Rough Diamonds: Season 1 Episode 2: The Almajiri Tale By Maryam Sa’eed
Torn trousers, worn out shoes, undersized, dirty T-shirts, uncombed hair and a general unkempt appearance. These introduce them before they even speak or extend their arms for alms. But Mukhtar Sadiq wants the world to know that he is different.
“I speak English,” he said “speak English to me.”
He is 12, in JSS2 and places 6th out of 85 students in his class. A little too short for his age, but what he lacks in height, he makes up for in his academics.
Five years ago, Mukhtar left his hometown of Maiyama in Kebbi State to Abuja because his father was ‘overwhelmed’ with responsibilities. Married to two wives and without a job, it became extremely difficult to provide for his family. Mukhtar is the 4th out of ten children and the only one who has seen the inside of a classroom.
“I love school and I think it’s a privilege to be in it. I feel grateful even though I don’t have everything I want.”
He graduated from Qur’anic school in February, 2018 and has since then been helping the other boys with their own Qur’anic lessons.
“To be honest, I would want my younger brothers to come, if they can. Not because I want them to suffer, but because I want them to have hope for a better life. But I also don’t want them to live their lives without family. I know how hard it is celebrating Eid alone, eating alone, crying alone and wiping your tears all by yourself. Most times I talk to myself to encourage myself and when I fall sick, I still stand up despite the pain. I don’t want them to live like this, but I am worried about their future without education.”
For Mukhtar, learning is the best thing that has happened to him.
“I see more about life than I would have had I remained in Kebbi. I understand that for some people things come easily and for others like us, we have to work twice as hard. And even at that, it’s very easy to lose focus, that’s a why a huge number of us find it difficult to stay in classrooms. In school, I have this classmate, Abu. He tops the class. Sometimes when I don’t understand certain things, I meet him to put me through then when I get home, I teach those of my friends willing to learn. I love learning, it keeps me focused. I have a dream to become a successful architect.”
But his experience with the Qur’anic teachers, having to struggle to find basic amenities, pay his school fess and buy necessary learning materials make him wonder how realistic his dreams are.
“We do so many things for them, still they don’t treat us kindly. It’s hard to not be bitter. Often, when I get severely punished I vow to one day leave and never come back, but I remember that I have to graduate Secondary school first. Then I tell myself to be patient. When I tell theother boys about my dreams, they clap me on the back and sometimes, they tell me theirs. We laugh about it and make jokes of how we’d eventually escape this life and build big mansions for our families. We’d point to the biggest houses and say ‘that’s what my house would look like’, but I think deep down, we know that it is close to impossible. And it scares me, because I start to ask myself, what is the purpose of all this if the only thing we can do is to dream? Our future remains bleak. I want to keep my hopes up, but at the same time I am aware that hope is all I’ve got and it usually isn’t enough.”