Because they care
For long, the way of the world has been to exclude others. Making others feel excluded while we’re part of an exclusive “club” generally makes us feel good, powerful and special. Enjoying privileges reserved only for those worthy enough to belong to this group has an appeal to the ego, that is almost irresistible. This is by no means a Nigerian thing or an African thing, it’s a human thing. Some societies have merely advanced to a level where this primordial inclination has become largely subsumed by elevating the notion of the common good.
It may be worthy to note that feeling on the outside, out of the loop, that we don’t belong or are that we’re not relevant and somehow inferior, is a major cause of mental illnesses so prevalent globally nowadays. The interesting thing is that by tradition, Africans have always been communal people, where everybody is included and everyone matters. We were in many ways more democratic in our style of governance and in the way we conducted our daily lives than we are now, as we continue to practice the mode of democracy foisted on us. Back then, important decisions were often taken collectively, involving all members of the community and not just a select group or a privileged few.
The African ethos of those days was not too different to that of some countries of the Orient today; such as China and Japan, where the interest of the society is placed before the interest of the individual. It’s no wonder the source of the adage, “it takes the village to train the child” can be found in Africa. This same disposition proved invaluable in helping the nationals of these Oriental countries to toe the lines dictated by their leaders when it came to containing the Coronavirus outbreaks in their country. This can be juxtaposed to the situation in the West where long held democratic ideals made it difficult for citizens to obey government directives and stem their natural urge to resist.
As an illustration, the city council in Huntington Beach, California, recently voted in favour of authorising the city attorney to initiate legal action against the state. Not because they were suffering the unbearable pangs of hunger caused by the lockdown but because their beaches remained “locked” while those in other counties have been reopened to the public. Asian societies on the other hand, adhere to philosophies which prioritise community needs over the personal benefits of individuals. The state is always primed to put the collective welfare of the people over individual rights. With the benefit of recent happenings because of the pandemic, one can easily contrast this with Europe and North America, where warnings were dismissed by heads of government, local leaders, and the public. Merit can be found in the argument that a strong sense of community will ensure people take actions that will indicate their support of each other.
The story of The Abolarin College at the ancient town of Oke-Ila Orangun, Osun State, founded and funded by Oba Dokun Abolarin, is a truly inspiring one which epitomises a fundamental aspect of godliness. I believe it would be helpful for us to understand that godliness goes beyond just adhering to fasts when called and attending all church programs but instead can be defined as conducting one’s life in a way in which God would readily agree, mimics His character.
Abolarin College was established with one purpose in mind. To provide free qualitative education to indigent children, all because the man involved refuses to accept this should remain the exclusive preserve of the well-to-do. And when I say free, I really do mean free, as the school provides everything, including school uniforms, school bags, writing materials, feeding, bed linen and anything else you can think of, absolutely free for it’s one hundred or so pupils, and making no demand of parents who can barely keep head above water. As a further demonstration of his large heartedness and disposition to include rather than exclude, admission is not limited to his subjects only. The pupils come from all over the country. However, if the child is not conversant with the Yoruba language, he or she must learn it, in addition to English and French, because these are the languages alternately used to conduct their school assemblies.
One thing I find fascinating though is Kabiyesi’s humility, uncommon in this part of the world, by regularly putting aside his royal robe and adorning the teacher’s garb, as he teaches his pupils too. Money cannot buy the invaluable lessons this simple gesture imprints on the impressionable minds of these children. To lead is to serve. This is certainly one Oba who recognises the motivational power inherent in leading from the front. Reminiscent of the Japanese educational philosophy of raising leaders by inculcating this spirit of service in pupils, Kabiyesi’s pupils too must carry out daily chores for the benefit of all.
For example, pupils take it in turn to help the cooks in the kitchen to prepare school meals and just as the female pupils braid each other’s hair, it is the duty of the boys to barb each other too. And before your imagination gets the better of you and you begin to wonder about how squalid an environment the school premises must be because it’s free, let me put you straight. This is a beautifully built institution powered by two large generators, donated brand new by an organisation which keyed into its noble vision. The children are always neatly attired in their comely uniform and all pupils are provided with their own personal computers, in addition to the provision of many other modern-day facilities, required to provide a conducive environment for learning.
There are many ways in which one can define character. It can be defined as possessing the moral antenna to first seek out and thereafter to attach appropriate importance to the right values. It can also be described as having the moral strength to abide by these values even when it may not be convenient to do so. There are times when it may even be detrimental to one’s personal interest. In my opinion, character is also evident when one sees the big picture and pursues its fulfilment over the long term, placing this over and above the gratification of serving one’s personal interest.
This is an attribute sacrosanct to nation building and it is one, Kabiyesi is endeavouring to inculcate in all of his pupils. What better way is there to do this than to lead by example.
I believe it was Mother Theresa who once said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. I do not agree with the big way of doing things.” This epitome of love is telling us we don’t need to wait until we’re able to do the grandest gestures because many of us may never find ourselves empowered enough to do so. We can however do what we’re able, in our little corner. Unknown to most people, that’s indeed how the world changes; doing the little that you can and not leaving it to the other.
In a country where we have far more people living in poverty than those who don’t, it’s fairly obviously many brilliant children, due to privation, must be falling through the cracks every day. Kabiyesi and those led to support him, may never get to fully appreciate the impact their actions are having, not just in the lives of these children, but in the lives of a whole new generation. Just because they care.
Changing the nation…one child at a time