How I Lost My Sweet Childhood Nickname, “Tiyenda”

Sam

— By Sam from Uganda

What I didn’t learn from home, I learnt from Kindergarten. I spent my first three years of life at home learning how to eat by myself, brush my teeth, bathe on my own, greet people while shaking their hands and looking them in the eye, making alarms in case of danger, and notifying mum in case I was feeling pain.

Since I was mum’s first born, she had all the time to be curiosity and to learn about mothering. She had to know what I was saying, why I was crying, and what I needed. Dad was an occasional visitor in the house since he was always on the move on errands and his other families. On days when mum was away, grand mum would always step in to play the motherly role, with occasional assistance from Uncle Sam, Richard, and Fred who ended up being my playmates because my siblings were too young. I was never allowed to leave home to play with children in the neighborhood, everyone lived in their own fenced house, and it was hard to know what was happening on the other side.

I started school when I was 4 years old and by that time; mum knew she had equipped me with all the basics I needed to socialize with the rest of the children. She instructed me to do what the teachers told me, never to fight, never to have bad manners, and never to leave school until I was picked up by someone from home.

Mum would pack for me enough food, with instructions not to admire anyone else’s food and not to beg from others. Bread, popcorn, and orange juice were a must have in my container, and once in awhile they would pack me chicken. My school was just a stone’s throw away from home, though I kept insisting on being dropped off in a car. Initially, I felt weird walking through the neighborhood while putting on a school uniform. I kept having this feeling that everyone was staring at me and making fun of my appearance. The car offered me some sense of assurance that no one was seeing me.

School had its own dynamics. The teachers dictated who to sit with and where to sit. I never wanted the front rows because of the unnecessary attention from the teachers and the expectation to learn faster than the ones seated behind. I was also shy, too shy to be seen in front by all of the class, but that is where the teachers instructed me to sit.

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“Here is a family photo taken in 1991. That’s me in the red trousers, next to me is my brother, Allan, next to Allan is my last born sister, Wini, next to Winnie is my mother’s cousin, Nsadha, and next to him is my sister, Lillian. Behind me is my Uncle Sam, my late mum, Loy, my uncle Richard, my uncle Ronald, my grand mum’s friend, Tezira, and my grand mum Leah. This was the first Christmas we were having after my father’s death.

Seating me next to a girl worsened my manners. I had barely interacted with any girls before and one of the instructions I had from home was not to have bad manners. In my head I thought the teachers were indirectly choosing a marital partner for me, and completely going against what mum had told me to do.

During breakfast, it was mandatory to share food with the neighbors. To me, sharing anything with girls was criminal and I utterly refused to follow that rule. The teachers tactfully changed my breakfast schedule for me to start sharing with the boys, but I remembered that mum had told me not to covet other people’s food, so I still refused. Whenever they offered me their food, I would respond to them with “tiyenda” (“I don’t want”).

Little did I know that I was innocently hurting other people’s feelings and self-esteem by refusing their genuine offers. As time went by, no one wanted to associate with me; as the rest were seated in pairs sharing their breakfast, the teachers decided to seat me by myself. I felt so hurt and isolated. My pain was worsened when the whole class started sarcastically calling me Tiyenda instead of Sam. I felt like they were mocking me as being proud, arrogant, and selfish because I refused to share with them. I started crying whenever someone called me Tiyenda. The teachers sat me down and advised me to start sharing and playing with everyone if I wanted them to stop calling me Tiyenda.

Hard as it was, I had no option but to abide, because I found the Tiyenda name too derogatory to bear with. I unconditionally started accepting food from all the kids. I had to do away with some instructions from home and started playing with the girls. All my classmates enjoyed playing with me and everyone wanted to share with me. I stopped feeling shy and I grew comfortable with everyone around me. I learned how to co-exist with my peers, and to this day I have never heard anyone call me Tiyenda again.

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A Stand Against Oppression

Abdulmumin (1)

— By Abdulmu’min from Nigeria

It was back in high school some years ago, on the Lagos Island of Lagos State, Nigeria. We had finished prep class, and it was around 9:50 pm on Tuesday night, in the boys-only high school in which four different houses: red, yellow, blue, and green, served as the major difference in the lifestyles of the boys.

We were in our finals, and as the most senior students in the school, we had every other thing going easy. We usually had our whites sparkling, well ironed out such that it could tear one’s skin. Every student had to respect our seniority, those were the benefits of being a senior class student, except of course for the tight schedule of having to prepare for the senior school exams. Everyone barely had time to do other chores, so we had to do those chores after prep class, which usually ended at 9:30 pm leaving us with just 30 minutes before lights-out.

Lately we had been complaining about our stuff going missing from the large building which the final year students of the four houses occupied as dormitories. Every dormitory contained bunk beds, arranged in rows and columns, and locker rooms to keep some of our belongings. We had started to blame each other for the theft.

