Opinion: Remember the children that cannot afford parties on Children’s Day

by Mutiat OlagokeOn the 27th of May, 2012, I had a date at the Home for Destitute at Oko Baba, EbuteMeta, Lagos; an event I chose over going to the cinema, hanging out at a children carnival and the very blissful option of sleeping at home. Though for some unknown reasons, I was overly excited to be spending Children’s day with poor kids in EbuteMeta; which I’ve wanted to visit to feed the unusual curiosity that arose in me every time I passed through the Third Mainland Bridge. My curiosity reached a new height after watching the movie Omo Ghetto. So I jumped at the invitation by the Africa Resourceful Leaders Foundation without a second thought and boy! I was excited.

Was anyone surprised I was the first person to get there with minutes to spare on the clock? I wasn’t. I was surprised that there was no special children’s day carnival for the kids there though. Of course we were there but I’d have expected some very big NGO/CSO would have thought Children’s day was the day to do something nice for the poor kids.

Uhmn, how about an article titled the forgotten children? Standing in their midst trying so hard to get them quiet and orderly for the lecture on Sex Education to be delivered by a very passionate Blessing Timidhi Digha, I thought “poor kids, while some are attending fun fairs and carnival across Lagos and Nigeria organised to “celebrate” them. They are here forgotten on a day dedicated to them”.

So I had a title for an article in my head but in less than thirty minutes, I realised these children don’t need an article seeking pity upon them; they knew the correct response to “Hello” was “Hi”! Definitely not another write up making a big deal of the fact that many of them haven’t had anything to eat all day. I didn’t think they needed me or anyone picking on people’s guilt on how they spent lots of money throwing a big party for a few children while thousands more linger in hunger in a place barely a mile away. So what? Next time, you’d bring the used clothes, cartons of noodles or plates of rice to feed them for a meal or two. Definitely not, what they need is to be remembered! To be remembered not just on a special day out of the 365 days of the year but every single day in our budgets, plans, our activities, protests, demands, freedom fights and government policies.

Remember the children that cannot afford the many concerts and parties on Children’s day. The ones that won’t get an invite to the free march parade for the Governor at the stadium. The silent but important part of the future we are building for our children.

It’s struck me that for many when we refer to children we forget the children from the destitute and poor communities around the country. I am as guilty as anybody in this regard. As the children begged me for a copy of Kiddies Digest, I realised, I never think of these children when we draw up the synopsis for the magazine. I think of them in symposiums and pep talks but never on the pages of the magazine.

That morning I’d wondered what use donating copies of our children journal will be to these children, many of whom, I was sure hardly go to school. On getting there and declaring the magazine, someone told me they won’t care for the magazine. I didn’t think so either but I hoped somehow that the colourful pages of the magazine and the smiling kids on the cover will inspire the desire in them to want something better for themselves. The truth is, we cannot give what is not wanted, no matter how hard we try to give these children a better future than they face in the slum, if they don’t want it for themselves, nothing can change.

I’d asked Blessing to include a little thing on school and the essence of education in her talk which was given in Hausa. She excellently made a fuss of asking those who go to school regularly raise their hands and my heart danced when a good number of them did. There was a look of regret in the eyes of those that didn’t, probably because they thought we were going to give a big prize to their peers.  I wish we had more to give! As a pro quality education for children everywhere; those few seconds of regret made it all worth it. Maybe they’ll think twice about stabbing classes after the public holidays (fingers crossed).

The talk was interrupted by the sharing of noodles by a couple of white men and a liitle boy. So these children weren’t forgotten after all. The little white boy seemed overwhelmed by the rowdiness of the hungry children who. I thought to soothe his nerves by gifting him a copy of the magazine but he seemed very shy and probably scared. His grateful father collected it on his behalf. Then, the unexpected rush for a copy of the magazine began. “Anti, I go school, please give me book” came the first request that led to many desperate ones. “I can spell my name” another said leading to a little name spelling competition with all but one of about ten boys spelling their names correctly. I definitely got more than I bargained for as more children wanted a copy; a few had tears in their eyes. I felt inspired; this is why we do what we do!

Leaving Ebute Meta, the other members of the team were so touched with the events of the day, they wanted to come back. Plans of a return visit were being made on spot. I took the time to reflect on what just happened. These kids are not as helpless as we thought. They don’t just want food, toys and second hand clothes, they want more.

Of course we know that they need more to make the best of their potentials but they seemed to know and want more than our charity events and publicity stunts in the name of CSR. They don’t just need to feed their stomachs but also their minds. I remember Ali that spoke better English than I’d expected from a boy in a destitute home and Aisha that didn’t want to join the queue for food because she had a copy of the magazine, which to her must signify a better status compared to the others who didn’t get one because they didn’t go to school.

For three years, we’ve published a magazine with a vision “to inspire the next generation of great minds” and I’ve never imagined that my curiosity about EbuteMeta from across the Third Mainland bridge has anything to do with the great number of future great minds wanting to be remembered and discovered.

So, before you overlook or give up on the children from the slums, remember that no change is too small. That little change might be the big difference in one child’s life. In our quest to build a great future, I urge you to remember the children, not just the poor but also the rich, the middle class kid and every child in between because in their little minds lies the greatness we hope the future holds.

God bless our children. God bless Nigeria.

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