Mrs. Mary- Anne Israel Ekpo is the founder of MacBlanche Feed a Child Foundation, a non- governmental organization (NGO) based in Calabar Cross River State.
She says that the foundation was into a humanitarian services and that the NGO has passion for the less privileged children in the society.
In an interview with our editor Mr. Onyi Ogar, the founder Mrs. Ekpo urges Nigerians to show love to children and frowned on the stigmatization believe impose on these children in the society.
Mrs. Ekpo pleaded with government to provide homes and urges sponsors to partners with other organisations in order to provide surcore for these children to better their lots in the society.
The NGO said that she has good plans such as education, skill acquisition that will get these children meaningfully engage in order to keep them away from other social vices in the society. In joyed the Excerpts
Onyi Ogar reports – Excerpts:
The Lens: What is your foundation all about.
Mrs. Ekpo: My foundation is all about feeding street children and giving them hope for tomorrow. I have a great passion for humanitarian work ever since I was a child, when I came into Calabar when my husband was posted into the town I saw these children on the street, I found out from somebody that some of them were housed before but after sometime they were asked to vacate the premises and they began rooming the street. So I had this compassion for them and decided to start feeding them. I have been feeding them ever since I came to Calabar.
The Lens: what really drive you into this project.
Mrs. Ekpo: it’s just my love for the less privileged. People have different sources of happiness, but I know this because I derive joy when am putting smile on the less privileged children. I derive this inner happiness; I can’t do without helping the less privileged or the street children.
The Lens: How old are you in this project.
Mrs. Ekpo: like I said, I have been into this issue of taking care of the less privileged since I was in school. Officially it is three years but looking at it from unofficial point of view it being ever since I was in school I love visiting orphanages, prison, juvenile remand homes, organizing parties for juvenile remand homes and even partner with organization to organize parties for them to attend. Most times I do not write my name, I always make it anonymous but this particular Army Day Celebration they told me that I must write my name and that prompted me to do so. I have been on this for a very long time. Anytime when I want to buy something for a street child, the first thing I always ask, is if they have eaten and when the tell me they haven’t eaten, I will tell them to keep their wares and I prepare something for them first to eat. It’s just a passion for the less privileged.
The Lens: These street boys, you have been taking care of. what is the strength of these street boys like.
Mrs. Ekpo: I am not the only one who is taking care of these children, I deal mainly with the ones on Marian road but that particular day we had to feed them because I had breakfast with them. I have pictures on the last children’s day. I told them to wait for me at Fiesta Fries along Marian Road by Atikong junction and I told them to invite their friends. We sit together eat together and I interact with them they are very intelligent, extremely intelligent. They all have desire to go to school. We don’t just want to feed them and leave them on the street. Our desire is to try and see how we can enroll them in schools. Those who have to learn different skills, we have organized different skill acquisition programme and get some resource persons that would train them and get them busy. Rehabilitate them to the society, so that they would become useful, not just to themselves but to the community at large.
The Lens: Do you have any schools where one or two persons are or would be taken to.
Mrs. Ekpo: We are working on getting one or more into Rochers Foundation owned by one governor in Nigeria. He started by picking children from the streets. His school education is free. We have gotten forms for those who are interested. I still want to meet them on Sunday, and those who are interested will fill the forms and we will take it to them. Our prayer is one or two persons should start school by September.
The Lens: What kind of skills are these children interested in.
Mrs. Ekpo: I have spoken with few of them, one of them knows how to dance others, another one loves barbing, tailoring, hairdressing, mechanic and some want to be recruited into the Nigerian Army. It’s very possible if they can just get their West African School Certificate result because they are people who can assist them. These children have natural intelligent because is not everything you learn in school. Common sense is not common my dad used to tell me that. With what they have learned in the street, we don’t just look at the negative aspect because they have learned a lot on the street and it can be useful in whatever field the decide to go into with proper guidelines.
The Lens: What has been your major challenge in getting these children.
Mrs. Ekpo: My major challenge is finance, I started with my personal equity. Just like I said if you have passion for something, you would do it with love. I told you I have a business, so the proceeds I get, I put it into the foundation. Luckily I have gotten support from my friends abroad and some other friends around they have keyed into the idea or course. What I would like to say is if the government can get a home for them. We are organizing a computer programme and I am looking at getting some of them to attend the programme because the person said he would take it free of charge, I would now look for how to get cloths for them. Our big challenge is getting a home for them, we need sponsors.
The Lens: What kind of home or facilities are we looking at.
Mrs. Ekpo: A normal home, where they come and sleep and then they feed. Best time I go there is in morning because after 9: 00Am the children go out to struggle. The things we given them, where would they keep them for personal use. We need resource persons who could reorient their mindset and give them the sense of belonging and show them love.
The Lens: What are the main reasons of them being in the street.
Mrs. Ekpo: I interacted with some, some said because of domestic violence, conflict between parents and that lead to divorce cases where father gets married to a second wife. Maltreatment from their step mother were responsible. They believe that pastors put in the minds of their parents that their child is a witch.
The Lens: How do you see the future of these children.
Mrs. Ekpo: Am a very optimistic person, I believe strongly seeing these children, I see bright future and that is why with the help of God we are going to work towards realizing those potentials, they are very intelligent and have great future.
The Lens: What is your message to Nigerians concerning these children.
Mrs. Ekpo: Please don’t stigmatize these children. A child who is on the street, you don’t expect them to act or reason like someone who is living in a normal home. Most times when we see them as criminals. There are a lot of good embedded in these kids. I advise Nigerians not to stigmatize them, instead look for a way to help them. If you show them love they will reciprocate in the same way. You don’t stigmatize them because they don not have proper guardians. When you show them love it goes a long way of reducing crime in our society.
The Lens: Was there any time they made a promise to you that they would stop taking drugs?
Mrs. Ekpo: Yes, after the programme we had where we called a resource person from the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency who talked to them against use of hard drugs, I spoke with some of them and some promised. They have to be under closed monitoring that is why I have to be seeing them weekly to know their progress with close monitoring and engaging them, I believe the would quit that habit.
Finally, the government has to put a lot of effort to take these children off the street because it’s not something that an individual can do. We have the facilities and resources, our priorities should be set right by putting more efforts to see how we can better the lives of these children, partner with organisations that are into children like this.
We should be careful what we listen to, how can someone from nowhere come and say your child is a witch and you abandon your child, that’s very wrong. Parents should discourage the act of just taking all kinds of stuff from people and acting on it without proper verifications.
The society should stop stigmatizing the children. If you stigmatize them the might harm you more because we are trying to reduce the rate of crime. From what I heard from them some people exploit these children. Some use these girls for prostitution. If you can’t show them love and assist them, please leave them the way they are. You don’t come and worsen their situation. Most times when I come out to feed them, I ask where are the girls? They told me they are housed by somebody who is using them for prostitution. A guy, who was also among the children the last time I feed them on children’s day he is quite talented, a choreographer, he told me he does a dancing for a particular person and the person did not pay him well because he is a street child. We should be human and stop exploiting these children. Christianity is all about action and not carrying a big Jerusalem Bible.
The Lens: What do you gather from other people who do this project.
Mrs. Ekpo: It’s just once or twice I heard of a particular foundation, I can’t remember the name, they had a rally where they called the street children at Mary Selessor, they had something for them. All these foundations have their long term goal which is to see these children rehabilitated, see them go back to school because it’s not about feeding them but rather it’s about giving them life, sense of belonging and giving them something to look forward to.
Published in maiden edition, Lens Newspapers Vol. 1 No. 4.