What does it take to change the world?
Prolific campaigning on an international platform?
Huge amounts of funding and human capital?
Celebrity endorsements, with each famous face echoing a hash-tagable mantra?
In the first instance, all that’s needed is an awareness and will power. Raquel Jacobs, founder of educational NGO Beyond The Classroom, noticed a simple need and, along with a group of volunteers, chose to fill that need. Together, they are effecting social change, one school at a time.
‘One day I noticed a boy dressed really shabbily being punished by his teacher for not having socks to wear as part of his uniform. It was as though I was noticing for the first time how few resources some school children have access to. To cut a long story short I called a few of my friends and we went and bought socks for the kids. Their excitement and appreciation was too much for us to ignore – and we realised we could do the same for many others.’
And so Beyond The Classroom was born. In its early days the project’s main output was to provide clothing, school supplies and exercise books to students in need. With no major structure or initial plans for further development, it eventually became clear that registering as an NGO would open more windows of opportunity.
‘When we became an NGO, I began making firmer decisions about what we wanted to achieve. Now our goal is to improve education for children in public primary schools. We run a range of after-school clubs that promote learning as an attitude; picking up new skills doesn’t have to end with the school day. Children can join literacy and debate groups, health club, Girl and Boy Scout teams – and all of these are run by volunteers.’
Tackling educational reform at its source, Raquel’s team also delivers a Transformational Teachers training course to maximise teachers’ potential. Mentoring schemes and a project to renovate the local library are among the many updates that aggregate the BTC Facebook page. After a successful first year on short-term engagements the scheme has adopted a model school, Ladi Lak Primary School in Bariga – with 20 teachers tending to a student body of 616, the school has a range of needs that reflect how necessary and successful the programme can be long term.
‘When we first started out, some of the parents thought we were a government initiative put on to gain their votes and didn’t believe it would be a sustainable service. But, into our second year, seeing that we’ve been consistent and are an independent project, parents and schools started to open up to us. The enthusiasm from the children is a weekly highlight for me; it keeps us going and reminds us that we need to do more, and we can do more.’
This drive to effect change in the schools and communities of Lagos is fuelled by more than ambition and social awareness; Raquel credits her personal faith as the inspiration behind this inclination to help, and, having endured some major tests in her personal life, recognises the impact of those experiences on her ideas about personal development.
‘You have to embrace your struggles, because God often speaks to you through them; because of my own background I became more sensitive to the circumstances a lot of other young girls were either facing in their lives or on the streets. My parents passed away when I was a teenager, which meant I became the parent and guardian of my three younger brothers when I was still very much a child myself; responsibilities at home meant I had to defer my education, pack up my own life for a while and make my brothers the priority. It was difficult, and I had to grow up very quickly.’
But she didn’t have to do it all alone. ‘Thankfully I had some help from friends and neighbours. The members of my church were very supportive at that time too – if I needed someone to talk to, or some extra help at the house for a while, there was always someone I could call. A rough patch can really test a person’s ability to believe – for me, the way people reached out to me helped to strengthen my faith in God’s ability to get me through anything. And from there I could only develop that same compassionate attitude when witnessing needs in other people.’
Combining her personal faith with a business model that has helped hundreds of children in Lagos, there are many lessons Raquel has learned about social entrepreneurship, fundraising and business management. But her biggest teachers have been the students themselves. ‘Working with children has really taught me to listen. Adults interrupt children when they talk and children need a lot of patience. The time and energy I put into the children is an expression of my love for them, and for Jesus. I’ve had a lot of people say to me “You must be a Christian, you just have to be.” It makes me laugh! But it’s good that people see a reflection of Christ in me. My faith has really helped me in this walk – our project would have ended a long time ago without God.’
Afriaspire Fellowship, the team’s latest campaign, will see Beyond The Classroom raise their target from working with two to ten schools. ‘We want more children to have access to quality education and to feel good about both their abilities and their possibilities. What you don’t have access to does not determine what you deserve. The divide between rich and poor exists across the world; in Nigeria, this division is what makes our work relevant – those who have the means use us a channel for giving to those in need. People trust us – and the structure we’ve created – to use their money and resources for producing results that leave a legacy they can see.’
The Einstein quote: ‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’
1. ‘Embrace your struggles, because God often speaks to you through them’
2. ‘What you don’t have access to does not determine what you deserve’