Street to Class: NGO Provides Free Education, Transforms Lives

Toheeb Babalola

Joy fills the air as the students, teachers, volunteers and parents gather and embrace themselves in welcoming a new academic term at the school premises after almost a month vacation. Every resumption day provides opportunity for the indigent parents to enrol their children for “Free” beyond elementary classes at this particular school. But who would have thought that all these smiling students were once picked up from the streets.

Lesson time

In the second quarter of 2022, a man with a 6yr-old daughter walked to a shop owned by an elderly widow and urged the woman to let his daughter stay till he returns from work. The woman who was unaware of the man’s mission accepted based on tribal relations without knowing his residence and background. Till the end of the day, the man did not come back for the little girl and nobody knows his whereabouts till date.

The overwhelmed woman, struggling with life challenges, confided in a church member and reported the situation to the police. The community advised the widow to accommodate the girl while the hunt for her father continues. The girl calls herself “Susan” (not real name) when asked of her identity. She has a learning poverty – being unable to read and write alphabets which is mandatory for children worldwide to have overcome by age 10.

Unfortunately, no action was taken by the authorities, leading Susan to roam the streets during school hours. Susan was part of the 244 million Out-of-School-Children globally as at the time of the report of United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Sub-Saharan Africa was affirmed by the organisation as the only region with the lion share of 98 million, and Nigeria with 20 million population tops China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia,Tanzania, DR Congo , Sudan and other countries with Out-of-School-Children in the world.

The widow who is now acting as a guardian for Susan has children in different universities whose tuition fees she is unable to pay and to carry the burden of her foster child is very challenging. A compassionate neighbour near the elderly woman’s shop took an interest in Susan’s plight and reported the case to the Dolly Children Foundation (DCF), a non-governmental organisation whose interests are to give underserved children access to quality education in a conducive learning environment, provision of educational aids and financial support.

This foundation advocates and creates awareness on Sustainable Development Goal four (SDG4) within the length and breadth of the country. With its trackable records, it has reached over 23,000 Out-of-School-Children in 30 communities in five States since its establishment in 2009. It was recently shortlisted by the Global Citizen among the five organisations that transform education in Nigeria.

After extensive discussions with community leaders, the police, and the concerned neighbours, the foundation decided to enrol Susan at the Dolly Stars School, a tuition-free school owned by the foundation located at Freedom Street, Makogi road, Magboro in Ogun State, Nigeria, and also cater for her welfare while she lives with the neighbour.

Despite the initial challenges, including not knowing her date of birth and struggling to read and write initially, Susan’s progress in encouraging. “I want to become a Nurse to rescue sick people from illness” Susan said on  her future aspiration in an interview with the African-Change-Narrative.

Not only Susan had street background, there are many others like her and one of them is Emmanuel Oyedumade, 11 yr-old boy who is currently in Primary 4 at the Foundation’s school.

Emmanuel’s biological mother died during his birth and his father is nowhere to be found. He stays with his Aunt who hawks soap and her husband is physically challenged. He joined Dolly Stars School at Age 6 in 2019 after being accepted by the Foundation. “I was not happy when I was at home because I did not have the opportunity to go to school like other children. I want to become a soldier. I want to change the world,” Emmanuel said.

Ibrahim Mutiullahi, 9yr-old, was out of school for many years before the Foundation met his parents on July 1st, 2019. His mother sells nylons while father is an Islamic cleric.

The Foundation picked him from home and enrolled him in a nearby public school. Following his improved performance, he was later transferred to the Dolly Stars School. He is currently in Primary 4.

“At Dolly Stars School, we were taught to be determined and pursue our goals,” Ibrahim told African-Change-Narrative.

A 2022 report suggests that the out-of-school rate among children of primary school age has fallen from 33% to 27% but remains stagnant ever since then.

In the case of Miracle Anthony, 16yr-old boy, currently in Junior Secondary School 3 under the scholarship of the Foundation at Magboro Community High School, his parents (a Cleaner and a petty trader) stopped his education after being sent home several times for school fees , and they could not afford it despite his brilliant performance.

He was following his mother to her roadside trading for good two years before the foundation reached out in 2019. “When I was not in school, I felt like this should not happen to me because I can remember when I was in school back then. Obviously I was the best but somehow, I did not know. It was the day when they sent me back home from school, and I was like, my parents did not pay the school fees. I was like, how come? I asked my mom, but she didnt say anything. I was like, this can’t be possible. I was at home watching others singing the national anthem, because the school was nearby” Miracle recalled.

One of the barriers to education for low-income households is the school fees, which unfortunately remain widespread in schools across Sub-Saharan Africa, causing financial stress to families. 54% of adults in the region worry about the tuition fees, and 40% of Nigerians are living below the poverty line $1.90 per day.

The Foundation enrolled Miracle and his siblings for elementary education. His exceptional talents have consistently distinguished him, and aside from holding different leadership roles in school, the young boy is also representing his school at the state level. He is still under the scholarship of the Foundation till date.

