There was a time in my life when I taught Mathematics & Physics to 8, 9 & 10 grades in a Technical College in Nigeria. I was in my early 30s.
Nigerians give very importance to education. Even though Nigeria was a gas-rich country at that time, majority of the people were poor. Most of the kids had to work hard to fend for the family. So usually in one family, while all the kids are engaged in some kind of work to make money for the family, at least one kid will be sent to school, hoping he/she would have some education and once he/she completes the education & finds a job with his/her qualifications, as soon as he/she gets a job, he/she will help his siblings to get their education. It may be an unwritten rule, but one who got the education, followed the rule religiously and never forgot his/her obligation to the family for sending him/her to get his/her education.
I liked to teach Nigerian kids. I have never seen such humble kids in my life. They gave respect to their elders & Teachers. They were also very eager to learn. I was more than willing to repeat the same thing again and again till everybody understood what I was teaching them. I insisted them to learn Multiplication Table by-heart even though it was not in their syllabus. I didn’t allow them to use the Calculator.
That particular year in 8th grade, when I was taking the attendance, each student got up to show the presence. There were about 35 kids in that class. Some of the kids in the class were taller & bigger than me. The ages of the kids were between 14 to 20 or so.
When I called out the name ‘Michael Achusim’, everybody turned their heads to the back, and the person whose name it was looked down. He was sitting at the back row, at the end. He was tall and might be about eighteen years old. He looked up and then again looked down. It was a shock to me too, when I saw his face. His upper lips had a big gap and one or two teeth were kind of protruding through that space. It was a very ugly sight. He had Cleft lip or Cleft palate. I tried my best not to show any expression on my face. And I succeeded. I continued teaching as normal.
In that 8th grade class whenever I taught Mathematics, I tried not to look at the last row because I was scared that the expression on my face would give me away and I didn’t want to hurt Michael in any way. I never asked him any questions. But I have heard him talking to other kids once or twice and he sounded differently since the wind passed through the gap of the lip and words were not clear.
My husband was a General Surgeon in one private Hospital in that town. One day I saw him drawing a Cleft lip and making some plans on it. Then I knew that he was doing that kind of Surgery at the Hospital. I thought about Michael. I guessed Michael would be coming from an ordinary family, so he would not be able to come to that Hospital to undergo that plastic surgery.
I talked about Michael to my husband.
He told me, “You know that it is not my Hospital and I am just working there. How can I do it free for him? I have no authority to do it free.”
I told him, how bad Michael was being treated by other kids and how conscious he was about his short coming…
At last my husband agreed to ask the accountant for a discount for Michael and the Accountant consulted the owner of the Hospital and he agreed too.
Next day when I went to School, I called Michael to my office and explained to him to go to my husband’s Hospital for a Surgery and his face fell. He knew that he couldn’t afford an operation in that Hospital. I told him that I had fixed a discount for him.
“Go to your village & inform your parents and bring as much money as you can get and go to the Hospital”
Next week Michael didn’t come to School. I knew he had followed what I told him. After one more week, one day Michael came to see me, not at the School, but at the quarters of the Hospital. I saw Michael. His bandage was already removed. He looked handsome. He smiled and he didn’t say much, but his eyes said everything to me.
I was so happy..
Next week when I went to School, I called the attendance. Michael was absent.
Next day also he didn’t come.
When I called ‘Michael Achusim’, the kids in the class laughed.
Somebody from the back commented:
“Mom, he will not come. He has to catch up with so many things, all the things he missed, all the girls..”
Kids laughed loudly. I stood there as if I didn’t understand!
I waited for him. But he never came to school.
I never saw Michael again. But I never regret for becoming the reason of his abandonment of his education somewhere in the middle like that.
I know that he is happy, where ever he is. I am happy too that I could do something for somebody.