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I started my brains' competitions for schools on Bonny Island after learning that some of my male high school classmates died through militancy

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11 December 2022
19 minutes read
I started my brains' competitions for schools on Bonny Island after learning that some of my male high school classmates died through militancy

Heritage and growing up

I am Mrs Adata Garvin Bristol.

We have different family houses on Bonny Island. Bristol-Alagbariya is one of the compound names on the island. I am married into that house. My maiden name is Allison. My paternal home is Oloma Village while my maternal home is Finima/Abalamabie.  

You have to take a speedboat from the island to Oloma.  We just have a few villages here on the island like Finima Community.  Where we are (having this interaction; at Tamvina International School) is Abalamabie Road. When you go straight down, you will get to Abalamabie Village or Community, as the case may be. The villages are indeed numerous around the island.

I was born here on Bonny Island on 21 March 1983.

When I was about two years old, I started my nursery education at Ibimina-Nyo Ere-ogbo Nursery School, somewhere around Orosikiri, owned by a group of Bonny women. In Ibani language, Ibimina-Nyo means relationship is strength or sisterhood or brotherhood is strength.

Sadly, the school is no longer existing. 

I did my Primary One and Two at Model Primary School and finished at Government School, Bonny, because, my parents changed (residences). We used to live in town and my mum worked then at the local government and my dad was teaching at Government Girls' Secondary School, Finima, which was not far from our home.

From there, I attended the Government Girls' Secondary School where my dad was a teacher and the only girls' school on the island - from 1993.

When I sat for my WASCE (West African School Certificate Examination) in 1998, the results of all the nine subjects I did were withheld. There was no NECO (National Examination Council) then. So, I had to resit WASCE.

Fascination with law

Meanwhile, my dad, who was still a teacher there, made me to repeat the class - Senior Secondary Three. This time, the results of all the subjects were released except that of English Literature which I needed because I wanted to read law. While growing up, I had always wanted to advocate for children and women; seeing how my parents were relating with each other. I felt that I could be one person to change some things; make women's voices to be heard and give children the necessary upbringing and care that they need to achieve their life pursuits. Back then, I was inspired by late Pastor Bimbo Odukoya who did Single and Married programmes. I followed those programmes and most times when she came to Port Harcourt, I attended. There was also Agatha Amata who presented Inside Out on TV.

Mum's desire

Against my wish, my mum, who desired for one of her children to be a nurse, insisted that I attended the then School of Health Science and Technology with my result obtained from the General Certificate Examination which I had done.

I wanted her to be happy.

But then, as a teenager, I did not have much counsel and I could not have disobeyed her anyway. Although I was in the dormitory, I lived with her. My parents had been separated since I was eleven.

Anyhow, I got admitted into the School of Health Technology on 6 September 1999 for the two-year Junior Health Community Extension Worker certificate course. My dad okayed it. On graduation, we were absorbed into the local government council.

While I was in the school my mum registered me again for WASCE and NECO in 2000.

This time, I got all my subjects; no result withheld.

Being a health community worker was not what I wanted for myself; that same 2000, I sat for the (Universal Tertiary Matriculation Examination).

Another course and a new cause

I got admitted into the then Rivers State University of Science and Technology, now Rivers State University, to read banking and finance. I was not admitted for law. 

In 2006, I graduated with a B Sc degree in banking and finance.

Then in 2007, I did my national youth service in Ibadan North Local Government Area of Oyo State.

I had been posted to the (defunct) Intercontinental Bank because of my presence in camp: I was all over the place. I headed the Education CDS (Community Development Service) Group and most times when we had certain discussions, talks, I handled them. I was regarded as a vibrant person.

The banking industry was not my thing. I still wanted where I could impact knowledge. So, I asked the Intercontinental Bank manager to reject me, even as the bank offered to pay me Twenty-six Thousand Naira as a corps member. The bank manager wanted to know why. I asked her if I told her where I wanted to serve, would she reject me? She said she wanted to hear. I told her I wanted to go to a school and teach in a classroom. She asked me why a school where I would not be paid anything other than the NYSC Four-Thousand-Naira stipend. I told her that if she did not reject me, I would not be productive or I might end up not fulfilling my dreams. So, she rejected me and I went in search of a school.

