Unraveling a journey of a decade and 4years in Development sector – Martin-Mary Falana
Kids & Teens Resource Centre (K&TRC) recently celebrated its 14th anniversary. In this interview with Ngozi Aduloju, the Chief Executive Director, Martin-Mary Falana, a Public Health Specialist shares his vision and achievements in empowering thousands of youths through numerous projects in rural communities in Ondo, Kwara and Ekiti States of Nigeria. Excerpts:
What gave birth to the vision to establish Kids & Teens Resource Centre (K&TRC)?
The story started with about six persons volunteering at the Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigerian (PPFN) office; they came up with the zeal to contribute to the development of the society. We discovered that issues such as rape, child abuse, child rights issues, gangsterism, substance abuse, HIV&AIDS etc among young people were not being dealt with adequately in our immediate environment. We also saw the level of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) on the increase. We discovered some factors that were responsible for young people not achieving their full potentials and the need to curb these factors through the empowerment of young people with information and basic resources. So, we came together as young people in December 2002 to see what we could do to support the efforts of the government and all other stakeholders as well as donor agencies and communities in ensuring that there is a secured future for young people. In doing this, we aimed to empower other young people so that they would also be able to contribute to the development of their communities.
What is the ultimate goal of K&TRC?
At K&TRC, we particularly target young people and children because we want to catch them at an age when certain ideologies can be inculcated into them. At a young age, the human mind can be shaped before they become adults. We have discovered that majority of the problems the world is facing presently; children and young people are the most affected and if we must avoid the catastrophe that may occur in the nearest future, we must encourage the society to invest in children and young people. They are highly energetic and idealistic at that age range, with a high sense of commitment to whatever they want to do. Hence, rather than leave these young people to channel their energy negatively, K&TRC works with them to help them use their energy productively in order to contribute to the society positively as a mean to curbing anti-social acts amongst young people.
Were there times you felt like abandoning the vision?
We have had our good and unpleasant experiences in the last fourteen years. I can remember a major incident in our former office when we resumed one morning to discover that all our equipments had been stolen including the louvers in the windows. It was so sad that I had to tell all the staffs to go home as the future looked bleak without any way forward. At that time, we were just about 4 years old as an organization and when that happened, it just seemed the organization had come to the end of its journey. If not for passion, that would have been the end because all the data and information we had gathered over the years had gone with the computer and printers that had been stolen.
Can you share some of the partnership and projects you have embarked upon in the last 14 years?
In all of these, we have had periods of no support, also periods of immense assistance. For instance, ACTION-AID Nigeria came to our aid in 2005 when we were picked as one of the partners they wanted to work with in Ondo State on a poverty eradication programme. It was tagged: Partnership Against Poverty (PAP). Action-Aid Nigeria took us under their wings and helped us re-strategize our mode of operation through what they called ‘visioning exercise’ using Participatory and Organizational Assessment and Development Framework (PADEF) for our organization. We improved overtime with the policies that were put in place under PADEF and for six years, we partnered with them. This partnership turned out to be a learning process that created windows of opportunities at the long run in the development sector. In Ekiti State, we have had support from PACT Nigeria under the USAID REACH project. The support we get from PACT Nigeria goes beyond finance, they have greatly contributed to the institutional development of K&TRC and this has really assisted us in so many ways, one of which is meeting other donor requirements.
The Society for Family Health (SFH) has also been supporting K&TRC technically overtime; we have been working with them in the area of social mobilization which has also resulted in our development as an organization. We have been beneficiary of the European Union (EU) MPP6 project in the Niger Delta which is the micro project programme in the six Niger-Delta State. We have also been privileged to be part of those that implemented the nine states which is the MPP9 under the EU commission. We have also been working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on promotion of credible elections through mobilization of youths and women for elections and shunning electoral violence at all levels. We have equally been working with the Federal Ministry of Education under the Family Life and HIV education. The UNICEF programme targets youth corps members (NYSC) to reach secondary school students and K&TRC has been part of that programme since inception till date and through the NYSC corps members in both urban and rural communities, volunteer corps members mentor students in secondary schools as peer educators.
K&TRC have been able to contribute its own quota to the society through our school project with the support of several donor agencies; we have at least four health centres in rural areas and civic centres that have been built. We have a project under water and sanitation through the establishment of Children Hygiene And Sanitation Education (CHASE) and this is to promote hygiene and sanitation practices among children; by doing this, we are also looking at the means to reduce absenteeism rate drastically in schools because if poverty is to be eradicated, we need to do all the things that will make us achieve retention of pupils in schools so that if they attain a certain level of their academic career in life, they will be better people in the future.
We have been involved in school building projects and the sole aim was to bring schools close to some communities. This is done in collaboration with the state government because it is not feasible to employ and pay teachers as well, so we partner the Ministry of Education at the state level such that we can get a letter of commitment from them to take over the school, then we will support the community in building the school. We have built close to 19 schools in rural, excluded and socially marginalized communities in Ondo State.
Sir, what are some of your expectations from the government?
We cannot work in isolation because our activities are carried out in the jurisdiction of the government, so we have to rely on the support they give us through the creation of an enabling environment for us to be able to work. Although, we do not get financial support for our projects from the government, the international donor agencies have been giving us support to be able to make all these services available to the various communities. The reason we do not solicit for funds from the government is because most of our projects serve as advocacy tools in these communities, so they can learn that without government funds, development can be achieved. Hence, if they eventually get government support as a community, they will be able to use the same participatory methodology to achieve a level of success; in this way, we build the capacity of the communities such that after the projects, they would be able to engage their duty bearers, own and sustain the projects. Reason being that in our society, there is a gap between the right bearers and the duty bearers (the elected). There is a huge disconnect between the duty bearers and the people. Majority of those in government when voted into office decides to forget those at the grassroots that had voted them. So, we create a bridge and this is what K&TRC does. We take them through civic empowerment by training them on their rights and in their knowing it, they constructively demand for their rights through dialogue.
I just want to say at this point that government need to take more steps in ensuring that the policies in place are well implemented. They should create a safety net that will involve the civil society and the rural communities to ensure that these policies are domesticated and implemented. The law enforcement agencies also have a major role to play in all these. Take for instance, if somebody rapes a young girl and nothing is done, it would repeat itself, but if there are disciplinary actions that are enforced, it will go a long way to checkmate such incidence of child molestations.
What do you hope to achieve in coming years?
By the grace of God, we are looking forward to many more years of advancing positively and also having our own property that will have all that we need including a youth friendly centre where young people can walk into and get enlightened and informed. Information is power as it will take them to the next level. By the time they are informed, they are no longer deformed (they have become reformed) and that is the society we want to see.