By: Nelson Egbunu
Who is Abubakar?
Abubakar is an interesting child with a smile that will melt your heart, charming demeanor, bold eyes but yet full of compassion, laughter so loud you can hear it miles away; He is just too hard to miss, always making a scene wherever he appears. He is confident, lively, outspoken, and fearless; His body is decorated with so many scars of which he wears as an armor of valor. Sounds like a fictional superhero character right? Only that Abubakar is a 9-year-old boy from an indigent and vulnerable community called Rugga, who lost his father when he was only 2 years old. Growing up in a community with little or no social amenities, Abubakar’s mother was left with the herculean task of fending for herself and her son, and had to work as a domestic help, which came to a fleeting end. Abubakar’s mother soon became ill, plagued by so many illnesses including the torturous high blood pressure, which made her incapacitated to even do menial jobs and was at the mercy of good samaritans in the community who occasionally give out relief materials for herself and her son. Abubakar was left to cater to his basic needs so he was mostly seen scampering around for food, recyclables, and anything to ameliorate the hardship of his family.
Unfortunately, with no good role model to look up to, Abubakar made friends with bad boys most of which were older than him and meddled into all sort of social vices in the community and that earned him the nickname “dan kuka,” name of a boy in a popular Hausa movie who was terrorizing both the young and old in his community and always caused pain and tears to his mother. This was exactly the position we met Abubakar, as the Community Secretary-Malam Usman said, “Abubakar is in a place of darkness.”
Back to school; back to life
I remember when we started the Accelerated Learning (AccLearn) project in Rugga Community-Wuye, and we selected Abubakar as one of the beneficiaries for the project, some of the community leaders told us to delist him as he will be a handful for us to manage. In the words of one of the community leaders “Zaku gaji dashi, har ku cire shi a makarantar ku,” meaning, “you will get tired of him and remove him from the program.” Our reply to them was that children like Abubakar are the reason why we do what we do. AccLearn is a community-based, community-led initiative of FlexiSAF Foundation that aims to provide underprivileged and disadvantaged children in rural communities access to quality education. The flexible nature of the project ensures that the children just need 6 hours a week to be in session for them to develop key competencies and skills to position them to live up to their full potential. AccLearn’s overall goal is to provide an alternate solution in education in order to curb the out-of-school children challenge plaguing the nation by empowering the children with numeracy, literacy, life skills, and computational thinking. So, you see why we were unbending to enroll Abubakar into the AccLearn program? To the community, he was a reject; a lost cause, hopeless and nothing to write about, a seemingly dead situation, and for us like our favorite mantra in the Foundation “Back to school; back to life,” we believed AccLearn would be that breath of life on Abubakar’s situation.
I started noticing the change in Abubakar after our first month of running AccLearn. Abubakar that pays little or no attention to his hygiene now ensures he comes to class with clean clothes and body; he became more patient and accommodating; and also, more interested in education than when we met him. At first, I thought it was all a charade just to win the motivational snacks the children get at the end of each session, a Happy Hour for them indeed. I decided to keep an eye on him and engage him in several discussion sessions just to be sure these changes were real; you won’t blame me, Abubakar has once scammed a police officer and ran away with his money, that boy was full of mischief. One of those private sessions with Abubakar, he shared with me his dreams to be a soldier; He expressed how people in a similar condition like him, marginalized, without any form of socioeconomic benefits are prime victims of insecurity and undue hardship, and how he plans to change that narrative by being the defender of the defenseless. That was when he earned my own special nickname-“SUPERHERO”. You may think this was just childish empty banter, but I have observed how Abubakar swiftly came to the rescue of his classmates, his AccLearn siblings when any of them are in distress or being bullied by other children in the community. One shocking experience was when I found Abubakar challenging three teenagers to defend a classmate; such bravery, such selflessness, was really inspiring.
Acclearn to the rescue!
Abubakar wasn’t the brightest of the children, but I was so proud of him when I found out he was using the numeracy skills he was getting from AccLearn in a business he started. Abubakar started selling locally made candy that he buys at a discounted price from a local vendor and uses the profit to buy food, food that he is willing to share with his classmates without a thought, especially his closest friend Auwal. The concept of basic arithmetic and computational thinking-“tunani mai tsari” was the foundation of his candy enterprise. Abubakar who used to be known for stealing, loitering around (“yawo”), rude, not respectful even to his mother, found always in the company of bad friends now became a role model in the community and was used as an example of a responsible child. His name was no longer brought to the community leader’s cabinet for wrongdoings but to be used as an example to emulate.
From a “Reject” to a “Beacon of Hope”
2020 met our hands down; nobody was prepared for what turned out to be a global pandemic. Covid-19’s cold fist hit us hard, affected the economy, and sadly AccLearn, further deepening the already epileptic socio-economic status of Abubakar’s community. Coupled with a demolition exercise due to some societal issues in the community, life became too tough even for my SUPERHERO Abubakar to bear. Abubakar and his family relocated back to Nasarawa State, his hometown hoping for a better life. I can only imagine how Abubakar must have grown now, not only in height and strength like he always wanted but also in wisdom and knowledge. I have seen how Abubakar grew from one side of the spectrum, a reject, misfit, “dan kuka” to the other side where he is a beacon of hope and support for his classmates who became his brothers and sisters. Despite the fact that we cannot reach Abubakar now, I am comforted that we have successfully impacted this young boy with enough ‘Light’ to be the superhero he always wanted to be, the change-maker from the grassroots. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Abubakar might not be celebrated like Spiderman, Batman, or even part of the Avengers or the Justice League; Abubakar is my SUPERHERO, and with the weapon of education in his arsenal, I am confident of a better world. Your AccLearn family misses you; I miss you Abubakar, my SUPERHERO
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