March 2016 : Balaraba Sidi


Last month I got a WhatsApp message " good afternoon ma" I didn't respond I was really busy and then I got distracted and forgot to respond after 30 minutes I got another message" how is work ma?  I got irritated. Who is this person being over familiar". I responded curtly " who is this"? the response came immediately "It's Balaraba ma" I looked  at my phone and realised it was a Nigerian number, my response was cool " how are you and why are you not in school? " She responded immediately " we are on break ma, this is my mother's phone,  we resume on Monday". 

We messaged via what's App for about 5 minutes. She graduates this year; Balara Sidi, our joint second scholarship recipient. It has not been an easy journey with her. We battled her father to let her go to secondary school,  and it was a battle to keep her in education with numerous threats of early marriage.

When she won her scholarship place her dad was a ‘mallam’, I don't like that term but I use it so you might  understand her socio-economic background - her father was a lowly paid residential security guard- they lived in a kiosk in front of a big house in Lekki. Although she scored the highest in all our assessments,  It was a struggle to get her in school,  and to keep her there.  Her father's family threatened marriage too many times! At one point she was withdrawn from school, then she was brought back, and then she started misbehaving at school, leaving premises at the weekend without permission, her grades began to slip.

Last year when her dad died things became a bit erratic, then she didn't want to be in science class anymore, so we said ok move to Art, and to be fair her grades improved considerably. Against the backdrop of all that you may understand why I was cool in my response .  I sensed she knew she was messing up - because she randomly said on the Whatsapp message that she wants to go to university. Again my response was curt " work harder" and then I said " you can do anything if you strive for it" but I didn't say it with compassion. I paused, and thought how easy it is for me to say these things to her ‘work harder, you can do it, you can become whatever you want’ without for once pausing to contemplate how difficult it might be for her  to really believe that. A child whose father worked and died as a Mallam. A child whose mother has no real income. A child who is the only one in her family to attend secondary school.  How hard it must be for her to truly believe she can achieve or succeed without honest encouragement. In that moment I thought I needed to stop feeling disappointed with the past shenanigans, including her own and start encouraging her,  and so I softened my heart and said " Bala I'm really sorry about your dad, I lost my dad at 7, it must be hard, I know things are tough, but you are bright, you are capable and you have it in you to excel, so work hard and use this opportunity to your advantage. The response back wasn’t as quick but she said  " thank you for everything you have done for me, I'm going to make you proud one day" I said " that would be nice and signed off.  

If you didn’t grow up with professionals as parents, or aunties or uncles it can be hard to see yourself in that light even if you are bright and capable.  After I finished conversing with her I instantly realised that the Ikota project is very important to me because it sends important signals and messages to those bright disadvantaged children in that slum community; that others have faith in them to reach their potential with the right tools,  and access to more than nothing.

Our free library and computer centre will say " you are worth it, we believe in you, this is for you, yes all these books, use it for free, develop and broaden your mind because we know its awesome capacity.  We can't do this project without funds, your money, a donation, please £10 or whatever you can afford. I'm delighted  we are half way there! Thank you to the Tea Ladies who started off this project. You are all awesome! If you would like to learn more and donate to the project please use the link below.

Update: Hear Balaraba say thank you to our supporters!

Just £7.50 a month will buy all the books required for a student for a year


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