The Sunday before I was up at night, like every other day, studying, when I suddenly noticed one of the security guards, employed to secure the school, trying to find his way to the hostel, which was already locked, around 2:30 am. I alerted some of my housemates who were awake then to also see what I had seen, we decided to pretend to be asleep. Just as the security guard jumped in, I switched on the lights; the guard noticed this and absconded. There were about ten security guards in the school.

The next morning was a Monday morning, at the beginning of the week there was much to do so we didn’t discuss the incident. It was Tuesday and we had just 10 minutes left until lights out, and I was determined to end the treacherous acts of the guards.

I was standing with the utility prefect, Stanley, when we saw one of the guards by the name Innocent, heading towards the hostel. Now aware of what had been happening, once prep was over, Innocent alongside two other guards nicknamed Boko and Haram, Boko was friendly while Haram was the strong faced guy, would all come into the hostel claiming to send everyone to bed even before lights out, with the aim of getting everyone to sleep at the same time to give them enough time to do whatever evil act they had to do. Innocent was the team leader.

One funny thing about the Name Boko Haram is that, it’s actually the name of the dreaded terrorist group which had been causing insurgency in the Northeastern part of Nigeria, where over 280 schoolgirls were kidnapped.

Innocent wasn’t just heading towards the hostel, he had a bamboo stick in his hand. I told Stanley, “What the hell does this guy think he is going to do with that stick in his hand, hit anyone of us! Hell no, just see what I’m going to do tonight, this will have to stop.” As he got nearer to the hostel Stanley cowardly went into his dormitory, while I went to the front of mine.

There were five of us from blue house, Steve, Owuri, Tobi, Toba, and myself. I informed them of the incident and asked them not to move when Innocent arrived, we had to stop the act. Innocent was in the hostel and as usual chasing everyone to go to bed, he got to where we were standing and suddenly Tobi and Toba made away to their beds, while Steve, Owuri, and I were left. Innocent said “Go inside,” but we didn’t respond so he told us to get on our knees.

By then the whole building was quiet, Steve and Owuri were about to kneel down, when I moved forward going head to head and chest to chest with Innocent, even though he was the leader of the security guards. My words to him were, “Why should we go to bed? Is it because you and your gang want to come and steal our valuables, No! This would have to stop today.” 

Owuri had left, Steve was about to do the same when Innocent suddenly dragged him back and hit him hard on the head with the bamboo stick. Haram was with his boss by then and both were fighting against me. We were exchanging blows and words, more students now trooped out and aided the struggle against oppression after hearing the noise, and finally the fight against the oppression of innocent students had been won.

I thought to myself the school management wouldn’t have believed us if we had gone ahead to report the incident, since we had no evidence, but now we had fought, I had fought for us. They stopped coming to the hostel, which wasn’t their responsibility in the first place, and our properties were safe again. What if I had not taken my stand against oppression?

The Incredible Destiny of a Handicap

mamadou

— By Mamadou from Guinea

Once upon a time, in a small village in the midst of the thick green mountains of Foutah Djalon, lived some farmers whose source of livelihood was always determined by the season. During one of those seasons that it rained, there was a huge downpour and a son was born to the family of the Diallos. The rain barely subsided before his dad went from hut to hut in the entire village to share the good news with fellow villagers. The joy in the family knew no bounds. A week after his birth his parents gave him the name Mamadou. At this moment, no one could have imagined what the life of this little boy would be.

Three years later, Mamadou was growing up very fast for his age. He could play around the house of his parents under the admiring and watchful sight of his mother. One of the nights, Mamadou’s mother was awakened by his cry. Mamadou had become sick and this sickness would eventually change his life forever. His parents took him to the traditional doctors and healers in their village and other neighbouring villages to find a cure to this illness. These doctors could not help the child and convinced his parents that the young Mamadou has contracted an incurable disease from the evil spirits. This was the beginning of suffering for the little Mamadou and his mother. Some believed his mother is being punished for the sins she might have committed in the past and some claimed the boy is a wizard. A few months later into his illness, Mamadou lost his father and those who believed he was a wizard concluded he had claimed his first victim.
Mamadou lived under this condition until he was six years of age. At this age, he was supposed to be in school just like his mates. His mother had an important choice to make between leaving him at home to protect him from others and sending him to school so that he will have equal opportunity to excel in life like his mates. Fortunately, she settled for the second option. On the first day he was to leave for school, his mother was sad and in anguish, because she had doubts about if the other students would welcome him at school.


