Eleven teenagers, a budget of about nine thousand Naira (N9,000.00), about 60 children; and you have a life-time adventure. This is the story of how ten teenagers (and an eleventh one who joined a friend on the voyage of discovery) opted to spend their Wednesday, instead of rolling out frolicking and in revelry.
Actually, for three, the idea was to hangout and have fun, as part of a self-organised send-forth party; but as others joined in fine-tuning the idea, it became a whole new ball-game of dissipative fun – a worthwhile and life-changing one.
Incidentally 10 of them were in Abuja to gap year-long preparatory class for further studies.
This is their story as told to Nigeria Everyday (www.everyday.ng)….
The Keke Napep rider throttled a little bit more as the vehicle lazied (I wouldn’t say sped, Keke’s don’t even have “speed”) across the road to the IDP Camp. In many ways, this trip appeared funny to me: Eight friends going to the camp, in a convoy of two chartered tricycles, with 1.5 (note the point 5) of us able to clearly speak the Hausa Language. The rest of us could say “Sanu,” and “Mai sunan ka?” but we couldn’t really go beyond those. Yet still, this was a batch of teenagers with a singular heart, an unending desire to see our beloved country rise above the challenges it faces, and a passion to be part of that change.
Our goal at the IDP were fairly simple: To share as much love as possible. We wanted to hang out with the kids at the camp, play with them, do some arts and crafts with them, and teach a little. So, as our convoy slowed to a halt, and we shuffled out of the Kekes, we stood, half excited, half annoyed and if there was space for another half, we were half determined. We wondered, even passed comments on the great disparity, the massive gap between the houses, and estates (some of which are empty or awaiting occupants) we saw just over the horizon from the valley and the houses we saw in and around the IDP Camp: Houses made of tarp and corrugated sheets. How did they sleep? Are there mosquito nets? What about when it rained or when it was hot? There was no Air Conditioner in sight. We breathed the air, it was the same; the sand was the same, but the conditions were totally different, in a country blessed with a vastness of resources and talent.
Our perplexion held us captivated for a while, a while long enough to last a small lifetime (time enough to change the entirety of a family, even a country), before we snapped ourselves into reality and gathered in a circle. We said a short prayer, and then strod into the compound, saying “Sanu!” as often as we could (Could “Sanu” be the most used Hausa word?) We took the next few moments to gather our thoughts, speak to the “Chairman” of the camp, who was very amiable, about our intentions, and then head to a block of classrooms in the camp. One of the classes was opened for us, and we beheld what had the skeleton, and name of a classroom, but without a body, without the wavy hair, made-up face, jewelry, even clothes to make it attractive. Well… It was the classroom and we quickly balanced into it and… Waited!
One by one, kids started running from all angles of the camp. We worried at first that the camp looked “empty,” but now we could observe children coming from all corners. The ones still very young and needing a big sister – who was also young – to carry them, the ones grown enough – though still young – to run across to the classroom, slowly, and slowly all these youngsters who are an integral part of the future of our country walked, ran,… “trickled” in. Soon… The class rattled with noise from chit chat, babies crying and what not. The man that the Chairman had sent to open the classroom asked if we wanted the babies to be sent out, while we just focused on the much older ones – who were equally still young (Mind you, we ourselves, the visitors, are equally young people). We would not conscent to that request. “We want them all,” one of my friends said, “Let them stay.” And the class filled up. Was that a wrong decision? Absolutely not. Even though at a point during the day, the class rang with crying, babies crying because their pencils got broken, or because one took the others thing (whatever it was), or for reasons the child could not even articulate. Nevertheless, those periods of “crying” and “excess noise” called on us to display more love: to sharpen those broken pencils, or back (or lap) the baby who cried and pacify whatever the issue was. I remember one of us who had two children on her laps at the same time, she was 🎶Mama-Do-Good🎶, another carried a girl who kept crying, and this girl just won’t agree to be dropped even after her tears were dry. She clung to those loving arms.
Then, we knew we needed a plan, one better than the one we had deliberated upon while sitting in the coziness of the place where we decided to come visit. We needed a “real” plan and wondered what best steps to take to actively engage young children numbering well over 60. Then one of us came to our rescue, one of us with a heart of gold (not just gold, diamonds and rubbies; joy and compassion; friendliness and warmth). She had started going round, calling on the littleness of the Hausa Language that she knew, to ask each of them “Mai sunan ka (or ki).” She smiled at each child, embraced some, laughed with others, used English when she ran out of “Hausa-Gas,” but that was what she did. We got the cue and quickly started to converse with the other children. “Mai Sunan ka (or ki)” rang across the hall, coupled with giggles, and mostly: “Sunan na… Ina…”
We eased through the motions of creating a light mood in the room. We found a lot in common with these children; they had dreams like us, they desired a better country, better living conditions… And if nothing else, they had names, smiles and laughter like us. Things happened fast, and when we finished “greeting,” another one of us took center stage as though it was planned. She was the one in the group who had mastered the Hausa Language, the 1 in the 1.5 among us who could comfortably have a conversation in the language. She took stage at the center of the class, right in front, and spoke with a passion, drawing the attention of the ‘students’. We could see in her eyes, in her gesticulation, even in the way she smiled and called at the children, the nobility of a world changer. Throughout the entire time we spent there, we relied on her to draw the attention of everyone, to get the children to sing; oh, how beautifully they sang, chanting Micheal Jackson’s “We are the world,” doing nursery rhymes, and even Nigeria’s national anthem (Mind you, both stanzas).
