Many wealthy philanthropists almost unthinkingly dole out resources to finance the cause of needy individuals and factions of the society, but, only on rare cases, do we see people of humble backgrounds offer much value while no one is watching.
Stephen Teru, a recent graduate of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), is now making waves after volunteering his carpentry skills to furnish a health centre and the classrooms of two schools in the local community where he was posted.
The University of Jos (UNIJOS) graduate of animal biology, who was deployed to the Old Netim community situated in Akamkpa LGA of Cross Rivers, moved to produce desks; tables; benches; and shelves for over 80 students in the two public schools — amid a dearth of resources required for the project.
Following his “unplanned” Facebook post about the task, which has since generated massive attention to his social media page and attracted numerous phone calls from the NYSC and average Nigerians, Teru discusses the feat in an interview with TheCable Lifestyle.
Home come furniture making — having studied animal biology?
Opposite where my mum sells akara and other fries, there’s a carpenter I used to work with after school. If I had to read, I read there. That continued from my primary 2 days to 3, 4, 5 and JSS 1, 2, 3. We eventually had to move. But, by then, I had already mastered the craft because I had spent at least seven years learning. I could handle tools, make lots of furniture. I also used the skill to support myself — especially in university when I’m in need of money. Students ask for help with doors, windows, or shelves. I had a couple of tools and they paid a token.
We had been told lots about community development projects in camp but I never knew what I could do, not until I got to my place of primary assignment at the Community Secondary School in Old Netim. There’s also St. George Primary School which used to be catholic but was later handed over to the federal government.
While serving, I identified many problems. The students don’t have toilets. Some classrooms had no windows or doors. But the most glaring was inadequacy of furniture. During exams, students had to pair. Some even sat or leaned on windows. At a point, each student was asked to come with their own furniture. But their parents are farmers. They couldn’t afford it.
For the primary school, the desks given by the government were too big for the kindergarten. They always had to use the floor to write properly. It was when we went to their school for sensitization that I saw their condition. I also realized they had lots of Malaina trees and these were good for furniture making. They were many of trees that big ones needed to be cut so smaller ones can grow.
How did you process the project?
I told the principal of my PPA that I had the skill, but he was in doubts until I made a sample. We met the village chief but were told they don’t have enough money to support the project. I didn’t need the money. I only needed to get the trees felled and prepared for use.
The village chief agreed they can foot the bills of having someone take the trees down. Thereafter, we went around soliciting funds to plane the wood because they were rough. The people weren’t rich but some made contributions, up to about N7000 with which I bought some tools and started.
I made 20 two-sitter benches for the comfort of the 40 secondary students. For the primary, I made five benches and tables, each of which could take around 10 students. We made shelves for books. There’s also this dilapidated health center in the community. Their carton of drugs get soaked when it rains. We also constructed a shelve for their drugs and equipment.
Did you inform the NYSC about the commissioning of the project?
I submitted the project to the NYSC, following the due process but heard nothing. Usually, they encourage such project, tell you you’ll be rewarded and all. You know, as a serving corps member with only N19,800 at your disposal, if there’s anything you could do to help yourself, you do. They promised lots of things but, at a point, I stopped expecting. I was gratified after seeing the impact I had made.
Do you intend making a venture out of furniture making?
It’ll be nice but furniture making has advanced beyond olden days carpentry. I could do more but had limited tools and resources. If I can get them, why not? It’s something I have passion for. The training is there. I don’t think there’s any indoor furniture I can’t make, if I have equipment. If I can get to train myself more and buy equipment, I’ll definitely venture into it instead of looking for a job.
It’s strategic for job hunting. Why the post after NYSC?
I delayed posting anything concerning that work because I was expecting NYSC to commission and officially document the project. Speaking to my inspector, I was told to hold on but never heard anything. I decided there’s no better time to post than end of service. Unexpectedly, it went so viral that it got the NYSC’s attention.
I later received a call seeking to confirm if I submitted a proposal before I started. I had submitted a report of the project to them but was told they would get back to me. Now, they said they’ve located the files and would forward them to the appropriate offices.
What do you say to corps members?
Our accomplishments, at the end of the year, would be enormous and override the importance of government projects that are always not forthcoming. If everyone does their bit, the country can become what we want.
Nigerians are still interested in seeing good happen to the country. There are at least 2000 corps members in every NYSC stream. That amounts to a conservative 10,000 in each state, annually. If my project can attract such attention, then each corps member can do something in these local communities.