We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.
Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before,
Forgive my grief for one removed,
Thy creature, whom I found so fair.
I trust he lives in thee, and there
I find him worthier to be loved.
Alfred Lord Tennyson
In Memoriam A.H.H
The highlight of that beautiful campaign was not the number of people we were able to reach. It wasn’t in the number of people we met and made acquaintances of. It wasn’t about the accolades we received from people far and near. It wasn’t about the sheer joy we felt; that butterflies-in-my-stomach feeling because we helped people, so to speak. No, it was beyond that.
It was the hope that was kindled in the hearts of the children. It was the hope that made them believe in the existence of a beautiful life outside the slums. It was the hope that with a resolve to make use of the best of the worst situations, they would prevail in a system originally designed to put them under. That hope was the highlight; is the highlight.
The smiles and laughter and dancing were endless that rainy Independence Day in Marwa, but it wasn’t until we entered the “GRA” of the slum that we encountered a peculiar set of children. Those kids made us feel that we had come to solve ALL of their problems that day. One of them dance so hard, I thought she must have been confused as to our mission; we weren’t sending her to Greensprings or Loyola Jesuit-t was just the model primary school across the road. The bags didn’t come with Power Ranger or Voltron kits that made them superhuman-just the regular school bags, kabisa. So what was their glee about?
Sola was one of those kids. The way he was all over the place with the never-ending smile was epic. He appeared to me to be someone who was just happy to be alive. Things like 3-square-meals, school, bags and books were luxuries for him. And here, some people came with school, bags and books for him all in one day? He couldn’t hide his feelings at all. He was there obliging us photographs like he was a Dubai prince; he probably couldn’t believe he could be the subject of any picture and appear on any type of screen, let alone screens of tablet PCs and smartphones and high resolution cameras! He knew nothing of selfies and groupies and instagram and facebook and bla bla. He was just satisfied that he could ever have the attention of one camera lens at all.
He joined 43 other kids from Marwa the week after, to start school in Lagos for the first time. They made the busy express road stop for them every morning since. All 44 kids never missed a single day in school. Really, the odds were not in their favour, being the “outcasts” from the slums and it took some time before they could be “accepted” even by the school made for kids like them. But nothing would stop the kids from harnessing the benefits of education. They didn’t stop going to school because life had just started for them.
Last Thursday, Sola returned from school and decided to go play with his friends. No one he left at home as he headed for the beach believed that he would not be returning for dinner or any other meal. He wouldn’t complete his homework or clean his bag for the next school day. His still-new school uniform would be there in the room for some time to come. No one would see that beautiful set of teeth again.
Only 43 children would be returning to school.
Because the Atlantic Ocean would claim this very one.
For his future, for that which no man can divine, decipher or understand. For that which only God knows, the ocean would have this one.
Rest in peace brother. Rest in perfect peace. You were full of life and promise, brimming with potential. And you chose the path of knowledge and enlightenment willingly, something even the “wiser and experienced” ones considered unworthy of their walk in their own ignorance. You chose freedom and liberty, rather than the slavery of illiteracy.
You are a light that will not go out.
Rest in peace.