Sports stars, politicians, and singers show support at Maro Itoje’s Pearl Fund charity dinner

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LONDON, 8 MAY 2024: TINIE Tempah, Jamie George, Anthony Watson, Owen Farrell, and Baroness Amos were some of the VIPs in attendance last night at England Rugby star Maro Itoje’s fundraiser dinner for his charity foundation Pearl Fund, hosted by Sotheby’s.

The event raised tens of thousands of pounds for the foundation, which Saracens player Itoje launched last year to transform the lives of children in Nigeria via a long-term commitment to world-class education, with the goal of helping young people to fulfil their potential and break the cycle of poverty.

Tickets to the dinner and an auction led by the historic auction house contributed to the money raised. Guests were treated to traditional African entertainment and speeches by Baroness Amos and Itoje, who shared his vision for The Pearl Fund – to educate from ‘cradle to college’ – along with how the money raised would be put to use. The cost of one ticket at £5000 is enough to cover schooling and all associated costs for a year for five children.

Pre-British colonialism, current-day Nigeria was home to some of the most prosperous and influential Western African kingdoms. Today, it remains hugely rich in natural resources – yet its population suffers from extreme levels of poverty. One in four Nigerians live below the international poverty line of USD $2.15 – totalling 89 million people – with a further 53 million considered vulnerable. It is therefore unsurprising that Nigeria is home to some of the highest global numbers of out-of-school children, where family survival must take precedence over education. This cycle traps these children in poverty, hinders their potential, and perpetuates an unstable, impoverished wider society.

Following the launch of The Pearl Fund in 2023, 40 children – all of whom are orphans or fatherless – from one of the most deprived areas of Lagos in Nigeria have been enrolled at Platform College. Specially selected by Itoje, Platform College is a private school offering the Cambridge International Curriculum, where the quality of education meets the same standard as the British Curriculum but retains the students’ Nigerian heritage.

One of Itoje’s leading principles for The Pearl Fund is impact with ‘depth not breadth’. In addition to the school fees, The Pearl Fund covers the cost of each child’s transportation, school uniforms, extracurricular activities, clean water, nutrition, and financial support for the children’s families. The monies raised last night will fund the second year of schooling and associated costs for the current cohort of children.

Maro Itoje, founder of The Pearl Fund, said: “I have been visiting Nigeria since I was a child. The deprivation that hit me like a brick from the moment I landed has always stayed with me. I feel very fortunate to have benefitted from a great education and to be in a position to positively impact this group of children, and more, in a really life-changing way.

 “I read each and every student’s inspiring report cards and have received countless messages from their families and carers thanking The Pearl Fund for the support we’ve been able to give them. The schooling is just one part of what we do; the children we’ve enrolled are from some of the poorest areas in Nigeria, where without additional holistic support to provide food, transport, and better housing, they would need to work or beg for money to help their families survive, instead of doing homework or resting after a day of study, which hinders their potential. It costs £10,000 to put one child through school in this way, from cradle to college – just £10,000, to the same standard as a UK state school plus associated costs.

“The money we’ve raised tonight will have a lasting impact on our current pupils and the new class, and I’m so grateful for everyone who came, donated, and learned more about the lives we are trying to change. Education is the great equaliser, and the first step to empowering an individual and nation.”

Donations for The Pearl Fund can be made here:https://account.stewardship.org.uk/gift/start/PearlFund

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