 
sponsor for people with disabilities, helpless widows etc. Go to our hospitals 
and you will see so many patients who cannot pay their bills and are stranded. 
They need to set up a committee that goes to the hospitals, orphanages, 
psychiatric homes, old people’s homes to find out what is really happening 
there, how they are being managed and where there assistance is needed.

Do your parents share this passion of yours?

Yes, they do. For instance, in November 2017, a pregnant woman who had 
complications went to Amaku General hospital in Awka. Because she could not 
afford the bills, she was taken by her husband to a prayer house to deliver the 
baby. While she was there, her health deteriorated so much and her blood 
pressure went up. Somehow, something took them to my parents’ house whom 
they never knew and my mo0ther took over from there after listening to their 
pathetic story and seeing her condition. She took her back to that same hospital 
where the doctor have recommended for an operation to save her live and that 
of her babies. The operation was conducted successfully and she delivered a set 
of twins. She made sure the woman’s hospital bills were paid both with her 
contribution and that of some friends and some philanthropists. She was 
discharged at the recommended time by the doctor. So, yes, I would say that I 
got this passion from my parents. My father was a beneficiary of philanthropy. 
He lost his father when he was still in primary four and he was very intelligent. 
It was an uncle and the little support from her mother that took him through 
primary school, while his secondary and higher institution, he read with 
scholarship and he was able to train his siblings. Today, he is a lecturer in the 
department of physics, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. He gave back to the 
society by sponsoring so many people through school even people he never 
knew. He also teaches in some seminaries as service to humanity without a 
salary. So, I believe that sometimes if you do not experience philanthropy, you 
would not appreciate the need for it. 

What height would you like to achieve as a caregiver?

I would want, before I retire as a civil servant, I can look back to people I have 
helped and see them helping others. This will give me utmost satisfaction. I know of a man that the day he had his 80th birthday, he had over 100 
professionals who attended and testified that the octogenarian made them 
what they are. As they gave their testimonies, I was moved and told myself 
that was what I would want to be. I know that if those children in the 
orphanages finish the programme and become empowered thereby, there is no 
way they would not come back to the home and make sure that those other 
kids that are still there are empowered. My NGO also looks out for people with 
disabilities. We believe that contrary to the conception that such people are not 
useful, they are usually exceptionally talented and intelligent. Their only issue 
might be inferiority complex because of how they are treated by the society. I 
know two in my alma mater who are professionals. They were able to achieve 
this because they chose to surmount the challenge and face life squarely. The 
present government should be applauded because I understand it instituted a 
commissioner for people with disabilities. I think this gives such people a sense 
of belonging. On the part of the widows, there are widows that are helpless 
especially in situation where the man was the breadwinner before he passed 
on. In such situation, you find that if there is no form of intervention from the 
society to cushion the responsibility of taking care of the home alone, such 
widows would be vulnerable to prostitution in order to survive. These are areas 
our NGO also wants to come in. We have people who cannot afford to pay their 
way through school. Such individuals are people we want to take care of.

What do you stand to gain from what you are doing with this NGO? 

Well, what I stand to gain is seeing these children happy. Most times when I go 
there and all of them cluster around me and I play with them and operate the 
computer with them. Generally, I believe that whatever good a man does for 
humanity, it will one way or the other come back to him or her or his  
generation. This is our prayer for everybody out there that have been 
supporting or will support the NGO in giving these people a better future. I 
chose to impact on some lives that most people won’t remember. I also chose 
to bring our attention to them. They need our support for a better life. Thank 
you very much.
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