You know what they say about vision; “If it doesn’t scare you, then it’s not good enough”? Well, I used to think it’s one of those shallow soundbites they play to get us hyped with ‘scalar’ motivation. However, my experiences over the past few months leading up to this piece proves starkly otherwise.
The lessons are not necessarily new, to me. I’ve read, quoted and even taught some of them for a couple of years now, but there’s just something about experiential knowledge. It goes beyond awareness, you just ‘know’. So when I hear those words; “anything is possible if you put your heart to it”, I have an experience to relate it to.
It all started in the orientation camp, being a Quantity Surveyor (by training) made me assume that my services would be required by some consultancy firm or company and so my posting will most likely reflect that. Up until that afternoon when I held that (posting) letter, I’d thought it’ll always work out as I wanted. Don’t blame me, I’ve always had things play-out according to plan; and I’m just not used to disappointments, not yet.
With eyes wide open, the others listened for their numbers as I strode forward to grab that fragile piece that’ll announce my fate for the next 11+ months. I briskly scanned through it for any signs of luck, especially the addressee’s corner. With a heavy heart, I read those words ‘the Principal’ (not ‘the Manager’). I get it. I’m headed for the classroom. It couldn’t call it a tragedy, but it wasn’t my preferred choice either.
Fast forward a few weeks later, I got introduced to my students as the new Technical Drawing (TD) teacher, but in those first few minutes, it became clear that I’ll be serving as both teacher and interpreter. No problem with that, my Hausa was fluent. However, I couldn’t come to terms with over half of my students dodging lessons on the grounds of ‘no interest’ in TD or working in nearby farms to earn enough money to complete their tuition fees, as several more roamed the arid belt and villages, making them potential recruits for violence-prone groups. Picture it…a demoralized youth (me) now forced to encourage students into taking a subject I know (but have no interest in).
You’re probably wondering how possible it is for students to dodge classes and scale the school fence to go get menial jobs in the neighboring villages, but as I learnt, in this part of the Northeast, it’s almost a norm. I soon realized how much work there is. Mere words can do so little and the rod will only worsen issues. Believe me!
In the weeks that followed, I managed to pep-talk them into attending classes regularly and how it all relates to their future success. I became teacher, interpreter and a motivational speaker, with no extra pay from my PPA and none from the state either (as usual). The boys obviously needed a pep talk every now and then, and soon enough, my lessons became one of those things they looked forward to, however, just when things were beginning to improve, I discovered a more serious challenge.
Way over half of my students (over 150) had no drawing instruments of their own. Although the school boasts of a functional (drawing) studio, having drawing boards and Tee-squares, it was far from sufficient. If you’re familiar with hand-drawing, you’ll agree that it takes more than a few instruments 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 relating with children whose parents and ‘caretakers’ were most likely peasants and petty traders, and who barely raised school fees of for the term. So, here stood a clueless teacher demanding more from them.
Something had to be done. If they can’t provide it and the school couldn’t, then someone has to. It was at that juncture the idea clicked. I wanted to procure TD instruments for the school (preposterous), but even that won’t be enough. I had to encourage the orphaned ones amongst them by providing means for their school fees and then conduct free extramural lessons in Technical Drawing for the senior ones, in preparation for their National Business and Technical Education Board (NABTEB) examinations; records showed a low performance from the previous years.
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, however, I was yet to address the elephant in the room; funds. The estimated sum was relatively substantial and the prospective donors weren’t responding as I had expected. From introductory letters, referral notes, to letters of appeal, every attempt I made only accentuated this air of recession. It seemed to have blinded ‘everyone’ to the need at hand. Some carefully glanced at their pockets, but offered nothing at all. Several more pledged support but never honored their words. The deadline kept speeding closer, yet the wherewithal’s kept slouching. Talk about standing between the devil and the red sea.
The details might bore you, but somehow the funds added up. A few individuals and religious bodies gave wholeheartedly and spurred me on. God Bless them richly! About 180 sets of French curves, scale rules, set squares, erasers, pencils and rolls of masking tapes were procured; accessible to over 850 students. Ten (10) orphans were offered support for the 2016/2017 academic session. Free TD lessons were given to over 200 students in preparation for the 2017 NABTEB examinations. The joy was overwhelming; an orphaned child who had no school fees now sits comfortably in class to learn (alongside his counterparts), with no sense of inferiority. Students who, prior to now had no instruments can now learn the basics of their future careers of choice. Not only for the current ones, but several more 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 yesterday’s impossibilities become today’s success story. I may laugh over the numerous disappointments I faced, but as of then, they weren’t funny. Believe me!
So as I write, Nelson Mandela’s quote comes clear; “It always looks impossible until it is done”
To all current and future corp members, the need to contribute to our host communities has never been more glaring. The terrain may not be smooth, friendly or even conducive, but “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”. Beyond posing for photos in your 7/7, let your school, students, firm or organization be a lot more colorful and kitted because you came, saw and served. It mustn’t be grandiose; it just has to be real; solving a specific problem. It’s about having the attitude of a contributor. So, do the best you can, wherever you can, in anyplace you can, in any way you can, in the little time you have; it’s just a year. So you can say, “We came, we saw and we served.
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.