A Teacher with His Student. Wikimedia Commons

Willy. A Hope for the People

“Everyone has to look out for himself.” This was his philosophy of life before the encounter with a group of friends occurred.
John Williams

I am John Williams, a Nigerian living in Lagos. I am 33 years old and working in the Seed Education Center in various capacities, including as a teacher. The Seed Education Center comprises a nursery and primary school with 600 pupils, a remedial school with no less than 100 students, a youth curricular and extra-curricular center, a training center for teachers of different levels of education, and also a center for parent and adult education and relationships. Growing up in a society where we are raised to work, and for a good number with the target of making money even at early ages, life is supposedly enjoyed by those who have more of the money. Like a race, each one from elementary school, consciously or not, begins to run this race. At the end of my tertiary education, the only idea in my mind was to get a job, make money, and earn a living; just work for me and my “interests.” Life’s philosophy was “every man for his own head.” It was meeting with this group of friends in my final year of polytechnic education that the school education I received and life and its many tentacles began to make sense in their totality.

Life With Enthusiasm
The relationship with these friends has blossomed and, with my working with the Seed Education Center, I have been given more opportunities to verify the content of the message they carry. I come to the office with well laid out plan of how the day should go but, alas, reality always re-orders this. Normally, my day begins with supporting Jovita, the head teacher of the nursery and primary school, in making sure that everything is in order with the nursery and primary school, which commences at 7:45 a.m. answering to particular needs and emergencies, that are never short of occurring ­for example, children coming to school sick, others without eating from home, some others not having writing materials because of their parents’ inability to afford such simple items, and so on. The next activities are organizing my desk and also the work of Distance Support (SAD) that I am mainly responsible for.

For and With the Students
In the afternoons, from 3 p.m., the students of the remedial school begin to come in for their classes that commence at 4:30 p.m., lasting till 7:30 p.m. The remedial school is an afternoon school that has the aim of supporting students in their academic work. This need is urgent because of reasons that include: the teachers going on industrial strikes, non-interest in the profession and job by some teachers, employing of unqualified persons, lack of facilities, etc. The majority of the students attend regular morning schools while others work­some are apprentices and others are parents. I teach Integrated Science­natural, chemical, and physical sciences combined­in the junior secondary, which is interesting and challenging. With the students, I work with Pascal, another colleague, and together we prepare the extra-curricular activities like sports, club meetings, and, most importantly, the School of Communities for those who are interested. These are ways in which we stay with the students, sharing our lives and awareness with them and helping them to verify the meaning and the richness of what they learn in class and around them, shifting what is good to the fore. With the remedial teachers who do part-time work with us and are regular teachers with public and private schools, Francis, Michela and I meet monthly with them to compare and judge the reality of the school, the students, and the work that they are engaged in. It is thought-provoking to note the gap that exists between the teacher who sees himself as the all-in-all of his subject and the one who considers himself a sign, leading the students to something greater. Our teachers are learning and understanding that which is more true and correspondent. This work of comparison is not restricted to the staff; we meet with the student responsibles each week to review the work.

Shameful Poverty
On paper, Nigeria is supposed to be a rich country, based on the fact that we are an oil-exporting nation with many natural and human resources. In reality, it is what it is not supposed to be, with abject poverty striking the majority of the people. Speaking specifically, families are finding the socio-economic situation too hard to live with. For example, how can a family of three live and survive with 4,500 Naira (less than $40) a month? It’s a mystery. With the non-availability of jobs, also for university graduates, most families have resorted to trading ­that is, the buying and selling of small goods like sweets, biscuits, fruit, vegetable, fish, etc. In the poor communities near our office, the total value of goods sold by some families is less than 2,000 Naira ($17). With this, they have to pray for business to be good so as to sustain their families. Days with bad sales mean both the parents and children have to do the sacrifice of eating scrappy meals.

Sacks, Bamboo and Wood
Accommodation is no better; this is expensive and there is not enough to go around for the population of Lagos, which is increasing by the second. To help themselves, some families who are finding things really difficult have taken the initiative of making houses from sacks, bamboo, wood, etc., on lands that sooner or later they will be sent packing from. Others have taken to living under and around bridges. The consequence of these hardships include the increase in the number of school drop-outs also from elementary school, increase in crime rate, increase and indiscriminate use of hard drugs, especially marijuana (which is becoming as popular and openly used as cigarettes). The issue of teenage pregnancy is not left out; this is on the increase and is now becoming something that is not unusual. In front of these situations, the option left before all is to condemn the government, cast blame on the society, on parents, on everyone except oneself. I was strongly into this position until I met these friends. For me, I have come to learn to tackle these situations, not with pity but rather with a hope, with a belief and a gratitude that I can contribute a little to the development of the human dignity of Nigerians. I am also happy that the Seed Center, through its activities and encounter with the people, is contributing to the national stake­a contribution that is not just monetary or for the future but one that is for now. It fills me with joy that my intention to stay in the education sector is useful and meaningful, although initially I preferred the chemical industry.

The Daily Compass
I am grateful for meeting the friends of CL who proposed a way of life that has become my way of life, the way that is the “compass” for all I do and live. I have also discovered that one thing is to give money as a form of assistance; another is to build the person, the people. Through working with these friends and in collaboration with AVSI, I love this approach of building the man, of which I am a beneficiary. So I can say with conviction that I am a man, though full of limitations; I can raise my head high up to say, “I am a man!” Sharing my life and the education I have received and sharing the people I meet, most closely with the students of the remedial school GS [CL youth group], I feel more grateful to the Mystery that these young ones are learning and verifying what they live. It is interesting to note how seriously they are taking their lives. With thanks to the Mystery do we watch the kindling of the fire that has begun its journey of becoming a flame. With this group, I am confident in saying that our society, that Nigeria, will definitely be better.