Isolo is a suburb of Lagos, Nigeria's former capital and largest city. With the city itself housing upwards of 14 million people, and the greater urban area as many as 21 million, Lagos is Africa's largest city. It is still growing rapidly, with hundreds of thousands of people arriving here every year.
An important port, Lagos is situated on the south-western coast of Nigeria. It was the nation's capital until 1991, when the more central city of Abuja claimed the title. Nevertheless, Lagos remains the commercial and financial powerhouse of Nigeria, and the extreme wealth of these institutions makes it a popular destination for those seeking a better life.
A city of vast inequalities
Sadly, most of these people are disappointed. Like many big cities, Lagos is a place of great inequalities, with distribution of wealth being perhaps the most palpable. Whilst in some areas, rents cost many thousands of $US per month, the majority of the city's residents – some 70% – survive on less than $2 per day in the city's slums.
Partly, it is Lagos's rapid and unchecked expansion which has led to the development of the city's vast slums. With hundreds of thousands arriving each year, infrastructure has been unable to keep up with population growth. Today, overpopulation, poverty and poor infrastructure make living conditions terrible for the majority of the city's residents.
Children in jeopardy
Unsurprisingly, life is tough for the weaker members of Lagos society. Children in particular suffer lifelong effects of growing up in squalor. Many contribute to the family income by begging or selling merchandise on the streets. They are exposed to numerous dangers, from abduction and trafficking to sexual abuse or exploitation. Though the government has acted through legislation, many children have seen few improvements as a result.
Under Nigerian law, children occupy practically the same legal status as adults. This means that children charged and convicted of petty offences - often arising as a result of their terrible circumstances - face hefty penalties including jail sentences alongside adult felons. Clearly, this leaves them vulnerable to all manner of maltreatment and abuses, with potentially devastating psychological consequences.
Children who lack parental care often face life in outdated institutions and orphanages. Those deemed "out of control" can be placed in remand homes or "borstals". Care in such places is by no means equal to these children's needs. Many more children live on Lagos's streets.
In general, access to healthcare is bad. Consequently, children and adults alike risk infections by easily preventable diseases. Risk of infection is of course exacerbated by the dire living conditions, and many children suffer badly or even die as a result of malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infection.
What is SOS Children doing to help?
We have been on the scene since 1973, giving lone children in Isolo a loving home with an SOS family, and supporting families at risk so that children can lead a better life.
Children from the Children's Village are integrated early into Isolo society, attending our SOS nursery alongside youngsters from the wider community. Our SOS school also provides primary education to children from the Village and the surrounding neighbourhood.
When children are preparing to leave our care, they join our youth programme and move into shared accommodation in Lagos. While this is a crucial step towards independence, they enjoy our full support throughout their transition into adult life. Specially trained staff help them adjust to their new life, helping them acclimatise to the responsibilities of independent life and plan their futures.
Many young people attend our vocational training centre, where they receive training in a wide range of trades to help them begin the career they want to achieve. Courses are diverse, including all manner of areas of expertise, from handicrafts, tailoring and design to IT and cooking. All courses are designed to fit in with the local job market to ensure young people can find employment on completing their course.
Supporting fragile families
Our family support work helps families at risk of separation remain together despite the pressures of hardship. From our social centre, we provide medical care to people living in slum conditions, who would otherwise go without due to lack of infrastructure. This includes preventative measures such as immunisations to small children, as well nutritional support, medical treatment, and HIV/AIDS prevention work.
We also provide day care so that parents can go to work to support their families; comfortable that their children are safe in our care. We provide basic training for parents who struggle to find work due to a lack of skills, and help those who need our support in realising their business aspirations.
SOS Children is a long-term presence in Lagos. We are there for families whom circumstance has left desperate, and we are there for children who have no one else to care for them. You can help is continue our vital work.