======Mamadou’s First Day in School:=========


The long awaited day arrived and he had to go to school. Very early in the morning, his mother woke him up and he prepared himself, wore his uniform and headed for school. On arrival, what his mother feared happened. When he arrived, all the children looked at him because he was the only one who walked with a stick. This was only the beginning of his troubles. At school, he had to sit with other children. The children had to sit two by two on a bench, a girl and a boy per bench. No girl wanted to sit next to him and yet he was not the ugliest in the class. He did not understand why all these girls rejected sitting with him. The teacher finally had him sit with another boy. At some point, he noticed several children who imitated his way of walking, which was quite different. He had resisted everything that has happened earlier in class but this time, he cried. He returned home in tears and with many other questions that also made his mother cry.

=====The Encounter that Changed His Life:========


Days and years passed quickly. In his nine years of study so far, he was never sent to write on the board like other students. Whenever his teachers wanted to send him there, his friends and his teacher made it clear that Mamadou could not go to write on the board. This happened until the day that his chemistry teacher Momo Camara forced him to go there (to the blackboard). “Mamadou on the board!” The teacher said and Mamadou, after nine years of studies, had to go to the board in front of his friends, he wrote, sweating, and finally everything went well. At the end of the course, Mr. Camara summoned Mamadou to his office. He said to him “Mamadou, it was not out of wickedness that I sent you to the board, it is because if I treat you in a special way you become a special person, which is not good for you. You know there are two types of disabilities: Physical disability and moral disability. You already are physically handicapped, with it alone, you can live your life but if you add the second (moral disability), your life will have no meaning. If you do not accept yourself as you are, know that others will never accept you. You have the choice.”


These remarks got him thinking. Since that day, Mamadou began to change the way he saw himself. He began to consider himself not as a person with a disability but as a person. From that day, he accepted no special treatment. Sadness was written all over his face whenever he was forced to sit on the edge of the field watching his friends playing football, sitting on a chair while his friends danced, or sitting alone while his friends are having a nice time with their girlfriends. Now when his friends play football, he is the goalkeeper. When they (his friends) dance, he dances too (hmmm, you need to see him dance) and as far as love goes (hmmm, that one is complicated). As each step passed, at each success, he shakes hands and quietly thanks Mr. Camara for the tips that he would share with each person who would be discriminated against. Grace to you Mr. Camara, my life now has a meaning, giving great happiness to my dear mother.


=========The School, His Saviour============


After eighteen years of study, the little Mamadou who was expected by all to be in a corner begging is now an engineer. He is gainfully employed and now lives with his family. That is not all. He works with organisations to educate parents to vaccinate their children against polio because he eventually learnt that his illness was because of poliomyelitis. He is also involved in encouraging parents to send disabled children to school because for him, education is the only way to facilitate the integration of people with disabilities.

A rare image in Sub-Saharan Africa

adan

— By Adan from Somalia

As UNESCO showed in 2009, Somalia is a country where the literacy rate of female adults is 25.8%; cultural issues and some other factors lead to a low level of female education. Mostly, the parents of Somalis, particularly those who live in the rural areas, prefer to get family assistance from girls instead of sending them to education centers. In rural and some urban areas, the girls are busy with the work in the house, including laundry, cooking, etc.

Yusuf Aybakar Shador is a father who was one of the engineering students of Somali National University, before the destruction of the country in 1991. At that time, he was at junior stage (third year) of the university, but unfortunately he was not able to finish the year because of civil wars broke out in the country. It was a surprise that he rejoined the Somali National University when it reopened in 2014. Once he was asked the reason that he didn’t enroll in another university. He answered that the other universities were mostly of lower quality. Now he is a student of the faculty of Law, and he is in his third year of the university.

Not only him, his four other daughters are also attending the same university. Fatima Yusuf is a student in the faculty of Medicine, and she is in her third year. Naima is a student in the faculty of Engineering, and similarly to Fatima, she is in her third year of the university. Muno, who studies Economics, and Iman who studies Education, are in their first year of the university.

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Yusuf and his daughters

In the last weeks, in interviews he gave to the international media, including BBC, VOA, and Al-Jazeera, he told about how he is happy to be student of Somali National University with his four daughters. He also gave interviews to other local and international media outlets, and many articles about his interesting story were published.

Following this event, we can learn many things from it, including:

  • Educating girls is something very important.
  • There are in Africa, especially Somalia, fathers who preferr to educate their girls instead of keeping them uneducated.
  • There is no excuse for being uneducated, weather it is age, the need for girls to help at home, etc.

Finally, this is hope for girls around the world.

Her Name is Adura

adelakun

— By Adelakun from Nigeria

Adura is 18 years old. She hopes to get into the university next year to study medicine. She lives in a makeshift shelter in my community. What strikes me the most about Adura is the fact that she’s so intelligent, so, I took a special interest in her as a mentor. Her mother had no formal education but was encouraged by my late mother to send her daughters to school. She sells soda and bottled water to earn some money so that she can send Adura and her younger sister to a low income private school in the community. Adura’s father is dead. Here’s a peek into what her day looks like.

