Accepting my new reality was a struggle, I sincerely have nothing against working with or in the educational sector, I just wasn't flattered by the prospect of being the information officer reporting education of old and handicapped people in remote villages. Running was not an option as refusal to proceed to a beat, once posted, was considered serious misconduct in the Civil Service. Realizing I was stuck in a world that wouldn't ordinarily be my first choice, I remembered being advised by the director of information, to strive towards bringing out the best in every uncomfortable situation.
"How difficult could this be? I asked myself while reluctantly wearing a fake smile as we exchanged pleasantries and hugs with our host.
Upon my arrival at the Akwa Ibom State Agency for Community and Social Development, Akpa Ube Street, Uyo. I enjoyed a celebrity reception and was introduced to the staff as a desk officer from the State Ministry of Information. I did not appreciate that title and hoped it was a mistake.
"I am an information officer and not a desk officer, I murmured quietly as I patiently waited for the opportunity to correct him. (Desk officers were support staff from MDAs .invited to render professional assistance whenever there was a need in their area of expertise). You are free to mock my ignorant protest but in my defense, the prestige that comes with being an information officer is unmatched and one I never take for granted.
The staff looked happy and an aura of positivity filled the building. These made me hopeful and relaxed.
I enthusiastically awaited the end of the Monday morning meeting for a brief on the activities of the State Agency and what was expected of me but my boss Mr Ishmael Johnson Akpan, the general manager, AKS-CSDP, sprung a twist on me.
"Info, once again, you are welcome to the Akwa Ibom State Agency for
Community and Social Development, he said.
"Thank you, Sir; I responded.
"I know you are expecting me to tell you what we do here, but I would rather you create your first impression and if you have questions, we will discuss, he added.
That was the beginning of an unforgettable and life-changing experience. I was directed to join a team to the field and after a journey that seemed would never end, we arrived at Ikot Inuen in Oruk Anam Local Government Area. Armed with my pen, notepad and smart phone ready to snap and take notes, what I saw as I made my way out of the staff bus confused me. Not only were we received by old men and women who could barely walk on their own, and younger people looking sick and deprived, my new colleagues stepped out of the vehicles with rolls of cardboard papers, different colours of permanent markers, rulers, pencils, counting cards, plain sheets and customized attendant sheets. All it took was five seconds to create my first impression. "Akwa Ibom State Agency for Community and Social Development educates old and poor people in rural areas. But I couldn't have been farther from the truth.
When ancient wisdom advised against judging a book by its cover, it wasn't meant to be taken literarily, but for application in our day to day life. The Agency was in Ikot Inuen with materials required to conduct a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) for Likeminds Charity Foundation. PRA involves directing and supervising the process of choosing through open ballot, micro projects best suited to meet the unique needs and improve the standard of living of members of the Vulnerable Groups. The people expected to make up a Gender and Vulnerable Groups (GVG) are the aged, extremely poor, widows and widowers, orphans, terminally sick, the physically (blind, deaf, dumb, lame) and mentally (down syndrome, Autistic, mentally challenged) handicapped members of society who come together to pursue common goals.
In line with Governor Udom Emmanuel's Completion Agenda aimed at making the lives of the people of Akwa Ibom enjoyable and productive, the state government in partnership with the World Bank, through the State Agency for Community and Social Development has reached out to the vulnerable through poverty alleviating and economy improving micro-projects. These intervention projects ranging from open and closed market stalls, construction and equipment of health centers, installation of grinding mills, palm oil processing plants, tricycles and buses for commercial purposes, motorized borehole, school supplies for the younger members etc. has a maximum value of ten million naira only (N10,000 000 ) per group.
Aks-CSDP projects are community and people driven and as a result, unlike government and other developmental organization's projects, interference by contractors, politicians and other third parties are not acceptable. Micro-projects are initiated and implemented for and by vulnerable groups, hence the need to elect (14) capable members for these task. The purpose of Group Project Management Committee (GPMC) is to ensure adequate division of labour which guarantees timely delivery of completed projects and to ensure that capable and trustworthy people are saddled with the responsibility of executing a Group's choice micro-projects transparently. The Agency has zero tolerance for fraud, embezzlement and sluggish activities.
Learning about what the Agency does was exciting and as I prayed to God for blessings on Governor Emmanuel, I was disappointed in the little or no publicity CSDA activity was given. That a lot of people, just like me, living and working in the state were ignorant of the existence of these goldmine, was heartbreaking.
Having met all conditions required to qualify, and to ensure timely and quality delivery, Akwa Ibom State Agency for Community and Social Development organized a two-day training exercise for Vulnerable Group Project Management Committee members of following five (5) beneficiaries:
Likeminds Charity Foundation - Ikot Inuen, Oruk Anam Local Government Area; Mbiafun Ikot Abasi Vulnerable Group - Mbiafun Ikot Abasi, Ini Local Government Area; Nka Unwana Essien Enang Vulnerable Group-Ikot Inyang Osom, Etinan Local Government Area; Renewed Life Vulnerable Group - Ikot Isong, Etinan Local Government Area; Nka Esit Kiet Vulnerable Group-Ikot Idut Nkwokin Ini Local Government Area on project implementations guidelines, Finance management, Conflict resolution, Book keeping, The role of the village heads, Local Government, Community Development Officers, Desk Officers in project success, Environmental management and Safe guard.
Cheques of nine million, five hundred thousand naira only (N49,500 000) was presented to each of the five beneficiary GVG on the second day of the training exercise by the commissioner for economic development and Ibom Deep Seaport, Mr Akan Okon, who charged the groups to maximize their opportunity by delivering quality and sustainable projects, to qualify for more. Which could be left as legacy for future generations.
In a vote of thanks, the GPMC chairman of Likeminds GVG, Madam Justina Umoh, expressed unapologetic gratitude to Gov Udom Emmanuel for partnering the federal government and the World Bank to attract social development to people who had been abandoned by family and society and had lost hope of enjoying basic social amenities as well as prompt payment of the mandatory counterpart funds which ensures sustainability of the partnership in the State. She also promised to reciprocate these kindness by diligently working to deliver enviable micro-projects.