It took me a while to get up and put my pen to paper after the SLUM2School Project Launch last weekend as I still remained in shock from what I termed an overwhelming display of lack. We had not anticipated that much need neither did we expect such a desperate desire for help. Goals we say are targets to guide us in our quest but what happens when your target is surpassed, leaving you embarrassed like a piece of joke.
In our well fitted branded t-shirts, we stood in our hundreds. Young, beautiful and amazing volunteers ready to create an impact; we walked down the aisle, in-between the wooden huts, through the smoky path. It seemed unbelievable to many that people really lived there, but for me it was just another visit because this place was like my second home. It was a community I visited almost every other day of the week and I already had so many friends who I knew for sure were not different from me.
As we walked further into the Slum, it became apparent that the water began to catch up with the land; we carefully stepped on the wooden bridge to avoid a slip into the brackish lagoon. The smell from beneath was so choking and yet we could see children playing inside. Happy they looked, even if it was obvious they lacked a lot. They laughed like they had all the gold mines in the east or the oil wells in the south. Many of us were left perplexed by the shocking sight of these kids and were so surprised to believe that we were still within the city as it looked like one of those fairy tale stories of our childhood.
We finally arrived at the venue of the event and before we had settled down, just like ants around a sugar cake, I saw children flock out in their numbers, many without pants or singlet as it seemed to be a lifestyle to them. Jumping and playing, they seemed exceedingly glad, singing in their local dialects. Mothers followed afterwards holding their babies by hand while others carried theirs on their back. For the people of Makoko it was one of those rare occasions experienced in a year. To me I could equate the joy they had to getting a scholarship to study at Harvard University. It was glaring on their faces the joy they had within
I could however see the keen desire amongst the children to learn as they jumped to the rhythm of a rhyme that was taught. They looked exceedingly smart and if properly guided will excel tremendously. It was obvious that they had been battered by the hardship of life. Many of the children wore torn singlets, without shoes or slippers, dreaded hairs as a result of neglect, swollen feet and pale skins covered in rash. I could hardly pay attention to the lady who gave the opening remark nor the interpreter who translated into their local dialect as I was indeed lost in dismay. The arena got filled by the second that we could hardly control the children in their hundreds and many of them had not yet had breakfast and this was already past noon. At this point it had dawned on me the tale my dad had narrated to me few months ago, which he said was his motivation at some point in life.
At this point I couldn’t help but sob because what we had budgeted for was not going to go round. We were totally swallowed by their numbers. Nowe had her box of candies, Jenny, a carton of butter cakes, Nadia had 2 cartons of doughnuts and cupcakes; everyone had something with them and eventually we had loads of juice and snacks, a customized SLUM2School cake, and coolers of well prepared fried rice and boxes of cloths / books for the children. The snacks looked enough to feed enough children but they were triple the number. At this point I wished I could repeat the miracle in the bible. Our goal was to preach the value of education and buttress the need to be formally educated. It was sad that the community was still living in the past as their culture hadn’t evolved with the break of dawn. Their elders and chiefs could hardly communicate and their youth were concerned about getting married and making babies. To them it wasa thing of great joy when a new baby was born as they had a fishing spree for the family. It was a thing of pride to have 10 children even if none of them was educated. Just like the birds of the air flying back to their nests during sunset, so the children in this community trooped out in colonies.
We were welcomed and our message was accepted. We could see the desire to be enrolled in school and we began taking their bio-data and profile for evaluation but the queues never seemed to be reducing. With over ten lines and volunteers all around trying to coordinate things the children still struggled to be in front. It was beginning to get late and as we began sharing the snacks and drinks to them we could see a desperate rush even if we all got actively involved in ensuring some order. Communication remained a major challenge and all we could do remained very little. Eventually as the snacks got fewer the rush got intense that we could see a stampede building up. I was really pained to see that this was all because of just a little cup cake. We hurriedly calmed them all and finally shared out to the last piece of cake but still I could see the desire for more written all over their faces. Deepened in sadness I walked back into the little hut where we kept our bags and belongings, behold a little girl sat helpless beside the brackish waters holding her head by hand. Curiously I ran towards her seeking an answer to whatsoever could be bothering her, alas she asked in low tones “uncle will you come back again” I was caught in a sudden shock as that wasn’t an expected question, but more bothering was the reason behind the question as she continued saying “we want to go to school”. I picked her up in my arms promising to be back sooner for good. The question kept ringing in my ears at night and her tiny voice whispers like a tick in my pillow. It wasn’t just a question that bothered her alone, she happened to be amongst the few that could just speak out.
Ituame, just like many of us were born into families, just that hers were probably less privileged. She had a cute and innocent smile just like the other kids that played around and I couldn’t control the bitterness in me as I watched them jump into the water. It was obvious why most of them had sores and boils around their bodies.
I feel we should do something rather than watch their beautiful future get crippled by the uncertainties of the slum. They could end up hawking on the streets, getting abused, using drugs or even working on the streets; this is where the decisions are being made, at that point where we caught them. However they could also end up in the House of Assembly, as legislators in their state houses, as CEO’s of big firms or even well meaning citizens, willing to help others. There is nothing so difficult in lending a hand of hope to these children, as that’s all they need from us. We are now like mini gods as we have the power to tell what direction the pendulum swings.
Let’s support the SLUM2SchooL Project and give these kids a good education, Cloth A Child Project, Provide Healthcare services for them and good drinking water.
IT BEGINS WITH YOU!!!
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