Odunayo Aliu, the founder and director of Bramble, possesses a vital passion to transform education in Nigeria. While others see what she is doing and call her a “world-changer” and “visionary”, Odunayo prefers to be known foremost as an educator. While she was studying education at a university in urban Nigeria, she met a 4 year young boy named Da-da, whose name was synonymous with his dreadlocked hair. What initially struck her was Da-da’s lack of shoes.
When Odunayo met his grandmother, she began seeing similarities between her own childhood and Da-da’s. Like Da-da, Odunayo was not raised by her parents, instead, she spent most of her youth being passed from relative to relative and community to community. And as a baby, Odunayo too had the same dreadlocks that Da-da was born with and named after. This encounter shocked her into realizing how a drastic income gap can change a child’s quality of life; Odunayo decided to buy shoes for Da-da and began paying for his schooling. She went beyond just one act of kindness and rallied her college friends together, paying for the education of 300 Nigerian students and sponsoring 36 children. Da-da was the spark that started Bramble.
Bramble takes the Nigerian education system and turns it on its head. Focusing on alternative education, the program seeks to find the natural potential and creative spark in every child and stoke it, creating a generation of innovators. Often, the school systems encourage students to get the right answer but do not inspire them to learn. In the thick of research for Bramble, Odunayo kept following the cracks in the system, leading to case after case of students’ potential being squandered. Students like, Adeloa, a boy in third grade, who was unable to spell his own name or read the alphabet, not because he was incapable of doing so, but because his classroom centered around copying the right answer instead of promoting the process of learning. Another complexity Odunayo ran into was children like Funmilayo. A creative powerhouse, Funmi was adept with hands-on activities but would shut down when rigid academics were introduced.
Odunayo’s research left her weighed down by the problems and without a solution. That is when she enrolled in the twelve month program at Kanthari International Institute for Social Change in India, a finishing school that gives aspiring social change makers like Odunayo with the real-life tools and skills needed to start their own social ventures. In rural India, she saw other highly effective educational programs using innovative models of alternative education (outside of traditional school). She saw revolutionary possibilities for her own community back home that didn’t depend on the existing public schooling system. Odunayo flew back to Nigeria, a convert, ready to empower and champion the country’s smallest residents.
Alternative education now acts as the linchpin in Bramble programs, built on the principle that every child has ingenuity and the capacity to learn, they just need the right environment and right people believing in them. With the communities’ approval, Bramble first engaged children with day programs and summer initiatives, focusing on southwest Nigeria where access to public school is sparse.
Recently, on National Children’s Day, a collective of community leaders, volunteers, parents, and 160 children gathered at a Bramble facility to explore ‘Giving Creative Expression’. The day focused on interacting with every child to explore all avenues of creativity, from painting to singing to spelling. These occasional classes are part of a long term goal of building a school in rural Nigeria, where several villages currently lack access to public education.
Bramble begins construction in July 2019 for its first facility in Arikanki, Ibadan. The initial phases of construction will entail two sheds that will act as classrooms and serve ten students for the first year.
Life at the Bramble school will be full of with programs that engage both Nigeria’s rich culture and the technology developing the country, with classes like: herbal medicine, traditional art, solar engineering, and coding. Every class will be tailored to the individual needs of the students, guided by Odunayo and her ‘Catalyst’, Busola. The school will also be free of exams because, as Odunayo puts it, “we believe there are better ways for assessing knowledge.” Bramble is thrilled to introduce the first alternative education program in Nigeria and eagerly awaits its metamorphic effect.
Bloom & Give is honored to support Bramble's first school in Arikanki, Ibadan by covering the funds for the construction of the school and the first year of operation. This marks an exciting next chapter for Bloom & Give since this is our project outside India. In the first year, the school plans to take in ten students and begin building the school and residential facilities on two acres of land. Changing someone’s narrative at a young age has the power to transform trauma into healing, self-loathing into self-discovery, and poverty into equality. As Odunayo says,“Turmoil stays with us and forms the kind of adult we become,” and an act of dignity, coupled with an opportunity for growth, shapes us into grown-ups the world needs. Fundamentally, that is where the core of Bramble exists: in the beauty that can only be found when it begins in the thicket.
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