You know that saying about vision? ‘If it doesn’t scare you, then it’s not big enough’ Well, I used to think it’s one of those quotes. But at least I now know better. The experiences I’ve gathered in the last few months leading to this piece are enormous. I can’t say the lessons are quite new to me, but there’s just something about experiential knowledge. It goes beyond awareness, you just ‘know’. Now when I hear people say; ‘anything is possible if you put your heart to it’, I know it’s more than just a quote. I can relate to it.
It all started in camp. You see, being a Quantity Surveyor by training made me believe that my services will be required by some firm or company and so my NYSC posting will most likely reflect that. Nice presumption. Isn’t it? Up until that afternoon (when I received my posting letter), I‘d thought things will always work out as I wanted. Don’t blame me for thinking this way, I’ve always had things play-out according to plan; and I’m just not used to disappointments. As I grabbed it from the official’s hand, I briskly scanned through the letter for any signs of luck, especially the addressee’s corner. Alas, it read ‘the Principal’ (not ‘the Manager’). I code. I’ll be spending the next ten, eleven months in the classroom. It wasn’t a tragedy, but it wasn’t the preferred choice either.
Fast forward a few weeks later, I got introduced to my students as the new Technical Drawing (TD) teacher. And in those first few minutes, it became clear that I’ll be serving as both teacher and interpreter. That wasn’t a problem, my Hausa was fluent. But I couldn’t come to terms with over half of my students dodging lessons on the grounds of no interest in TD or that they had to go out of school to the nearby farms (and work) to get enough money to complete their school fees. I get, you’re trying to picture that, and you can’t imagine students dodging classes and even scaling the school fence to go get menial jobs in the neighbouring villages, right? But in this part of the Northeast, it’s a common phenomenon. In no time, I realized how much work there is. Words can do only little and the rod will only worsen issues. Trust me.
In the weeks that followed, I managed to talk them into attending classes regularly and how it related to their future. I became a teacher, interpreter and a motivational speaker. The boys obviously needed a pep talk every now and then, and soon my lessons became one of those things they looked forward to. But just when things were getting better, I discovered a more serious problem.
Way over half of my students had no drawing instruments of their own. The school had a drawing studio with only drawing boards and Tee-squares. Now if you’re familiar with drawing, you know it takes more than that to learn. Each time I instructed them to go buy one, I’m met with dead silence and blank stares. It took me a while to realize that I was talking to children of peasants and petty traders who barely raised a school fee of #1,500 for the term. And here’s a clueless teacher demanding more from them.
Something had to be done. If they can’t provide and the school couldn’t, then someone has to. That was where the idea of procuring technical drawing instruments for my Place of Primary Assignment (PPA) was born. But it didn’t stop at that. I had to encourage the orphaned ones amongst them by paying their school fees and then taking them free extramural lessons in technical drawing, so they can be at their best. The NYSC call it ‘Personal Community Development Service (CDS) project, I call it ‘giving tomorrow’s leaders a chance’.
Over the next few months I processed the paperwork and finally secured the NYSC’s permission to execute the projects. But raising the funds was quite a challenge. The overall estimate was huge and the prospective donors were not responding as I had expected. With every attempt I made, I sensed this air of recession. It seemed to have blinded everyone to the need at hand, and made them carefully glance at their pockets, but offered no support.
I can’t go into details, but somehow the funds came, the instruments were procured, several orphans were sponsored to school and soon, my students were comfortably learning TD. The joy is overwhelming. An orphaned child who had no school fees will now sit comfortably in class to learn (alongside his counterparts), with no sense of inferiority. Students who, prior to now had no instruments can now learn what it takes to build their future careers. Not only for the current set, but for also those who’ll come long after I’m gone.
That cold morning during the project commissioning, I recalled those discouraging moments when the funds weren’t coming but the deadline kept closing in. I remember saying to myself; “there’s no turning back now, this has to be done. I’ve placed my hands on the plough and there’s no looking back.” It’s amazing how what seemed impossible yesterday becomes today’s common reality. I may laugh over the numerous disappointments I faced, but as of then, it wasn’t funny. Trust me. And as I write this, Nelson Mandela’s quote comes clear; “It always looks impossible until it is done”
N.B: Stephen Angbulu writes from Government Science Technical College (GSTC), Kumo, Gombe state, North-eastern, Nigeria where he is currently undergoing his one year youth service.