Bolaji is a 23 year old graduate of law, chartered arbitrator and Executive Director of The Riverwood Switch Foundation. With his team of youths, just as passionate about education as he is, they are making waves in the educational sector of Nigeria one step at a time. Bolaji and I discuss what it’s like to run an NGO and much more.
What is The Riverwood Switch foundation all about? And what inspired you to start it?
I’ve always had a passion for children who are less privileged and don’t have access to quality education and I’ve always been an advocate for proper education across all levels, right from primary school to university. And a lot of us who are educated even suffer from lack of proper infrastructure or proper teachers to teach us because of the way the country is.
I aspire to open a school that will be free of charge for students and rank with top primary schools and secondary schools around the world. I called a few of my friends and we came together. We call ourselves ‘Switch-Up Nigeria’.We just started up in May 2017 and we have 3 branches. One in Lagos, Abuja and in Ekiti. For now, we’re starting with the schools around us. We just go there and We gather like N10,000 and get some things for them, deliver textbooks etc.
Are the schools receptive to the help you try to render? I can imagine in this part of the world you’d face a lot of obstacles.
Okay, let me give you a story about the kind of things we go through. We get to a school, and we meet one of the teachers and I’m talking to the teacher about the things I want to help do in the school and the teacher takes over the conversation and starts telling me how she’s a tailor and how she sells clothes and how I should patronize her. And the entire conversation till I left that day was all about clothes and measurements. She wasn’t even concerned about the help I was bringing to the school, she was more concerned about me patronizing her business.
And also, there are some places you go that you have to ‘shake body’(pay/bribe), before you are granted an audience. They believe that all NGO’s are run by people who are very wealthy. They just think that you have so much with you.
What are the best and worst parts of running an NGO?
The best part, I’d say is the fulfillment that you have when you see that you have transformed the life of just one child. Especially when you know how the child was before. That happiness, the way the child smiles at you and looks at you (and some of them hug you) is just fulfilling.
I was attending a dinner one day, and girl walked up to me and said, “hello”, and I couldn’t place her face. She was like “You can’t remember me? I’m from so, so and so school that you came to, to help us rebuild our classroom and stuff and she was so happy to see me, I was happy to see her too.
For the worst part, there are a lot of challenges that we face in meeting people and trying to gain their trust and also getting people to work for you for free. You know volunteering for an NGO is a big deal and that’s another big challenge. But at the end of the day I think the positive side is better than the negative.
You guys are focusing mainly on primary schools. Do you ever see your foundation expanding to other sectors of education?
The dream, actually is to play a very active role in information education in Nigeria, but we have identified the beginning of the problem, which is the primary education, we believe that of the children can get it right at the primary school level then every other thing follows through for them.
We’re trying to attack it from the grassroot, when we know that we have successfully addressed a lot of primary school problems, then we can now decide to look at secondary and other sectors. But our main concern right now is the beginning where the minds are just evolving, train them properly, give them good infrastructure, get volunteers to teach and provide them good materials, those who are not in school, get them in school, train them so at least they have the basic education, then when we’re done with that then hopefully we can move to other sectors.
Do you have any new projects coming up?
Yes. This year our biggest project is the one in August. We are going to makoko. We’re taking the children who live in the wooden houses in the riverine area and sponsoring their education from primary 1 to primary 3 and also provide them with uniform, bags, sandals, writing materials, study materials and every other thing that they may need.
With The Riverwood Switch Foundation as their means, Bolaji and his team are dedicated to providing transformation in the educational sector helping countless children, youths and teens.
Follow their social media to keep up with all the good they’re doing.
To make a donation or volunteer for any of their projects visit their website RiverwoodSwitch.org
You can also contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org