In the heart of Nigeria lies Africa’s second most populous city, Lagos. Lagos is a mega-city, with people flocking there with the hope of finding a better economy and, of course, a better life. Makoko, one of the area’s neighbourhood settlements, was formed by a group of migrant workers from Benin who came to the city over a hundred years ago, intent on improving their quality of life as fishermen.

Unfortunately, the end result of this move was not quite what they’d hoped for. Lagos, despite being one of the largest cities in the world, lacks the infrastructure and regulation necessary to support a thriving metropolis. As a result, many of the neighborhoods lack access to safe buildings and clean water. Nowhere is that more the case than in Makoko.

Often ironically referred to as the “Venice of Africa,” Makoko is a slum at sea. There are no roads. Instead, the city’s estimated 150,000-250,000 residents must navigate the narrow pathways in canoes. There is no clean water, limited electricity, and no safe waste disposal. Instead, the sewage is dumped directly into the water running beneath their homes. Disease runs rampant, and the fish in this “fishing village” have long since gone. The residents live in shacks on stilts, and the lack of building codes means that much of the architecture is at constant risk of collapse.

In 2012, the government declared the settlement illegal, giving a 72 hour eviction notice to the residents, then sweeping in to demolish homes and livelihoods. The residents, having nowhere else to go, had to resort to living in their boats. While the government claimed this was in an effort to rebuild Lagos, it hardly provided a humanitarian approach to dealing with the growth of urban poverty.

So Makoko is a particularly hard place to grow up. In addition to the constant risk of exposure to fatal diseases, the extreme poverty means that many of the children must go to work at an extremely young age. Even if they can go to school, their options are limited, as there is only one English-speaking primary school in the village. A floating school is scheduled to open, part of an initiative that came as a response to the prolific protests that occurred after the 2012 evictions. It’s a 220-metre pyramid building that looks like a simplistic Noah’s Ark, but it will still only be able to accommodate roughly100 students. As such, opportunities for education in Makoko are minimal.

That’s where Regoe Lovefans Alfredo-Durugo comes in. Known as Mama Makoko, she has dedicated the last 25 years of her life to educating the children of Makoko. Although Regoe initially came to Makoko as an evangelist, her mission in the village quickly changed. She realized that her heart was with the uneducated children in the slums, so, despite her family’s objections and the difficulties inherent in the change of vocation, she set out to get the children of Makoko to school.

I do not have a place of my own. I only use any available space in the community.

Regoe began by going from house to house, encouraging the children to pursue an education. She continues that practice, regularly going throughout the village and reminding the residents of the value of knowledge. She doesn’t just encourage the children to go to school though, she also makes it possible.

Last year, she was honoured by Unseen Nigeria’s project 100 Unsung Heroines, which recognises women in Nigerian society who are contributing to the fabric of their communities, bringing positive impact in the form of social, political and cultural change. She was strengthened by the recognition.

I have gone round the nation seeking for assistance to help me carry on with my vision of helping educate kids in the Makoko slum but it never came. But today God has remembered me.

On any given day, Regoe can be seen paddling her canoe through Makoko, picking the children up and bringing them to the village schools. On days where the water level is too low for the canoes to move, she creates a makeshift school by their houses and teaches lessons until the water levels rise again. Then, she goes home and works a variety of other jobs—everything from catering to dance to making cloths—in order to finance her work in the village. Because of her tireless efforts, 5,000 children in Makoko have been educated, who otherwise would not have been.

References include This Day Live, Aljazeera and Amusing Planet.

©The Heroine Collective 2015 – Present, All Rights Reserved.

Amber Karlins

Written by Amber Karlins

Amber works as a professor in Florida, teaching writing, literature, and theatre. Her first book, a work of creative non-fiction, was published in 2011. She also enjoys academic writing and has published papers in such places as the African American National Biography and the Journal for the Society of Armenian Studies.

Image by

Rainer Wozny and Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung