Tuesday, 10 August 2010

FGCE Project Hope, The Journey So Far...

I still remember vividly how it all began; it started with e-mails in October 2008.

My set left Federal Government College Enugu (FGCE) in 1988, and borrowing the idea from the 1989 set, had started considering what we could quickly put together, to mark 20 years since we left FGCE. We had received information that FGCE was in poor state and needed help; we held robust e-mail discussions on the best way to help. The were suggestions of donations of various sorts, ranging from cash to books. We also had suggestions of a one-off visit for a career day. We also had some people suggesting that the best way to help was to contact the Nigerian Education policy makers and brief them on the situation.

I remember Chikwe Ihekweazu interrupting our discussions, with a suggestion that if we really wanted to help, we should rise above “token donations” commonly obtained in the Nigerian environment and engage with the FGCE; with a view of influencing the education sector- he outlined a rough roadmap and plan. To be honest, I wondered if Chikwe really understood what he was talking about; having left Nigeria some years back. Some of us, who are still resident in Nigeria, had a better grip of the situation on ground. However, we all resolved that the best way forward was for someone to visit FGCE and assess the situation on ground, before we could agree the way forward. I volunteered, not because I was really interested, but because I felt that was the best way to end the discussion, on engaging with FGCE.

The Initial Visit
Corridors of Form 1 Block
I visited FGCE in November 2008, making it 12+ years since I last set foot on the School premises. To be honest, I had physiologically prepared myself, but even then, I was shocked at the level of deterioration of the infrastructure and discipline level of the students. As agreed, I took pictures of the school and demanded to have a discussion with the Principal, regarding our plans to do something for the School. I was informed that due to imbroglio on the new education system, which was then being proposed by the Minister of Education, that FGCE did not have a Principal. However, I could speak to the Acting Principal if I was interested. My discussion with Acting Principal summarized the issue – FGCE was in a rot and could not help itself; external help, if possible, from Old students will be accepted. Clearly, the Acting Principal did not believe that the Old students could deliver anything, sustainable.

The Terms of Reference

When I got back to Port Harcourt, I gave my report via e-mail; from then onwards, the task before us was very straight forward; FGCE was in “dire straits”, anything we could do, would be of help. Having seen the rot in the School, firsthand, I was eager to start, but Chikwe insisted on a more structured approach to solving the problem. Thus receiving contributions from Chuma Maduekwe, Chioma Nwobi, Gbenga Famurewa and Mirian Kachikwu, we prepared the terms-of-reference and sent out appeals for donations; FGCE Project Hope was born. We then started reaching out to alumni to join us on this journey. Despite some initial scepticism, slowly colleagues began to understand the enormity of the problems and decided to join the train. The principle being that, in FGCE Project Hope, there is no hierarchy; all FGCE Old Students are de-facto co-leaders of this project. A vibrant e-group became the forum for all decisions regarding the project. With everyone committing a significant amount of resources to the project, we all engaged in its activities.

Working the Plan; Raising the Cash and Refurbishing the Classrooms

Mrs Anowor - PH Focal Point
I remember visiting FGCE for the 2nd time, armed with several copies of the FGCE Project Hope Terms-of-Reference and demanding an audience with the Acting Principal. I was informed that a new Principal had been appointed for the School. Mr. Esan, the new Principal, was moved to tears, when he read the Project Hope terms-of-reference and pledged his supported. He promptly delegated Mrs. Anowor- the Head of Guidance and Counselling department, to act as the School focal point. I got back to Port Harcourt and recommenced the Project Hope Fund drive with a renewed zeal. Gradually, the cash began to trickle in. We promptly mobilized a builder in Enugu, who commenced the refurbishment of two classrooms.

The First Project Hope Career Day

FGCE Project Hope Career day held on 27th March 2009, was our first opportunity to engage with the Teachers and students. It was a rowdy affair. Mrs. Anwor had involved Mrs. Uko, who was very enthusiastic about Project Hope and the potential benefits for the School. This was the first time the Old students were visiting FGCE to discuss potential careers with current students and it was difficult to get the students to keep quiet. Some Old Students namely- Gbenga Famurewa, Chiwetalu Obikwelu,-, Nnena Madu, Kanu Ijere, Nick Wachukwu, Jideofor Echezor and myself gave talks on undertaking careers in Entrepreneurship, Geosciences, Banking and Finance, law, Information Technology, Medicine and Engineering. The questions from the students were never-ending, and it became obvious to all of us that participated in the Career day that Project Hope was needed, more that we initially believed. After the Career day, we had a get-together with some of the Teachers and inspected the classrooms being refurbished.

Dr Ezinwa and future Medical Students at PH career day
The activities of FGCE Project Hope are financed by contributions from FGCE Old Students. For a time limited period of 3 years, we have committed to contribute £200.00 (N50,000) in the first year and £100 (N25,000) for 3 subsequent years. All disbursements are accounted for in detail, and everyone has a say. We realise that this is a big ask, but the challenge is huge. We will be happy to accept instalments or indeed a donation of whatever you can afford if you cannot manage the above.

Thank you so much for your time and look forward to hearing from you. For details on the project, check out our website.

You can follow the Project Hope on Facebook

Stay tuned for the concluding story of FGCE Project Hope, The Journey So Far……….with briefs on the 36th Prize Giving Day, the Second Career Talk, the 2010 Reunion and Founders Day, the 37th Prize Giving Day and the Journey so far.

Belije Madu 

If you want to know your past- look into your present conditions.

If you want to know your future-look into your present actions. - Chinese Proverb