I went to three different schools which said they did not want a corps member. Then, I went to Mount Olive Grammar School, Ashi, Bodija, Ibadan. The principal, Mrs Gbadegesin, said she did not need a corps member, that corps members were too lazy and were absent from class. I told her to just try me. 

So, she accepted me.

I taught SS One and SS Two classes economics and commerce.

And that was how my life story actually began.

I found out that the students were barely interested in learning.

I tried to see how I could make them love school. That was the first thing that got to my mind.

I then came up with different ideas of creative activities and they started paying attention and wanted to come to class. Before taking my lessons in the morning, we would engage in riddles and jokes. I was just trying to make them begin to see the school environment from different perspectives. Some of them had the notion that schooling was a waste of time. 

I was not comfortable seeing how many of the students lived their lives. 

I did not grow up absconding from school and, to an extent, I understood that education is the bedrock of a society. I was also trying to see how I could make myself better and relevant. I wanted to be a changemaker and God, the custodian of ideas, gave me the ones I used 

I discovered that a lot of them had different creative talents and I got them to showcase them. I got some of them to carve the school logo, for instance.

I made them to have confidence in their abilities.

I helped in changing their mindsets about education and life generally; that life cannot just be favourable to you without putting in your best.

So, they started attending classes.

I created a Humanitarian Club and we had different means of raising funds for the many orphanages around us. For instance, if you spoke in vernacular, you would pay a fine of Twenty Naira. Or if you came late to class, you would pay a fine of Fifty Naira. Or, if you missed classes for a certain time, you would also pay a fine. After raising a particular amount, we would buy stuff such as toilet paper and washing soap which we took to those homes. At a point, the children started bringing those items voluntarily. 

This was where I started the Best Brain Child competition, spelling and quiz competitions and arts and craft. Getting sponsorships for these activities was not stressful. 

Some of the parents appreciated me with gifts.

But I had only one year. 

The school wanted to retain me but I had to leave. I was given a grand reception before my departure. 

I was nominated among four corps members for NYSC awards but, you see, when you think that you are doing something extraordinary, there are some others doing much more; I did not get the award but the love from the local government authority was huge.

The principal was quite excited. She had a mindshift about corps members. I maintained contact with her from when I left till about 2020, the COVID-19 year. Her birthday is 11 April, and I usually wished her a Happy Birthday.

When I had my wedding, two years after, a teacher and one other person were sent to Bonny Island. They came with gifts.

I would have loved to stay back in Oyo State after my service year but my mum would not let me. I am her first child. I have a brother and two other sisters.

So, I returned to Bonny.

I was now resolved to become a teacher; law had taken a backseat.

And, this was when militancy was at its peak on the island.

I found out that some of my secondary school classmates, the guys particularly, had lost their lives, killed for a crime or the other.

In 2009, the then local government chairman, Barrister Edward Pepple, floated a remedial class for UTME, GCE, SSCE. I applied like many other teachers and I was given economics and commerce to teach. My centre was a primary school on the premises of the Christ Army Church (CAC).

Classes were held from about 3pm to 6pm.

I think that we were being paid Fifteen Thousand Naira.

My English teacher in secondary school, Mr Brown, who just retired as principal of Community Secondary School, was one of the coordinators. Though I was not the youngest, I was quite excited to be teaching among my former teachers. It was fun, and a lot of them, seeing me too, were quite happy that I was on the right track.

January 2009. I started a schools' tour which I tagged Catch Them Young. In the morning hours, I went round the schools on Bonny Island to talk to the students begging them not to get involved in (criminal activities). It was working because immediately we finished a session, I had some of the students wanting to talk with me, sharing their experiences.

I began to love what I was doing, so I took it to another level.

In 2012, I started fully the Best Brain Child competition, which is now like the famous competition on the island for junior secondary school students. They do the Spelling Brain Boom. Then the nursery category Brain Boom, they do a quiz like Question & Answer. It is like a festival of brains, with different schools on the island participating usually to commemorate the Children's Day in May. We start in February with written tests and eliminate as we go along. This year, our eleventh annual, we took fifteen per category, so we had forty-five in all.  

I also saw the need to groom the younger ladies coming up. So, I also floated the Teen Miss Brain and Beauty pageant. Within the period of a month, they usually come for training, mentorship and so on. Like this year, we added a bit of craft such as soap making. It comes with different themes such as purity: how they can keep themselves pure and abstain from sexual activities that can probably make them end their careers….

