“No! I can’t play with him because he looks different,” this was the reply Bili gave me when I showed him the picture of a white boy and asked if he will play with him if the boy comes to school the next day. This response reflected how my students will receive someone with looks, thoughts and opinions that are different from theirs. I really wanted to change this narrative.
I met my students who I refer to as champions when I began my Teach For Nigeria fellowship journey two years ago. They were in grade four at St. Michaels AC Primary School located in the community of Ota in Ogun State, Nigeria. Most of them were from low income families and they lived in densely populated areas where violence and crime has become the norm.
As I worked and lived in the community, I began to understand why violence and criminal activities are common and how young people are their major perpetrators. It was clear that the underlying causes were misunderstanding and the high level of poverty which leads to a scramble for limited resources, both of which are results of lack of empathy.
Looking at the future trajectory of my students, I knew that if nothing is done, they will grow to continue the cycle of violence and crime as my students see the perpetrators as their role models. So, I thought of drawing up an alternate possible future for them. One which my students will grow to become empathetic leaders who will design solutions to identified challenges in their community.