16-year-old Favour Baron Odok, threads in an uncommon terrain for older women, let alone girls of her age. Odok a secondary school graduate plies her trade as an intern in a workshop located along Wharf Road, the major artery leading to the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and the Calabar Free Trade Zone.
There, Miss Odok from Kasuk Community in Calabar Municipal Local Government Area of the state is undergoing training in mechanical engineering where she is being taught how to fabricate automobile parts as well as fix haulage trucks that need repair.
She told THISDAY that she specializes in the fabrication of carburetors and injectors of haulage trucks. “Very soon I will go across the road to fix one of the trucks,” she said.
Miss Odok’s kind is rare to come by in her locality perhaps due to the embrace of primordial and stereotyped sentiments that such endeavour she is engaged in is exclusive preserves for men.
It was a delight watching her handle the spanner and turn knots and blots with her male colleagues in the workshop.
But for the Skills Empowerment Programme of Lafarge Africa Plc, a leading innovative and sustainable building solutions company, Miss Odok’s ambition to venture into Mechanical Engineering may have remained a mirage.
“When Lafarge asked me what I wanted to learn, I told them I wanted to study Mechanical Engineering. I have always wanted to work with tools and repair engines. I am happy they have supported me to learn what I wanted. After this training I will further my education and study mechanical engineering in the university,” an excited Odok said.
Mr. Teddy Bisong, a representative of the Girls Power Initiative, GPI, handlers of the Skills Empowerment Programme, an aspect of the Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, said they are delighted that Miss Odok is learning fast, and can affect some repair in haulage trucks whenever her attention is needed.
Bisong said the young lady is just one of the numerous young beneficiaries of the Lafarge Africa Skills Empowerment Programmes.
“I am representing the GPI. We handle the skills empowerment aspect of Lafarge Africa’s Corporate Social Responsibility for host communities. Through Lafarge, we empower beneficiaries of any choice skills. We have been empowering them in Mechanical Engineering, Fashion Design, Welding and Fabrication, Aluminum Doors and Windows processing, making of Confectionaries and others.
“We have trained more than 100 beneficiaries. We train and empower them with starter packs,” Bisong told THISDAY.
Kashang Martin Obiri, from Ekong Anaku community who is currently studying Computer Science at the University of Cross River State, UNICROSS, is one of such beneficiaries referred to by Bisong. Obiri confirmed to THISDAY that he obtained training in welding and fabrication and got starter packs at the end of his training.
“My training lasted for one year and six months. I can apply the knowledge I gathered during the training anywhere in the world. I am very grateful to Lafarge for sponsoring me for the training. I have been using the skill I learnt to support myself in school,” Obiri said.
A young mother of two, Mrs. Ruth David Peter of Ekong Anaku community is another beneficiary of the Lafarge Africa CSR Skills Empowerment initiative. After completing her training, she was able to establish a fashion shop where she sews and trains others on how to make clothes.
Responding to questions from THISDAY, Mrs. Peter said, “Lafarge sent me on training in fashion design for one year and after that, they gave me starter packs including a sewing machine. I saved the stipend they were giving me during my one-year training from October 2020 to October 2021 to rent this shop. Since I started sewing, I have bought two additional machines from the money I made from sewing. When we were undergoing the training, we were advised to ensure we train others when we graduate. These two girls here are undergoing training under me for free. As the company trained me for free, I am also training them for free.”
It is a similar positive story from the Mfamosing community in Akamkpa Local Government Area where 21-year old Miss Gift Cletus Ekun said she is a beneficiary of Lafarge Africa’s Skills Empowerment Programme. “I went through Electrical Engineering training. I am through with it, and I have been given admission to study the same Electrical Engineering at the University of Cross River State, UNICROSS. I thank Lafarge because what they taught helped me to prepare for university education. May God bless Lafarge,” Miss Ekun said.
Deborah Bassey Edet, a lady from Abiati also in Akamkpa LGA who is being trained in fashion design, was in rapturous mode when THISDAY spoke to her. She said she commenced training in November 2021 and hoped to conclude her training in December this year. Stressing that she has made steady progress in training, Miss Edet said: “I am taking the training seriously. I gain more knowledge every day that I come here. I hope to establish my shop when I complete the training. Before now, I couldn’t do anything for myself but now I can sew. I thank Lafarge for training me free and giving me my transport fare every month. God bless them.”