Our “head teacher” oozed with joy (and Hausa) which came out of a loving disposition, an attitude and passion of an angel wrapped in human flesh. While the rest of us got materials ready for the first activity, she kept the children engaged. She even explained what were going to do next: make a notebook from just two plain sheets of paper. The team took another split, five went round with pairs of scissors, and paper, teaching and helping the kids make their notebooks, two went out to sharpen pencils that would be enough for everyone.
Our notebook activity progressed with so much ease (well, not exactly, it wasn’t easy – at all! – to keep the attention of those many children) and fun, we had the children beautifully design their names on their books, some drew, other just wrote. Yet still, each handwork was beautiful. We kept engaging with them, learning their stories and playing as we did the notebook work. Slowly, we shifted to the Airplane (Air Force 1) and Boat (Gently Down the Sea) activity. As you guessed, we made paper planes and boats which actually flew and rowed. I remember this activity very well, mostly recall observing the intensity with which two of us, noble in action and motives, explained how to make the toys. They did not speak Hausa, but called on their prowess in pidgin to explain each step to the children. They became big brothers to their little brothers and sisters, and even started a kind of competition. One “The Air Force One Guy” was bragging about the planes they were making, while “The Naval Officer” kept touting his ships that we were readying for battles. It was exciting to watch them actively engage the children, seamlessly and with a perplexing passion. They were literally just “having fun” in service.
Soon, we had paper planes flying around and outside, flying so much they caused chaos we could barely manage. Our strength had already failed us managing the calm in the hall while we made notebooks, now we were dealing with children who were way too excited. They wanted to “fly” by all means, and just wouldn’t listen to “That’s enough,” “Oya, e don do,” or even “Yayi, mu shiga chikin aji!” It was fun chasing the kids around, being careful to let them be them and enjoy themselves, while being firm enough to maintain order… But, it required energy. Energy so much that I felt for my teacher, the one who taught me in Primary One. “How did she manage with all our noise?” I wonder, especially because I know I made a fair share of the noise.
The kids in the class that made boats we rather organized, their voyage was much calmer (the seas were, indeed, calm). They sang “Row, row, row your boat… Merrily, merrily, merrily, life is just a dream,” and waded their paper vessel through the air, the imaginary seas that hung just above each person’s head. And that was how we “flew,” and “rowed” into the next activity. This one was much more arts intensive. We created new groups. By now, too, two other close friends of ours had come, rushing down from an engagement they had at Gwagwalada to join us. We were now ten.They came with fresh energy, to support the energy that had diminished in us; they quickly took charge of two groups. One group drew cars (You can guess, the cars were mostly Mercedes), another drew cats, one drew cartoon characters, two others made cards, there was one where the kids just learned to draw posters and together scribbled their names and the words: “I love education,” over their art work (this excited me the most). The creativity of the children amazed me: The beautiful card designs, the way they stylishly wrote their names. It filled me with hope: Nigeria, indeed, has a creative generation coming up to help take the country to new and greater heights. At this point, we had broken our rule of “not taking photos,” we could not just let the art we beheld go undocumented, so we took as many pictures as possible, of each child’s work.
Art works must have taken a toll on the children’s energy, it must have required brain work, digging on their energy reserves and making them hungry. So we had biscuits shared among the kids before doing more work.
The day continued to mature, another set of hands, another person loaded with fresh energy came to join us. She too had work to attend to, but she came anyway, and quickly engaged some girls in clapping and singing games. It was high afternoon already and the mothers of the camp, or the mothers of the children came to tell us that they had to take Islamic Classes and desired that we round up. The classes we used was also where they were going to take their classes, just that all the arts and crafts, and more arts and craft, and eating had left the entire place filled with dirty: biscuit wraps, waste paper, all sorts.
We decided to lead the children out, while we got a broom and cleaned the class. We packaged all our materials and readied to leave too. As some of us cleaned the class, some others took pictures with the kids, while two others tried to share drinks – youghurt in packs that were easily torn. They organized the children into a line and started giving this out one by one, stopping when the line got rowdy to reorganize the kids. The children, however, grew impatient and soon, they clamored the lady who was sharing the youghurt. They fought over the little carton, each – especially the boys – trying to get as many packs as possible. It was so sad to see this happen, but what made it worse were the comments passed around by the mothers over what happened. Comments best not recounted, comments that hurt all of us, but suffice it to say, they berated us for not for not bringing enough to reach all the children. How were they to know we sponsored ourselves and were not sent by any of those big organisations that throng IDPs to offer help.
One of us, angry over the mothers’ comments, over the spilled youghurt on the floor from the fight, smaller having nothing to drink, went out quickly and bought fresh packs of drinks and biscuits and we tried to share that to the kids who did not get the youghurt. There was still clamoring, but we managed it better this time. We understood that the children must have been hungry, longing for the drinks and just couldn’t wait long enough.
After sharing the last snacks, taking a few photographs, we went down to see the Chairman of the Camp again. We appreciated him for the opportunity, explained that we desire to come again, and said farewell. Then we waved goodbye to the kids, gathered again to say a final prayer, and began our long walk to our makeshift base of take-off. Each of us, though tired, and hungry, was deeply fulfilled.
We passed stories of how we had grown from the experience and what we looked forward to seeing in Nigeria, our beloved country. Most particularly, we rejoiced at the joy, the creativity, and excitement we met at the camp. To us, it was a sign of brighter days, or a Nigeria of the future that would be beautiful. We certainly had fun, we were inspired, and somehow, we laughed the entire way back.
This is just one page of our story, a story that still has many chapters, many pages, and many volumes of goodwill to come. What is your story? What is your role in your little corner to show love, to show compassion, to change, even if infinitesimally, the Nigeria around us?