Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Photo Credit: www.therelentlessbuilder.com
There is this government-owned Junior Secondary School (JSS) close to where I live. I have witnessed a rather perturbing sight in front of the school, driving to Court from home in the mornings. (I do not go to Court everyday. Probably about an average of twice a week. But the times I do, I have consistently observed this for the past six months).
I had been bewildered to notice that at about 8.30-8.45 am on every day that I drive past the school, students dressed in school uniforms are cutting grass.
I often wondered: did these children come to school to be educated and be given a foundation for their future careers … or did they come to take exercises in unpaid manual labour?
I appeased my conscience with memories of being late to parade in Secondary School (I attended a military boarding school), and being given similar punishments. However, that was a different time, and I still am of the view that some of those punishments bordered on Child Abuse.
But that is not exactly the point of today’s narration.
So the last time I passed by this school, it was about 8 o’clock, or some few minutes past the hour. (I had to be in Court extra early that day).
I noticed really nice cars dropping off various students. And right after the kids get dropped off, they just walked straight to some man sitting in front, handed over their bags, and marched right to the grass cutting area.
They picked up cutlasses, and began cutting grass. Like a ritual they were well used to, and had learnt by heart.
I wondered why affluent people who could afford these nice cars could not afford to send their children to private schools, as is the Nigerian norm.
And then it hit me.
Yes, these kids were from affluent homes. No, these kids were not children of the affluent people. These kids were their Cooks; Maids; Washer boys; Cleaners. These kids were their helps.
These kids would most likely have gotten up way before 5 a.m. Washed clothes. Cooked meals. Cleaned the house. Gotten the children of the affluent people ready for school, barely having time to juggle all the house chores and get themselves ready for school on time. Followed the affluent people to drop off their affluent children, at their affluent schools, before being dropped off at their own schools a little after the opening bell is rung. Their rewards: the cutlass and the grasses.
While some would argue that these helps have it better than uneducated children in the village, I was disturbed that they already had a practical taste of modern day slavery.
What disturbed/disturbs me more however is that the perpetrators of this slavery are not some abstract figure we cannot identify. They are not some ‘gringo’ from across the Atlantic, who prides himself in being a slave-master.
They are among us. The Accountants. Doctors. Lawyers. Politicians. Nurses. Lecturers. Architects. And all the other 'affluent people' of our society. They ARE us. We ARE the ‘affluent people’.
We are the ones who would use these 'house-helps' as slaves at home, and still perpetuate their suffering outside the confines of our homes. We are the ones who send the ‘slaves’ to school to suffer the dividends of the slavery.
We all have a duty to protect every child in our home, whether ours or not. Whether the law mandates it or not. We should not suffer them, or add to their suffering.
If they are good enough to be in our homes, then they should be good enough to attend the same schools as our children do. (Yes! I let out the elephant in the room). But the least we can do is let them be at school on time.
Photo Credit: www.timeslive.co.za
We can heave and haw all we want about how 'the government' should do more to protect and better the lot of children in Nigeria. We can blame the teachers for not doing the right thing in holding the guardians responsible for the actions of their wards.
But as I passed by the secondary school this morning, and saw the affluent people dropping of their wards, who marched straight to their nemesis (how come the grass never finishes anyway??), I am convinced that it behoves on you and I to look inwards and stop treating the ones who help us at home as slaves.
That is the first step to making the world a truly better place.