Way back in 1998, I had always dreamed of owning a classic school with a high standard exercise books and I would always write names of my school in an exercise book. So, coming to get involved with the children on the island, I thought that, maybe it was time for me to get fully into the early-years education sector.

So, I now started going for enhancement programmes in the sector. I started with Childhood Development, Handling Children with Special Needs with Alison, obtained a diploma and an advanced diploma with City and Guilds London,  Bonny Vocational Centre (BVC) Campus on Teaching, Training and Accessing Learning. I am a Child Care consultant.

In 2019, I set up this place, Tamvina International School on Abalamabie Road, with the active support of my husband, Aseme-Warisenibo Idanye F. Bristol-Alagbariya. He works here. All the magic happening here is by him. This is my home. We have two children, a boy who is twelve years old and a nine-year-old girl who also attends this school.

Tamvina is an infant and junior school. Our highest class now is Grade Three.

Funding and support to Foundation's programmes

It is through my non-governmental organisation, Adata Bristol Foundation, that I run those programmes. I feel that I am sowing a seed, probably for my children's children's generations to come.

I have been funding with private contributions from friends and family members.

Over time, some of the local government chairmen such as Hon. Cyril Hart and the late David Irimagha have supported. Then we have a currently outgoing House of Assembly member, Hon Abinye Blessing Pepple, who has been supportive. I had always invited them to our events and in the course of seeing the children perform, they could award scholarships to the (outstanding ones). The current local government chairman, then the vice, Hon. Dame Anwngi Barasua Wilcox, JP, had given scholarship to the nursery category boy for the payment of the first to third term fees. Many other persons including Hon. Cyril Hart, Mr. Joe Bara-Hart, Amaopusenibo Dagogo Hart, former Permanent Secretary of Education Rivers State, Se-Alabo E T.B. Bristol Alagbariya, Se-Alabo Abel Attoni, Capt. Adekunle Adekanmi and Amb. Charles Jumbo and a son-of-the-soil based in the United States of America whom we call "Grandpa" have supported our programmes in one way or the other.

I would say that it has been an amazing work so far.

I am glad that I do the things that I do. 

This is Bonny Island and our love for our kingdom is one of the things that propels me to do what I am doing, because I have this belief that there is nobody that will make Bonny better if I do not start something like other people who are doing theirs (in their own way). (Anyway), I am living my dream of wanting to impact knowledge to people.

This year, at our sixth annual commemoration of the World Teachers' Day, we awarded my nursery school teacher, Madam Favour Apiafi, who is still agile and teaching at the Local Government Industrial Unit, the Long Service Teacher Award, among twenty-four teachers, head teachers and principals across the nursery/primary and secondary schools on Bonny Island.

She told the story of how I used to cry when I was in nursery school and she would back me and do other things (to encourage me) and how I never loved school but this is me today and how I have made her proud.

The children are the ones who make us give the teachers the awards. In July, we bring them to participate in an essay competition with the title, "I know an inspiring teacher" to tell us how their teachers have inspired them. We do not look at the structure of their grammar rather for that striking story that when I come to school, I am not just there to learn but if I do not feel happy, there is someone who is a teacher who comes to me who wants to know how I am feeling; that teacher who gives me hope when I am down and I get up. I am trying to also change the perception that "a teacher's reward is in heaven" to it starting here (on earth): if a child that you have taught for a period of time can still come back as an adult to say "thank you" I think that is one reason the teacher should even live longer.

I have not really approached corporate bodies for support but I am ready to do that now. 

The Best Brain Child is one competition that makes every child in all the schools on the island to be on their toes and they want to be up the stage.

The event is (now) bigger than me as a person. I do not know how it happens, but I know it does.

If we have people who would come in to sponsor our programmes to encourage and motivate the children with scholarships, payment of WAEC fees, buying of books, and so on, I will be so glad.

I can be reached via +234 802 346 9027. It is on WhatsApp.

Photo Credit: Collins Jumbo/Kristina Reports

Appreciation to the Nigeria LNG Limited for providing total logistics support to, and on, Bonny Island, and to our local guide, Godswill Jumbo of Kristina Reports. 


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Commonwealth Professional Fellow
Founder/Director, The Journalism Clinic
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