Our arrival at Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, came a few days after a number of Australians had been taken hostage in Nigeria. So with the guidance of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, 24/7 security for us had been organised through the Nigerian Mobile Police (MOPOL) force.
Security was tight and highly directive, with little choice but to do and go wherever the uniformed men demanded. Once out of the airport, we were taken immediately into an armoured vehicle, sitting behind a uniformed officer holding a semi-automatic rifle.
Being immersed in Lagos – a city of over 24 million with 50 per cent of the population aged 19 years or younger – was like no other experience. The major roads are like marketplaces, with vendors rushing into the pathway of oncoming vehicles selling everything from bananas to brooms. It is a city of bustle and noise, with women and men dressed in vibrant flowing garments with headdresses that give accentuated stature. There is elegance and beauty everywhere.
The Foundation worked with two schools, both in Ondo State. Luyepo Primary School is located in Epe and St Peter’s RCM Primary School in Odoragunshin.
The launch of the Nigeria Collection was an electric occasion. It was a formal event where the children performed their indigenous dances with alluring feather costumes that held our complete attention. The children were resplendent and the drums hypnotic, demanding that the audience move with the rhythm, while the children immersed themselves in the music and their moment.
Lagos was overwhelming in terms of human movement and the enormity of the literacy challenges. On one level we barely had time to scratch the surface, but listening to the children read their stories aloud and hold their published stories reinforced what we were doing and why we were doing it.
Ducere is truly committed to improving children’s literacy and educational development through story in Nigeria, with support from the Australian Government through Direct Aid Program. It has a secure and concrete working relationship with the Lagos State Government through the State Universal Education Board, whose Executive Chairman attended the launch of the Nigerian collection.
This launch, which will never be forgotten by those who were in the company of the authors and their parents, is best described by borrowing words from the story written by Odiete Favour:
There was much excitement ... It was a really memorable day!