By Gele Agbai
The 2022 edition of the Bemore Summer Boot camp took off on Monday, August 22, at Mabest Academy, Akure, Ondo State with a total of 378 participants.
Eight of the participants are physically challenged owing to hearing impairment. And this is what makes this year’s edition, which is the fifth in the series even more remarkable. For the first time since the commencement of the initiative in 2017, the organizers thought it wise that the efforts to bridge the gender gap in STEM-E(Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics-Entreprenuership) should embrace all category of the girl-child.
Clearly, the Bemore Empowered Initiative, which is the brainchild of the First Lady of Ondo State, Chief Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu has been making inroads in the task of simplifying and ending the misconception that STEM-E is the exclusive preserve of the menfolk.
Except for the year 2020 when the annual boot camp could not hold owing to the devastation and disruption caused by the health fiasco COVID-19 around the world and Nigeria inclusive, the boot camp has not only succeeded in ending the misconception or phobia, it has also inculcated in the girl-child drawn from the focal states of Ondo, Imo, Ekiti and Oyo states some technical knowledge and other life-changing skills.
Testimonies abound of the girl-child coming into camp and leaving after a fortnight duration positively and pleasantly transformed not only in the area of skill acquisition but also in behaviourial pattern.
Before this year edition, the boot camp had churned out no fewer than 2000 graduands who were trained in solar energy and Information Communication Technology (ICT) as well as make-up, bead-making, making of reuseable sanitary pads and tekwando. To the pleasant surprise of all, the graduands are making great contributions in the society.
Twenty-year-old Christiana Madu is of the 2018 Bemore set. On August 20, this year, Madu, who is at present a Computer Engineering undergraduate of Federal Polytechnic, Ile-Oluji successfully installed a solar inverter and panels that powered the office of the Ondo State Agency Against Gender-Based Violence, OSAAGBV.
Marvelous Jegede who hails from Arigidi Akoko is also of the 2018 Bemore set. After passing out of the boot camp, she also powered her parents’ home. Yusuf Boluwatife Chelsea of the 2021 Bemore set performed same feat after the boot camp.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Chelsea confessed she was timid and knew nothing about solar energy prior to attending the boot camp last year. But after the camp, she said she not only acquired skill on solar energy but also self-defense skill and confidence to navigate through life.
Simi Oluwa who was of the 2019 Bemore set didn’t only acquire skill in solar energy and ICT, she also imbibed the principle of selflessness.
According to her, “Before coming to camp, I liked learning but wasn’t teaching others. I was taught at the camp to be selfless or to give back to the society.
“Today, I organize classes with others for other girls. We organized one in December 2021 and another in April”.
Testimonies like the above inspire girls like Amadi Chizitere Jessica from Emeabiam Community in Owerri West Local Government Area of Imo State who had to travel from Imo State to attend the 2022 boot camp in Akure.
The testimonies coupled with the transformation that occur in the girls are also what inspired Senator Olabode Olajumoke, Chief Olusola Oke, Hon. Lucky Aiyedatiwa and others to continue to sponsor girls from their communities to the boot camps.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Senator Olajumoke said it is the positive transformation in the girls he first sponsored that encouraged him to continue his sponsorship.
He said; I’m convinced that Bemore is a positive thing. Some PDP members are asking whether I want to join the APC. No, I remain in the PDP. Even the APC members are worried.
“Let me make it clear. I’m not joining the APC. I only support positive initiatives. I’m here because I very much support Bemore. I heard the testimomies of the girls I sponsored, I had teary eyes. I joined politics to improve my environment”.
Senator Olajumoke reiterated his concern about the sustainability of the initiative after the tenure of the Ondo State governor, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu which will also see to the exit of his wife as the first lady.
He rightly observed that successors in the country hardly continue with the programmes and projects of their predecessors.
But the traditional ruler of Oke-Ila Community, Oba Adedokun Abolarin has a different view on the sustainability of the initiative. He believes that the graduands will be the ones to sustain and perpetuate the project.
The royal father also told the girls who are future mothers and homemakers not to be hoodwinked into believing that the kitchen is no longer theirs but to ensure that while they operate from the kitchen they also play big in the boardrooms.
Earlier, the chairman of the occasion, Chief Olusola Oke had urged the initiator to ensure the boys are also catered for so that the boys won’t become stared of the emerging techgirls.
According to Chief Oke, the Bemore Boot camp is filling up the gap in the education system of the country by inculcating technical know-how in the girls. He charged the participants to maximize the opportunity the camp offers.
He observed that the world was transiting to the use of cleaner energy and ICT adding that those who are versed in them will become the major players in the economy.
He canvassed the institutionalization of the Bemore Empowered Initiative in the state in order to ensure it doesn’t stop after the exit of the present administration.
The founder of the Bemore Empowered Initiative, Chief Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu was effusive in her appreciation to her partners/sponsors particularly the Ondo State Oil Producing Development Areas Commission, OSOPADEC which has from inception continued to sponsor girls to boot camps.
It was gathered that from inception, OSOPADEC has been sponsoring no fewer than 100 girls each year with the intervention agency sponsoring 140 girls to this year’s boot camp.
The governor’s wife said the oil agency began supporting the boot camp even when it was yet to understand its full import and benefits.
She therefore expressed her delight at the successes the programme has recorded within five years. But of much happiness to her is that the Bemore ambassadors are today serving as resource persons to help train other girls during the boot camps.
The first lady revealed that 10 Bemore ambassadors are serving as resource persons in the ongoing boot camp. She lauded her partners as well as agencies like NDLEA, NSCDC, security agencies and media for helping to make the programme a huge success.
The success of the programme, she noted, is such that critics have eaten the humble pie leading to a situation that the erstwhile critics are today staunch advocates of its sustainability.
The deputy governor, Hon Lucky Aiyedatiwa is cocksure of the sustainability of the programme. He assured the first lady that because of the success of the boot camps, the initiative will not only last beyond the tenure of the incumbent administration but also beyond the earthly existence of the initiator.
A mild debate as to whether a woman could succeed Gov. Akeredolu triggered off when Barrister Oladunmi Odu, Secretary to the State Government, SSG, submitted that nothing says a woman could not become the next governor of the state. The women rose in a unanimous approval of her assertion.
However, the deputy governor disclosed that some men made him to understand that though women are fit to become governors, the state was not yet ripe to have a woman as the chief tenant at Alagbaka.
Though the women did not find the deputy governor’s position palatable and offered muffled protest, the full import of the ceremony was not lost on those present. The resource persons and participants are eager to commence the business of the boot camp.
And the ambience of the venue provides the needed filip for the academic and practical exercises. Unlike previous editions held at two venues namely Elizade University and Ondo State Personnel Taining Institute, the 2022 edition is being held in one venue, which has all the facilities: hostel accommodation and tech laboratories. As a result, distractions will be reduced if not completely eliminated.
The girls are certainly in for great discovery of their inherent talents and inculcation of skills.