Adura gets up at 5:30am every morning.

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She makes sure her younger sister is ok.


Meanwhile, her mother who sells her wares through the night rests.

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Then Adura takes delivery of Ice blocks which her mother uses to chill the drinks and water she sells. Aftet that she takes a shower in that cubicle. (I cried while taking this picture. It’s amazing the things we take for granted. This is what Adura calls her bathroom).

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Then she has her breakfast (if available.) and reports to a graphics design shop where she is currently on internship. She’s very good at using Corel Draw!

After a long day, she retires to her mother’s shed to sleep. Dinner may or may not happen.

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Adura remains cheerful though. She is the definition of hope in the midst of nothing. When there’s life, there’s hope.

Lessons from my Mandela Washington Fellowship Experience

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— By Edem from Nigeria

I think the first impression which struck me was that there were no boundary walls separating the Arizona State University (ASU) campus from the rest of the community. Right behind the law building stood the very cosmopolitan Sheraton Hotel, next to the impressive Walter Cronkite school of Journalism stood the grand Arizona Science Centre. Also a few blocks from the University student centre stood tall glass offices of Goldman Sachs and McKinsey. I had never encountered a University without walls or borders and so I had been in the ASU Downtown Campus in Phoenix, Arizona, for well over 10 minutes without realising. It wasn’t until we got to the front of an attractive student dormitory building called Taylor Place, which would be my home for the next 6 weeks that I suddenly understood. At that point I looked at the cab driver and escort with a look of surprise and asked “when did we go through the university gates?”

I would later discover during the course of an intense 6 weeks Fellowship experience that the absence of walls bordering ASU Downtown campus was a manifest expression of the system’s belief in the fluidity of interaction between knowledge and transforming human societies. For 6 weeks I was immersed in a progressive style of learning. During academic sessions we engaged in rich discussions and team work which yielded simple solutions. During community service we visited schools, community centres, Native American tribes, non-profits, city bureaus and offices. We also helped build houses, plant green spaces, distribute food at shelters and food banks and paint school walls. As part of our cultural exchange we ate American hot dogs, went on hiking trips, watched 4D movies, attended a 4th of July baseball game and gazed at fireworks whilst making sure that we left behind in all the places we visited the reverberating sounds of our beautiful African philosophies, songs, drum beats and rhythms.

I gained many valuable lessons during my Fellowship experience and I would like to share 3 of these lessons with other youths who might be reading this:

  1. All over the world, there is no perfect society and no, the United States of America is not perfect. The Country has its issues and the citizens confront problems as well. However there are strong societies. Such societies reflect deeply entrenched values, a keen investment in knowledge and research, transparent and effective systems of governance and robust working economies. As is to be expected, such societies deliver a high standard of basic comfort to average citizens, making their borders attractive to people around the world. A lesson I gained during the Fellowship is that such societies are built and sustained through vision, effort and sacrifice. This is clear from the attitude of both the leaders and the citizens of America to work, education and innovation, governance, community service, and the deep rooted values of freedom and opportunity. Contrary to the opinion of many, Nigeria will thrive if we imbibe the many lessons of our past as well as lessons presented by strong nations like the United States. As young people we must first believe in the possibility and then we must strive to attain it through effort and sacrifice.
  1. There is value in networking and building relationships. Our value as individuals is not limited to our personal skills or potential alone but encompasses the collective strengths of everyone who forms part of our relationship circle. The more relationships we build the more value we can claim or leverage and vice-versa. Americans are big on networking because they realise the importance of social integrative power. Through networking and relationship building we can easily share resources, discover opportunities, reduce costs, enjoy mentoring or peer review and accountability amongst other important benefits. As youths, we are currently the largest demographic on the African Continent and this is an opportunity. The more connected we are, the more resourceful we become. This implies that we can travel much farther today than any previous generation in Africa ever could.
  1. The real value of an education is in the solutions we are able to create. We are not relevant merely because we have a university degree or we graduated with first class or second class upper honours, as many often boast. Those credits are simply presumptive labels indicating to the world what we are capable of contributing. The world will not be transformed just because we are literate or have a brilliant mind. The world will only be transformed when we take our brilliant minds and use them to create useful solutions that address current issues the world is grappling with. If we are to improve our communities and our nation we have to move beyond the current obsession with tagging ourselves as “literate”, “graduate” or “first class holder” to creating real valuable solutions. As I witnessed during my Fellowship experience, having a college degree or a fancy one at that, isn’t nearly as important as the innovative skills and critical mindset you bring to the table and how relevant those skills are to present day challenges.

Written by:        Edem Dorothy Ossai (2016 Mandela Washington Fellow),                                                                   Founder of MAYEIN: www.mayein.com