It has been six months since my last trip to visit the people in the Durumi Internally displaced persons camp in Abuja. I learnt in that time there has been much change – the primary school had stopped running and some older school age children were being transported to other schools, there had been some building on site and some of the camp inhabitants had either moved back to their town or into better accommodation. Majority still lived under leaky tarpaulin with the rainy season upon us again.
I went to visit the camp with my aunt, we walked around greeting those that remained. We talked about the changes to the camp, what the people who remained are doing now, their hopes for the future and we said a brief prayer and wished them well. A little boy who could have been no older than four as soon as we arrived ran up to my aunty and held her hand, he didn’t leave her side the whole time we were there, he was unconcerned by the fact he was barefoot and naked, he played happily with his friends.
I recognised a few of the other children who I crafted with my last trip and they asked after my kids who they had played with. I am humbled again and again by childrens’ ability to just see black and white.
I had no money or gifts to offer, but I wanted them to know I had them in my thoughts and prayers always, I wanted them to know that I spend nearly all of my days wondering how we together as a people can change the course of history for many of them so that poverty was no longer inherited, that they learnt something slightly different – to think outside of the mould they have seen and know.
I spent my formative years in the Nigerian education system, I went through primary and secondary school where the main career streams were catered for – medicine, law, engineering, accounting etc, I knew there were only a handful of things I could be and none of these were really based on my passions or talents, mainly on intelligence and other people’s ideas of what would be right for me and others in my class. Thankfully I lucked out with medicine, I loved the doctor patient interaction I saw with my dad and his patients and I wanted that for myself.
I was reading a book by an old schoolmate Henry Agama called ‘What the future knows about the past’, in it he is talking about how many developing world societies are not preparing children for the challenges of the future, instead of teaching them to think, we teach them to memorise text and give rote answers. This I could identify with having had to relearn study methods when I moved to England. I had to learn to think, to inteprete and to come up with alternate solutions to problems that arose. This happens now in many schools in Nigeria. Whilst the education system has changed for the more affluent in independent privately-owned schools and is in line with what the rest of the world offers, it isn’t necessarily the same for the children in the lowest social classes in government funded education systems. I wanted to in a small way change this.
What if we could teach children from poorer backgrounds arts and crafts, if we could teach them to see the world around them differently – have them thinking about common waste products and turning them into something beautiful? We could explore their individual strengths and talents and help shape important thought processes we use as we develop into responsible members of society. Another idea was brewing…
We would involve local recycle enthusiasts and artists and utilise the community assets to teach the children weekly. we would start with simple easy to complete projects and as their skills develop, graduate to more complex and interesting pieces of work. They could exhibit this work and showcase their stories, talents and ideas. We would grow together as a group, the children would in the process learn to tell their stories of growth and success and we would mentor them.
As usual it is an idea bigger than me, I strongly believe that anything we start should be sustainable and able to self-fund after a short while. It also needs to use locally available resources and local talents. It needs interested others, sponsorship, dedication, time and many of these I couldn’t account for. My heart said start small with an interested few and take it from there and that is exactly what we have done.
We will start with 10 secondary school children, two teachers and mentors and regular classes with a meal for six months in Lagos, we will evaluate and report our progress here and will be keen to hear your thoughts and ideas about how we can do more!
Watch this space! I am excited
I have called it the Invictus Child project because I have always loved the poem by William Ernest Henley (below) and the sentiment ‘undefeated’ or ‘unconquerable’ is one I want our children to carry always.