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Nnamdi Returns to School - Written by Justin Okoroegwu

Nnamdi Nweke was just 11 years old when his father told him that he would be leaving school and going to Lagos. “At first I did not understand what he meant,” Nnamdi recalls. “When he discovered that I was not catching up with what he was saying he called the names of other boys in my community who left school and went to the city. It was then that I understood.”

What Nnamdi had come to understand was that he was being removed from school and sent off to work and make money for his family. Like many others in their community of Ephuenyim in Ebonyi State, the Nweke family had been struggling for years to make ends meet. Nnamdi’s father did not see the value of continuing to send his child to school when he could instead be earning much-needed money. So he did what many other parents did: he made arrangements for his son to live with and work for a man who originally heralded from their community, in return for a small income.

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Nnamdi admits to having mixed feelings about the announcement. Part of him was excited to see the big city of Lagos he had heard so much about, though he says he would have rather seen it after completing his education. Ultimately, however, it was his family responsibilities that drove the boy’s commitment.

My father has 13 children,” he explains. “I am the second child and first son. I know that to eat was difficult in my house and I wanted to help in making money for the family.

Nnamdi’s life in Lagos was very different than the routine of school. Seven days a week Nnamdi cleaned the apartment he lived in with his employer, and then headed to the shop where he mopped and dusted, stocked the shelves with rice, beans and other items, and helped customers with their purchases.

While the work was tiring, the most difficult part for Nnamdi was seeing his peers.

I will see children like me going to school and speak with confidence, and inside me I will feel empty and miserable. Because I would like to be like them, I told Mr. Chukwuma that I want to go back to school and be able to speak like those children. He told me that he left school in primary 3 and that I am even lucky to have reached primary 5. He said that after I have stayed more years in Lagos that I will be speaking good English like him.

Nnamdi was resigned to the fact that he would be working in Lagos for the foreseeable future. Thus he was greatly surprised when in December of last year [2014] his employer, Mr. Chukwuma, told him that his father said he should return to Ephuenyim. “At first I thought there was a problem at home and something has happened to my mother or any of my siblings,” recalls Nnamdi. “But when I got back and saw that there was nothing wrong I asked my father why he sent for me to come home. It was then that he told me that the community selected him to attend training in Ephuenyim Primary School.”

The training that had such a surprising and influential effect on Nnamdi’s father had been organized by Participatory Development Alternatives (PDA) and ActionAid. In 2010, ActionAid had built a block of three classrooms in the community to augment the one built by the government, but despite the extra and improved physical space, school enrolment and retention rates remained low, and the quality of teaching poor. In a community that faced poverty on a daily basis, there was minimal understanding of how education could be a long-term solution for their problems and improve their children’s futures. Plus, while a School Based Management Committee had been set-up by the government to monitor and address the quality of education at the school, the community members did not understand its purpose or what duties they were to perform. ActionAid and PDA sought to change these realities. The three-day training was one of their first steps in building the capacities of community members to increase attendance and improve the quality of education.

Nnamdi’s father was greatly influenced by what he learned during the training. He shared with his son that the idea of the importance and influence of education was further driven home for him when he saw a schoolboy, the same age as his son, stand up and speak. As Nnamdi explains,

I could tell from all my father told me that night I asked him why he wanted me to come back from Lagos that one of the major reasons that made him send for me was the boldness of Onyibe. He reported one of the teachers in the school who always left school before closing hours during the training. Many people in Ephuenyim admired the courage Onyibe displayed at the training and want their children to be able to speak out like him.

By the training’s end, Nnamdi’s father had decided to call his son, now fourteen, back from Lagos and re-enrol him in school. Mr. Nweke was also selected to be part of the taskforce set up by the community to ensure that children from Ephuenyim who left school returned back.  “I was surprised to see more pupils in the school than when I left my community to go to Lagos,” says Nnamdi. “Also teachers come to school more regularly and on time than before and this makes us to be in school before them.”

File 31379Nnamdi and his father

As for Nnamdi, he is grateful and eager to make the most of this second chance brought about by PDA and ActionAid. “I feel happier than I felt when I was in Lagos. Many of the time I was always angry and thought of home while I was in Lagos,” he says.

Above all, I am confident that I can do better than Onyibe did during the training and I can equally go on to become a teacher just as I have always dreamt to be. I had thought when I was in Lagos that I will never become a teacher again, but now if I study hard I am sure I will make it.

Written by Justin Okoroegwu, PDA Programme Officer

Did you know... Tax pays for teachers and schools, like the one Nnamdi attends. Yet foreign companies are getting away with not paying taxes in Nigeria. Act now to stop this unfair practice and help more children like Nnamdi return to school. Sign our petition at