Joseph Okon from Essien Town, in Calabar municipality, said he is a beneficiary of the Lafarge Africa skills acquisition training. Okon said he completed his training in Wielding and Fabrication in November 2021, and ever since his financial situation has improved. "After I completed by secondary school education I didn't have money to further my education immediately. However, I was lucky and happy when our community head called me one day and told me that my name has been submitted to Lafarge Africa for training in any vocation I like. When I told my parents, they were very happy because they know I love to use my hands to work. I remain grateful to Lafarge because I no longer depend on my parents for money. Since I am still working in the shop where I was trained, I have been able to save some money, and with the starter pack given to me by the company, I will set up my shop soon. I also support my younger ones, and my mother who is a trader. My mother keeps praying for all the good things to happen to Lafarge," Okon said.
Miss Ita, Asari Archibong, another beneficiary of the Lafarge Africa Skills Empowerment programme, from Obutong community in Calabar Municipal Local Government is undertaking training in Hair Dressing. Miss Ita who is a secondary school certificate holder said she was very grateful to Lafarge for sponsoring her. “I am happy with what Lafarge has done for me. My parents are happy to see me leave the house to do something that will help my future,” said the young lady.
In a few words, Winifred Etang Ambor from Ekong Anaku who is learning the skills of becoming a fashion designer said, “I can now make my clothes and those of my family. I thank Lafarge, and I promise I will never disappoint them.”
Another beneficiary of the Lafarge Africa empowerment, Edwin Etta, from Mboby community, Akampka LGA said that through the sponsorship of the company, he benefited immensely from the training in block-molding and bricks making. "Since last year, after I finished training, my life has improved, and I am very happy now. I even chose where to work because what I learnt from the Lafarge training can hardly be given to you anywhere else," Etta said.
Patrick Edem, a young secondary school leaver from Kasuk community in Calabar Municipal LGA said he is a beneficiary of the Lafarge Africa empowerment training. Edem said he very soon he will complete his training in Alumaco Designs and Fittings." By the end of this year, I will graduate, but I will still work here for my boss while I work to set up my shop. I thank Lafarge Africa for giving me this opportunity in life. I will make good use of it."
The Community Relations Committee Chairman for Mboby community in Akampka LGA and the 17 communities that make up the Lafarge Host Communities, Ntufam Alphonsus Bassey who added his voice to commend Lafarge for the support they have been rendering to the communities said in terms of human capacity development, the building solutions company stands head and shoulders above many companies operating in the host communities.
“In human capacity development, year in-year out, they train our women on economic empowerment. They train women mostly on poultry farming, and at the end, they are given at least fifty birds and starter packs. Asides from that, they also train the community people on welding and fabrication, and at graduation, they give them starter packs,” Ntufam Bassey said.
He also mentioned block molding, scaffolding, and carpentry as other forms of skills empowerment training that members of the host communities have been benefiting from Lafarge Africa PLC.
Bisong believes that residents of the host communities have a lot to still benefit from Lafarge, especially if the company is allowed to continue to operate with their host communities as partners in progress.
“For me, I am very grateful to Lafarge. You can hear me saying that Lafarge has singlehandedly achieved more than oil companies in the South-south that have been here since 1957. I believe that with a continuous conducive environment, they will do more for our communities,” Bisong said.
Also appreciating the support of the company in the state was, Mr. Akpa Agbor, Director of Environmental Quality Control, Cross River State Ministry of Environment said “The people and government of the state sincerely appreciate the positive impact of Lafarge Africa Plc through the implementation of its CSR programs. Among these are educational support intervention, skills acquisition, provision of infrastructure, medical outreach and employment opportunities to members of the host communities. These gestures have gone a long way to touch lives in the host communities in particular and the state at large.’
In his view, Mr. Benedict Okache, Director of Information and Orientation , Cross Rivers State Ministry of Information, revealed to ThisDay that Lafarge Africa Plc, Mfamosing plant has over the years sustained a robust CSR programme that has been impacting positively on the socio-economic life of host community members.
He further stated that LAP’s host communities have annually benefitted maximally from CSR initiatives in key thematic areas of Health, Education, Economic Empowerment and Infrastructural support. “I have witnessed several Lafarge skills training graduation ceremonies and starter pack presentations and can conveniently attest to the fact that a good number of host community youths have been empowered in welding, Auto Mechanic, Fashion and Designing, Truck Driving, Scholarship awards as well as infrastructural facilities such as upgrading of classroom blocks in schools, construction of health centres, amongst others.’