I met this boy at Wuse Market, Abuja. As I entered my car to drive away, he came to me, begging for alms.
I didn’t pay much attention at first, because there were multiple boys around doing the same thing.
There was something different about him though, and that was what pricked my interest. the almajiris as the beggars are often referred to, were known to engage in mischief. Their attitude sometimes reflected in the stances. But this boy looked particularly innocent to me. He spoke from afar and I could barely hear what he was saying.
I decided to engage him in a conversation. “What’s your name?” I asked curiously. “Abba,” he responded, earnestly stepping closer. Another almajiri boy came along, eager to check out what it was all about.
“Do you go to school Abba?” At this point, I was getting more involved in the conversation. “No,” he replied. “I only go to Islamiya sometimes.”
Of course, this wasn’t a big shock to me but I decided to probe deeper.
“Why?” I asked “Just like that. I’ve never been enrolled in school.”
“But would you want to go to school?” I enquired. “Yes! Wallahi,” he swore.
At this point, our curious spectator had wandered off, no doubt in search of more lucrative activities. But Abba just stood there staring at me with deep sad eyes.
For some reason, his earnest statements combined with his appearance struck a chord deep inside me. I felt like I could play a part in changing Abba’s story. After all, the best way to make a difference is one child at a time.
I had doubts of course, but there was a voice inside of me screaming, “he’s genuine.” I wondered if he wanted to go to school. If maybe it was only the means to it that was stopping him.
As I sat in my car and speculated, debating with myself, Abba stood calmly and watched. I made a decision then and there to enroll Abba in school.
I tore off a sheet of paper from my notepad. “Who do you live with?” I asked, as I scribbled my phone number.
“My mother.” He replied, obviously wondering where the conversation was heading.
“Here you go.” I handed him the paper.
“Thank you.” he accepted it as happily as if it was a wad of cash.
“Do call me, okay? As soon as you reach home, hand this paper over to your mum and ask her to call me.”
The next day, I received a call from Abba’s mother. Our conversation was stilted at first. She was understandably confused. After some explanations and questions on my part, I found out Abba’s father had passed away, leaving her with three kids and no livelihood. She wanted her children to go to school but lacked the means.
I got her address and promised to visit and discuss the issue further. We agreed to meet within the week and get Abba ready for school.
As I drove to the address I was given, so many thoughts were running through my mind. Paramount was, what have I gotten myself into? I was seeing conditions I had never imagined. I had already braced myself for what was to come, but what I was not prepared for was the shocking state I would meet Abba’s home and community, and the hundreds of other kids like Abba, nonchalantly left to grow like wild grass in a jungle! It was such a terrifying sight!
The state in which I found Abba’s community left me extremely disheartened. The children were roaming around without any restrictions. There was no form of chaperon as they raced through the town, among unruly adults. I could see young men staggering clumsily in tattered garments appearing intoxicated, without a care in the world. In broad daylight, if you can imagine! It was an eyesore. I asked Abba’s mother how they could live in such a seemingly crude environment. She responded that the adults, at least, had some established traditional values that could help them stay away from the lawlessness of the place. The thing of worry, she said, is the state of the children. They were always so idle, left to wander carelessly without any effort being made to engage them in any productive activity.
I asked if they had a school in the community and she explained to me that they had a small place where the kids could get lessons instead of going to an actual school.
The more I saw and heard, the more upset I got. I couldn’t have dreamt up the living conditions of these people in my wildest dreams.
I was in tears as I contemplated the situation. I had gone with a single purpose, to enroll Abba in the nearest school to his home. But I was confronted with a devastating reality, there were so many other Abbas out there with no one to look to their interests and well-being. Little boys and girls just waiting to be guided in any direction. Can we afford to let negative forces lead them down a path of destruction? Is it not our collective responsibility to find solutions for these children? Every day we go about our lives in a blissful bubble, complaining about our lives while living in luxury when compared these children.
The big question is…
“What if these children grow up to become hoodlums or terrorists? Who will save their future?”
It’s not too late. We can all come together to prevent these children from becoming wild daredevils. Because if they do, we would definitely suffer the consequences.
I had already made plans for Abba, but the other children in the community were in urgent need of intervention too. That’s exactly what they would get.
I left the community with a strong sense of purpose and determination. I would be back. And not alone. It seemed to me that FlexiSAF Foundation had a new project to execute. And we certainly had our work cut out for us.
Continues next week.
Usman is Communications Association, FlexiSAF Foundation. 09053700992
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