I didn’t know what to expect. Having flown halfway around the world to visit the American International School of Abuja in Nigeria, I was open for adventure. But when the school invited me to visit their “sister school,” a local primary school they were mentoring, I wasn’t sure how those kids would react. After all, the international kids spoke good English and seemed to appreciate my sense of humor. Would I have something to offer the Nigerian kids?
Our van bounced over a rutted road and pulled up to a few nondescript concrete buildings. Instead of the international school’s lush landscaping, this school’s grounds were nothing but packed dirt. The director, a vital, middle-aged woman in stylish threads, greeted us. She told us that the classes average 100 kids per grade (each grade has a single class). The student’s ages varied widely, even within the grade, as many of them were refugees from Boko Haram’s violence in the north, and may have missed years of schooling. These kids didn’t even have toilets in their school.
As I stepped into the first classroom, I was hit with a wave of heat and intense body odor. Rows of kids were packed onto benches like sardines in that sweltering concrete box. Not only did the room lack the air conditioning of the international school, it didn’t even have fans, nor (in some cases) glass in the windows. How those kids could focus on learning in that environment was beyond me. (Especially when I learned that they didn’t even have benches until a few months earlier. Before that, kids sat on rocks or tarps.)
Though I was affected by all that I saw, I tried to give the students my best. I told a brief story about my beginnings as a reluctant reader, did a storytelling from BIG BAD BABY, and demonstrated a bit of cartooning, with the help of volunteers. And just like kids I’ve met everywhere, they laughed, they listened, and they engaged with my stories.
By the time I’d finished my two presentations there, I was dripping sweat like a sprinkler in summertime. I don’t know whether I provided something of value for those students, but they sure did for me. I came away impressed with how, despite their challenging circumstances, those kids and teachers persevered. That no matter what their roadblocks might be, they still hung in there and tried to better themselves through education. Now that’s inspirational.