“If you haven’t paid your school fees, stand up”. Many of you may not relate, but I heard these words one too many times in primary school. I don’t know what happened to me in secondary school – oh I know, boys happened – but I was a really brilliant kid in primary school. I got a double promotion to show for it. For this reason, I hated to miss school
So, when I heard those dreaded words, I never step out immediately. I would look straight into the teacher’s eyes, hoping to stare her down or possibly hypnotise her into forgetting I was alive. That never worked of course, since I was obviously not a mutant or anything close. She would come to my seat, drag me out by my ear and give me a stern warning to stay out. Stay out? No problem. So I would stand by the window of the class, my book supported by one palm while I wrote with the other hand. I was learning anyway, it didn’t matter what side of the class I was in. Unfortunately, because of me, the school authorities made sure we were escorted outside the gates on a straight line and the gate man made sure we stayed out
The school had a small fence, so I would jump back in, remove my shoes and sit on them by the class window. This way, even though I couldn’t see the board, I could hear the teacher. FYI there was no AC or Fan in the class so windows had to be kept open. I was desperate to learn, it felt like that was my last chance to make it out of poverty. I couldn’t tell my parents because the last time I did, they made me stay home until they could afford to pay for a term
On one of such days, the headmistress saw me where I was, seated on my shoes, ears pressed against the window, listening intently to the teacher. I remember how she looked at me, her eyes clouded with awe, anger and pity, all at the same time. She asked me to go home and never return until I had my school fees, but I wasn’t going to be that easy. I pleaded with her. This was when she took advantage of me
She said if I could come to her house before school resumes every day and do menial jobs, I could sit by the window to learn and copy assignments from other students during break time. That seemed like a good deal to me, so I included my brother in the deal and dragged him along every morning to the headmistress’ house, then school afterwards. My mum soon found out what was going on from one of the teachers and let hell lose on the headmistress. She removed us from the school, made my brother attend another school while I did my common entrance as an external student.
I write this because the other day, my driver told me about how his 10 year old niece was being molested by the head teacher because she worked in his house in exchange for school fees. It hit close to home for me, and I wondered how many kids this has happened to, or are going through such presently. Asides the fact that these words tank their self esteem, they also expose kids to life too early. I believe schools should send a correspondence to the parents, telling them to make their kids stay home until they can afford school, instead of embarrassing them out of class during school hours.
Poverty has so many ripple effects. As much as we can, whenever we can, let’s help a child, support a family that is struggling. Life is hard for a lot of people, more than we might realise, our little token will go a long way in probably saving a child’s future