The Journey

Adedolapo Osuntuyi is the founder of the Dolly Children Foundation. She is a social reformer with an interest in education reforms, policymaking, and community and national development. Her desire to establish Foundation was borne out of her father’s childhood experience  struggling for education. When she was a teenager, her father sat her down and recounted how life’s challenges did not allow him to pursue his dream beyond Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s free primary education scheme in the old Western region.

After primary classes, her father was not able to proceed for secondary education. However, he was determined and borrowed books and money from friends to sit for the O’level examination and passed.

“Recounting his life’s story that night put my Dad in a sad state and that made me cry. That night, I prayed to God to give me the grace to help children in similar situations when I grow up.

“I decided to play my part to ensure that children, irrespective of where they are born and their life circumstances, are not denied the opportunity to excel in life, and because of the difference education made in the life of my father, my interest is ensuring every child acquire quality education” Osuntuyi stated.

As an adult, she became aware of the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria which is the highest in the world, and she noticed how young children were being engaged in economic activities during school hours instead of being in school. All these culminated in her venture into the social development space, and incorporating Dolly Children Foundation (DCF) to address the issues. Osuntuyi is an Alumnus of the Young African Leaders Initiative, West Africa Regional Centre, a US Government Initiative and one of the best three awardees of her cohort in the Women in Management, Business and Public service (WIMBIZ) Mentorship programme. In addition, she serves as Director of some organisations.

In 2021, she was recognized as one of the 50 African Women in Development. She has been featured on television stations and news periodicals and has received several awards and nominations, including a community service award within the country.

The Foundation identifies these children through the community interventions in the local schools and community leaders e.g via its reading clubs, after – school and free summer programmes. The programmes give them direct access to the children which enables the Foundation to strategically carry out undercover assessment to identify and reach out the children in dire need of support.

They engage all children under its scholarship in coding, entrepreneurial classes – Baking, Art  craft, Tyle; Dye, Hair Making, Tailoring, hair accessories  fascinators, beading, financial literacy, recycling and upcycling, soap making, sanitary hygiene – like how to make their own reusable pads, etiquette sessions and mentoring classes – emotional intelligence.

Funding and Sustainability

Through donations and grants from the international organisations, local industries and notable individuals in the society, the Foundation is able to implement its projects. It partners with the Ogun State Government, Flourish Roots Foundation, My Father’s House, Gamalieli Susan Ọmọde Foundation, SKLD Integrated Services, Street2Class Initiative, Edward Consulting, Cantu Shea Butter, Nesgel School, Karis & Eleos Hands of Hope and people in the diaspora.


Apart from the challenges of  getting grants and donations, the Foundation has had difficulties with the belief system of some community members. The founder and the volunteers often clash with guardians refusal to allow their wards embark on scholarship programmes despite the challenges they faced at home.

However, they have been able to tactically overcome the situations with support of key stakeholders in education.

Sustainable Development Goals in Addressing Poverty Education is a powerful agent of change, and improves health and livelihoods, contributes to social stability and drives long-term economic growth. It is a fundamental human right, a critical driver for economic advancement and a powerful tool for poverty reduction.

Education is the Goal 4 out of the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals under the United Nations 2030 Agenda which aims at curbing learning poverty and making sure that no one is excluded from school. According to UNICEF, all children have the right to quality education, no matter where they live. Hence, no child of school age should be denied access to quality and equitable education, and an opportunity to acquire skills that guarantee future employability and long-term earning.

Parents Perspectives

Mrs Ima Joseph, widow and Susan’s foster mother expressed her joy about what the Foundation has done since it took charge of the educational burden and welfare of the abandoned girl. “It is like a miracle, it’s God’s doing because I didn’t believe this kind of humanitarianism support existed. They make me happy and her academic performance is exceptional. I thank them for what they are doing” Joseph said.

Mrs. Sherifatu Mutiullahi applauded the Foundation for not only sponsoring her son’s education but also providing the household foodstuffs countless times despite the harsh economy. Mrs Oluwatumininu Oyedumade, Emmanuel’s foster mother stated that the free education has had great impact and solved economic loads in her family.

Experts Weigh in

Nadi Henney, an Educationist, affirmed that NGOs play a vital role in addressing educational inequalities and promoting access to quality education for all, nothing that they provide for Out-of-School-Children in communities that are not sufficiently served by the government.

Henney noted that shortage of funds and government regulations are hindrances to implementation of projects. He said Foundations often rely on donations to fund their operations, which can make it difficult to scale up their programmes. However, he said they can get by diversifying their funding sources, such as grants application, partnerships with the private sector, and uother income generating initiatives.

“I believe a key factor that contributes to the success of NGO tuition-free educational programs is when NGOs work closely with communities to understand their needs and priorities, they can design programmes that are more likely to be successful. For bringing children from streets back to class in their community to access quality education and life skills is critical in empowering them for a better future,” She said.

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