Here lies African talents…wasted!

I had a chat few minutes ago with a 10 year old kid in my neighborhood. I asked him three days back to bring his list of books & materials for the upcoming term (starts by May 3) so I could help with procurement. This evening he came with not just a sheet of paper but a notebook, inside which he listed the needed materials.

While briskly copying to my phone memo I noticed drawings in the book. As much as I like to think myself a decent artist this boy is a far better artist than me when I was his age. The drawings of Thor, of the Avengers fame looked too real I couldn’t but marvel. I’ve always known the kid had something about him as he’s shy, calm & enjoys solitude but never thought he would be this gifted or imaginative.

He blew my mind further as he ran home to bring his other creative designs. The boy produces beautiful slippers, hand-fans, wristbands using fabrics, paper, rubber and sacks. He puts together the most unlikeliest of materials to make fine creations & he’s adept at 12 different handy works! When I told him how I used to draw & paint back in the days and later dropping interest due to discouragement he lamented facing the same obstacle. “My family don’t encourage me on these things,” he said.
I’ve decided to be there for this kid on his journey to self-discovery. What’s worst? The boy’s an orphan living with his grandparents.

This is the plight of African kids on a daily basis. Having to maneuver your way through parents who are Philistines, with no interest in arts, sports or music. Most African parents still believe their wards have to be doctors, lawyers or engineers before they can be rich and famous. My dad tried a bit then, supplying me with packs of A4 sheets for my sketches but that didn’t last for he soon loved his job more than my personal development.

It’s painful & I’m moved to tears whenever I think of my first real friend, Tijani. Tijani was the best artist in my primary school, probably the best raw talent I’ve ever seen (this kid sketched virtually anything). Sitting beside him in class and being privileged to view his sketches as he drew them, the beast in me was automatically born. I grew under his tutelage. I doubt if we were even up to 10 years old.

I became nearly as good as my mentor over time but suddenly I had to change schools & we temporarily got separated. I saw him occasionally in High school days, whenever I passed through his mum’s store. At a point he just vanished & I didn’t hear from him for over 7 years. On a fateful day in 2014, I stumbled on him in Obafemi Awolowo University, he was in 300L studying Electrical Engineering while I was in 400L studying law (fate had once again brought us to the same institution and our paths didn’t even cross for over 2 years). We hugged with so much joy in our hearts and for the next few minutes we laughed like those two happy little kids we were over 15 years ago.

You could easily guess the first thing I asked Tijani. Sadly, he was reluctant to answer if he still drew pictures. He narrated a story of how when his parents discovered his love for drawing, they seized all his works & burnt them, flogged him in public and his life was made a living hell! I can’t even remember all the punishment he said he got. All these because a young kid was living his dream and manifesting God-given talent. I cannot understand why kids always have to suffer for their parent’s ignorance.

During our last days on campus, I saw Tijani almost everyday and the difficulty he had while writing his thesis showed his present work isn’t his passion. You need no discerning mind to know once you see the fear and stress on his face. My friend would have made a great artist instead of an engineer. What’s he doing in the sciences, when his very nature was arts? At the peak of our talents then, some of us were ripe to be an apprentice under artist who will nurture us. But only the parent who understands and a society that’s ripe could enrol us.

Africa doesn’t suffer lack of talents or resources, rather we suffer from not harnessing these gifts. I wrote in one of my articles in 2014 (Parental care) that children are always the ones at the receiving end of the inadequacies of parents. We adults must be responsive & sensitive to the children around us, these little boys & girls carry much more intuition than us at times.

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