• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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The Institute that Innocent and Josephine built serves humanity in education and technology.

The Institute that Innocent and Josephine built serves humanity in education and technology.

“I struggled to get educated, not because I wasn’t brilliant, but because I came from a poor home. My parents, though poor, knew the value of education and did all they could to ensure I was educated. Education, in general, opens the mind. Still, education in management and technology moulds the individual into a creative, effective, and reliable human resource that would help a nation’s economy and technological development. This is the philosophy behind the founding of Oluaka Institute of Technology” – Innocent Chukwuemeka Chukwuma (Founder of Oluaka Institute of Technology, Owerri).

When Innocent and Josephine Effah-Chukwuma dreamt of a technical institute for human capacity development in their area, they thought they would work together for many years. Death knocked on the door and took Innocent in April 2021. Josephine has doubled her capacity and efforts to ensure the institute remains a source of hope and an enabler of young people’s dreams.

Oluaka Institute of Technology took off in 2017 at Owerri, Imo State, “to deal with the dearth of skilled human capacity in the vocational, artisanal and entrepreneurial sector in the South-East; and the absence of adequately resourced institutions to provide requisite knowledge, training and capacity building in technology.”

Oluaka is the Igbo word for handwork. Mrs Effah-Chukwumah recalls that Oluaka Institute started “as a community project of CLEEN Foundation, a justice sector reform NGO founded by Innocent.” She adds, “Innocent was a serial entrepreneur who founded and co-founded several organisations and networks.”

CLEEN Foundation has an office in Owerri. As a justice sector reform NGO, CLEEN has, through its engagements, realised the high unemployment rate of young people in the South-East in general and Owerri in particular. Because of unemployment, young people are getting involved in many social vices, such as drugs, robbery, kidnappings, etc.

They hoped that a technical institute would educate and impart employable and entrepreneurial skills to youths. The institute has earned accreditation with the National Board for Technical Education as a measure of its standard. JAMB lists Oluaka as one of the fourth-tier institutions awarding National Innovation Diplomas.

“Oluaka also runs the Heartland Incubation Hub within the Institute. The Hub addresses the problem of inadequate support structure and a mentorship system for incubating, accelerating, and developing business ideas by young people in the region. They receive administrative support for their start-up and have co-working and private spaces to rent.”

Oluaka Institute offers a two-year National Innovation Diploma in Computer Software Engineering, Computer Hardware Engineering and Networking and Systems Security.

A three-month Oluaka Developers Programme trains participants in tech programming, such as front-end web development, graphic design, and data analytics.

“At the end of the training, participants are expected to develop demonstration projects solving various social issues they have identified. The demo projects are assessed, and the best are selected for incubation at the Heartland Incubation hub.”
Fees are critical to the survival of educational institutions. Even as Oluaka Institute has moderate pricing for its courses, students benefit from 50, 75 and 100 per cent scholarships.

Mrs Effah-Chukwumah states, “We partner with individuals and funding organisations to provide us with financial support to enable us to give scholarships. Last year, the Nigeria Youth Future Funds, NYFF of Leap Africa, an NGO, supported us in training 30 students in Front-End Web Development. This year, Innocent Chukwuemeka Chukwuma Empowerment Foundation, ICCEF, supports OLUAKA to provide 50 per cent scholarships to fifteen (15) students for the Developers Programme and three (3) National Innovation Diploma, NID students.

She adds ruefully, “A significant challenge we face is securing students who can pay the fees. Though our costs are comparatively low, many students still can’t pay. You will be surprised that even with the 50 per cent scholarship, some students still can’t pay.”

The entrepreneur is very happy about the impact of Oluaka Institute. Over 500 hundred students now count as alumni. Most of them graduated from its short courses.

“Some of our developer’s programme alumni work with Google, banks, lecturing, etc. Others have started their start-ups.”

Josephine Effah-Chukwuma is focused on building the Oluaka Institute to levels beyond their initial dreams. She seeks the support of corporates to scale and provide grants and scholarships for students.

Running Oluaka Institute is herculean. Enrolment could be better. “It is a school, so money is gotten through fees, workspace rental, and hostel payment; occasionally, we get support from funders for special projects such as scholarships to train some students.

“We still don’t have many students. Like last year, the total number of students for various programmes in 2023 was 61. We will break even if we have 150-200 students annually.”

Because of this situation, Mrs Effah-Chukwumah submits that Oluaka needs sponsors and partnerships (Individuals/ companies/ government agencies), scholarships, training partnerships with businesses and government agencies, and job placement partnerships of our graduates.”