It is increasingly becoming commonplace to hear of a wife who can only boil water and prepare noodles for her husband. She would rather go with him to a fast food shop for a meal than cook anything at home. But no man dreams of marrying a wife who cannot cook at home. They would rather marry a lady with the kind of home management skills taught at St Charles Vocational School. Perhaps that is the reason why it was difficult getting a single lady to speak with when the reporter visited the centre in Lagos recently-it is as if these well-trained ladies are hot cakes for marriage. For St Charles is no ordinary school, and neither are its students.
This is a breeding ground for the finest stock of mothers and wives, and, irrespective of one’s educational qualifications, St Charles caters for all levels of women.
Located at the premises of St Charles Catholic Church, Olodi Apapa, the school was established 33 years ago to educate women and girls of all ages in different crafts and handworks. Catering, baking, clothes making of all kinds, manufacture of cosmetics, bag and shoe making, the school is a conglomeration of ideas translated into usefulness. According to its principal, Mrs Beatrice Uboh, who had a chat with Newswatch Daily, two years is all that is needed to transform a girl into a responsible woman, and the good thing about it all is that the Federal Ministry of Education issues a certificate to every student who successfully completes her programme. She laughed when the reporter wanted to know whether they can make a birthday cake different from Christmas cake: “There are so many different types of cakes. There is the Christmas cake, and what is used to make it have to be very rich. The colour for the decoration must be green and red. Wedding cakes are also very rich like Christmas cakes, and contain a lot of ingredients. Then we come to birthday cakes, engagement, New Year cakes, lovers’ cake, farewell cake, retirement, send-forth, fathers and mothers day cakes. But there are those who will tell you that all cakes are the same. But it is not so. When you tell me the type of celebration you are having, I will know the colours you will need for it, the ingredients, the type of decoration that will fit it and so on. So all the things I just listed- confectioneries and bakery, continental and African dishes are under catering.”
She also enumerated the types of dishes they educate the ladies to cook: “What the ladies you see are doing is beyond catering services. It is Home Economics comprising of catering and other subjects. What you see them doing here is craftworks on flower vases. They are beaded flower vases and when they are ready, we put flowers in them, and they are used for decorating rooms and tables.
In the area of catering, we have continental dishes which we teach them how to prepare. For instance, there is the Italian dishes, US, India, and we have three course meals-appetizers consisting of soup, like carrot soup, mushroom soup and others. When you come to African dish, we have also the three course meal. Tell a student to prepare a three-course meal on our behalf, edikaing kong for example. We have the fresh fish soup as the appetizer, main dish can be the edikaing kong, with accompaniment. The accompaniment can be foofoo, then the last course can be orange or pineapple juice/ drink for digestion. You have to take any of the fruits, not all these processed ones with a lot of chemicals. You have to prepare it by yourself. Get the fruits in the market and prepare it. Then serve it for digestion. That is what we mean by three course meals both in African and continental dishes. You can use salad as first or last course. You can also use cake as last course. Sweet food is best for last course. Then come to baking and confectioneries, snacks like buns and chin-chin, puff-puff, doughnuts and egg-rolls are frying snacks. Then there are sausage rolls, meat-pies, American cornbread, meat envelope, polish pastry, all these are baking snacks.”
Aside food, Uboh enumerated some other things the ladies learn: “We have teachers teaching all the subjects, we also have language and communication teachers. But as the principal, what I do is to monitor what they are doing here and correct those who are making mistakes. After I completed my courses, I went outside to study more. Anywhere see any new thing on board, I will go and study it. We had an elaborate exhibition during our last graduation. We teach the students how to do interior and exterior decorations too. We also teach bag-making, travelling bags, hand-bags and so on. Baby-cots, beddings, bed-sheets, twine bags are some other things we teach them”.
