Describe the extracurricular activity that is most important to you?
I walked on land that was supposed be a stream. I stood with people who were supposed to be ‘animals’. Well, I myself wasn’t really supposed to be there at all, for Makoko, an unrecognized community, is a cradle of crime in Lagos. Swarms of languid plastic bags blew in the densely fetid air, the man-made earth blooped each time I moved with the stream stirring threateningly under my feet. Tattered straw huts dotted the sides of this path, from which curious faces popped out to observe my struggles until I finally reached the school where I had volunteered to assist.
The entrance was a big oval hole blasted in a wall, curtained with a hole-riddled cloth. The building consisted of 10 rooms, a small courtyard and a back garden. As I walked from class to class I realized something missing—there was no teacher. The children were playing noisily around; the desks were being used for passionate graffiti craft work or as obstacles in the obstacle-races. The older boys listlessly ambled about in the courtyard, smoking keenly. It seemed that they were clinging to the last vestiges of their fast evaporating childhood, by visiting school before they would have to make their way into the criminal world.
Finally I found a teacher in the last room. She was chatting animatedly on her cell-phone, so I waited. When she finished, I told her about myself and that I wanted to help her teach to gain work-experience. She looked at me quizzically, suspecting me of ulterior motives. After interrogating me more, and satisfied that my motives, whatever they were, would not involve her, she gave me the approval and went back to her happy chirrup.
I was uncertain from where to start. I had brought my box of paper, pencils, erasers and crayons, so I grouped all the kids together and handed out paper and pencils. I drew a circle on the blackboard and asked them to copy it. But I was disappointed to see they didn’t know how to hold a pencil. They were gripping it hard like a knife. Maybe that’s how they learned to hold thin pointed objects. I took each child’s hand and taught him how to draw. After some painstaking efforts we learned to draw basic shapes.Children learn whatever is placed before them. If they were given guns, they would automatically learn to use them expertly. Although not initially planned, I decided to teach them alphabets. Soon they mastered the English Language. When I presented them with numbers, they learned to manipulate them and became little Math geniuses. As I now see them jabbering fluently in English and calculating decimals, I can’t help feeling proud by the fact that their intellectual prowess is equally as good as the private-schooled children’s.
Nobody’s fate is predetermined. We make our own destinies by the opportunities provided to us. If a certain sector of our society is weak, it is not because they are inherently incompetent. We too play a part in their ruin. What Makoko taught me was that people have potential for everything; they become masters of whatever you give them. Show them unfairness, and they will become the champions of sin. Give them the reins of trade, and they will re-write the rules of successful business. Enlighten them with health awareness, and they will be an example of hygiene. Give them the tools of Education, and they will produce the greatest intellectual feats of mankind.And before everything however, all they need is just a chance—a chance to prove themselves.