I was on my way from campus to my residence in town on Tuesday evening, when I caught sight of some children begging for alms at the Campus gate. Right inside the bus I was seated at the first seat, I could see how the kids who were most likely within the age bracket of 5-13 years old flocked around each passerby and bus that stopped at the bus stop just to get alms from them. Anyone who is familiar with Ife can testify to the high population of child beggars, especially around that location, so seeing them that day did not bring any unusual thrill as I have become accustomed with such situation.
Occasionally, I give them alms when I have enough, and refrain, when I don’t. On this day, I had a very little on me so I had nothing so I paid little attention as I waited for my bus to get filled and drive off.
As we waited, my attention was brought back to the kids when they fought through their way through a line just to reach the passengers approaching the bus. “Blother, ejo e help wa”, “Sister, ejo e help wa” they said with a strong Hausa accent as they gesticulated with their hands in their mouth as a sign of hunger.
In a bid to enliven their mood and crack them up a little, I told them I have nothing for them today, and what can they also offer me since I haven’t eaten anything? Immediately, they all wore a dud reaction on their faces, except a little girl I would later know as Zainab. Zainab, unlike others, laughed heartily and asked if I mean it. “Uncle, you never eat?”.
I told her yes and immediately she handed over all the naira notes she had squeezed in her hand to me with a N10 note that fell while giving it to me. I was shocked so I asked her again if she is convinced about her action and she said yes. “Uncle, I give you, people give us too”. By this time, her colleagues had gone to beg from other people and probably getting more money while she has giving all her collection for the day.
Fatokun Mattew and Zainab
I tried reading the expression on her face to see if she was worried but I could see nothing but a smile. After, our bus zoomed off, and at a short distance I told the driver to wait and I ran back to Zainab to give her the money and also added little from my pocket. She collected it and joined her colleagues.
Since then, I had promised myself I would do everything possible to make sure I pay back her rare act of kindness and the perfect opportunity came today, being Valentine’s day. As at 12:00pm I had set out for Campus gate and I was lucky enough to meet little Zainab and her friends.
Immediately, I asked little Zainab if she still recognize my face and she said yes. I told her I came to show appreciation for the other day and would like to take her out if she doesn’t mind. She refused but after a little persuasion, she decided to consult her mom who was also a beggar in the vicinity, though visibly-ill. It took a much longer persuasion to eventually get her mom to release Zainab and also intervention from the bikers who recognised me well.
That was the beginning of our trip to Campus, New Buka, Banwill where I gave Zainab a treat, though modest one. Zainab was very happy and glad. The smile on her face today was broader than the last time and we had an heartfelt discussion. She told me how her dad’s death led her and her mum to begging for survival of their family. She recounted how they left Kastina State after her father’s death to seek greener pastures in the west till they finally settled in Ile-ife. She also mentioned how she had to drop-out from school to ensure her Junior sister gets an education. She also mentioned that the bulk of the money made from the alms goes to her sister’s school and up keeping. The highlight of our conversation is when she mentioned that her mum still has plans to introduce her to tailoring job at a future date when the resources are available but she isn’t interested in anything but education. When I asked how she hopes to get an education with their present state, she smiled and told me, she will continuously save from her alms till one day it will be enough to take her to school.
Between the radiant expression on her face and the confidence of her statement, I really can’t tell which evoked my emotions and I could see how much a girl of her social condition still values education. Sadly, there is little I can do for little Zainab regarding her quest for education so I promised I will come around and visit her soon. Even though, I know deep down that such visit cannot achieve her dreams, but it would make her happy- which is the least I can do.
The smile reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s quote: “Common people are the best in the world: that is why the Lord made many of them’.
Written by Fatokun Matthew Babafemi
Update: Valentine With Zainab
After one week ago
The experience l had with little Zainab, the teenage beggar who gave all she had to a stranger (which is me) without hesitation and I must express that I was really surprised to see how far the story went with several kind-hearted people within and outside Nigeria offering to assist the little girl get back to school and have a good life.
The overwhelming offers made it necessary to put in place some logistics to make the process easy and accessible for every willing sponsor to contribute. One of the logistics that was put in place was the creation of an account number for Zainab, although, I encountered difficulties in the process coupled with the fact that Zainab is underage and barely had any means of identification so we had to get her necessary documents such as birth certificate and court affidavit, which took days before it was finally processed.
Also, for the sake of transparency, we settled for a teenage account with two signatories- her mother representing the family, and i representing the public- in order to regularly update the public with the statement of account. It is also important to inform everyone that there are already plans to enroll Zainab in a school as soon as possible while efforts are also ongoing to address other areas of her well-being and that of her ailing mother. On this note, i’ll like to appreciate everyone who has offered to assist in one way or the other and those who make further contributions to her cause.
Below is her account details:
Account name. Zainab Surayyat Kabiru.
Account number. 2051604824
Bank. Zenith Bank
Contact Fatokun Matthew Babafemi for further details.