But another beautiful thing about St Charles is that, despite being under the Catholic Church, there is virtually zero discrimination as Muslim women were seen dressed as students and involved in the works going on. A Muslim lady, Bakare Sikirat Taiwo told Newswatch Daily that the school is like a family, and she has been particularly encouraged by the love they share to increase her programme from the initial six months part time studies she came to for to the full course which lasts two years. She said that she intends to set up her own shop after studies.
Also, ladies of all ages, from 16 to over 35 were seen, some pregnant, others with babies strapped to their backs as they worked. According to the vice-principal, Mrs Juliana Nwigwe, all one needs to be qualified is to know how to read and write. She also explained that so many idle young women have turned into entrepreneurs studying at St Charles. She stated that some of the graduates who did not take the studies serious at the initial stage have come back to show gratitude: “we teach them crafts, catering and hotel management, hat making, sewing and I have been there for19 years and graduated many. Some of the graduates used to comeback. When we were teaching them, they felt what we are doing is not important. But after a period of their graduation, they will come back and tell us that they have come to show appreciation.”
“The school has been success- the number of students have kept increasing. In the past we used to graduate 35, 40 but these days we graduate 100, 140. At the moment, there are over 200 students, and new intakes are still coming.”
But St Charles Vocational does not take just women who can read and write. Ezinne Esther Michael, a graduate of Agric Economics from Federal University of Technology FUTO, Owerri has been studying there for a year. Married with a kid, she told Newswatch Daily that her husband had made it clear to her that he would prefer a wife who can do things with her hands and provide employment for others. She had come to the vocational centre hoping to learn all the tricks in cake-making, when suddenly a new world unfolded before her, and she hungrily started devouring the studies: “I had in mind to learn cake making, but when I started, I saw other things I found very useful, like crafts, sewing which is good for a married woman. I needed to do something in the vocational area, as my husband desired. I have learnt so many things. I don’t how to sew but I can sew very well now. I do beaded works and can prepare continental dishes. I intend to set up my own centre after my industrial training.”
On how she manages her home as well as study, she states : “By 5 am up from sleep. By 7.15, I am out of the house because I stay far from school. I get to school 8.30, and by 5.30, I am through and get home by 7.”
By the way, she is one of the school prefects. The other prefect, Lawal Risikat Omowunmi is a school certificate holder. She decided to change her life too after a neighbor made it look like magic the fact that she can suddenly do a lot of things with her hands: “A lady attends the school in the house where I live. Whenever she returns to the house, she makes a lot of things, from crafts to food, and I told myself, wherever she learnt to be so different, I will go there and learn the same. The first day I came was their practical, and they were all dressed in aprons, canvas shoes and caps. They looked so beautiful and I fell in love instantly.” Since then, she has been studying hard, and intends establishing her own centre, to replicate the wonderful things she has learnt. She also intends to go to the university.
Speaking further, Mrs Nwigwe told Newswatch how cheap it was to attend St Charles: “All you need is N1, 000 for registration, and N20, 000 for six months fees. This includes uniforms, ID cards, apron, caps and some other study materials, though we intend to increase it soon”.
“There are two sessions- the morning which is two years programme full time. A certificate from the Ministry of Education will be issued to them, while the part time lasts for six months. Those ones only apply for catering, and they resume at two in the afternoon and close at six, Mondays to Fridays. There is also the shorter programme of three months. All these things enumerated cannot be learnt under six months and that is why we use two years for the regular students. They also learn English language, communications, food and nutrition, health and physical education. People who drop out of schools and don’t want to continue in the area of academic studies can decide to study here. Men can also study here, but only on part time basis. The school is 32 years old, and people also come here for Industrial Training.”
She also advises young women who loaf around: “no one knows what he is going to be in terms of happenings and occurrences. To those who are not doing anything, they are free to come and join. We don’t discriminate- we admit both married and single ladies and the school is not restricted to Catholics alone. In fact, you can see Muslims who are also our students. There is no discrimination. The doors are open for everyone to come and learn. This type of vocational centre, buy the time you join and learn something, you can never have any regrets. You can get self-employed and stay in your house and make money. For instance we sold these vases at N4, 500 each last time.