Being the Director of Communications at Helping Ordinary Lives, HOL Foundation is challenging. Every day of your life, you feel the gas left in your tank would dry up and then your race will end before the finish line. Every day is a battle to put at least short smiles on the faces of people, who hope for reason to express genuine happiness. The biggest or funniest jokes by the best clown or comedians in town can’t move them as their pains are bigger than them all.
It is easy to read about the spate of poverty in Nigeria and Africa on the pages of newspapers or journals. It is harder to get a full picture of poverty and stand to look at it in reality. You not only fight to hold your tears, you also fight for the strength to stand on your feet. 89 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty in Nigeria despite the yardstick for the measurement of poverty is being below spending $2 (N684) on food per day. The figures are simple to look past as a headline, but it is a different ball game when you see the people living in extreme poverty physically as well as listening to their stories. I wish the people could be granted free passage into heaven on judgement because the planet earth has been hell for them.
I will never forget the 27th of June, 2020. It was the day I saw the image of poverty and believe me, poverty is ugly and scary. My Managing Director had contacted me to prepare for a regular field exercise which entailed sharing of relief materials amongst residents of vulnerable communities. It was a hard decision to make considering the menace of the coronavirus pandemic, which had ruined businesses and plundered the financial resources of many. For the first time, I felt it was over for the foundation. I saw myself joining the vulnerable people we swore to bring succour and hope to. The director wasn’t going to let Covid-19 deter him from a cause he has dedicated his life to. He gathered funds here and there and even went as far as borrowing, to purchase food materials for the vulnerable people, whose conditions have been made worse by the infectious and deadly disease.
We arrived at one of the shanties at the Agbado Ijaiye area of Lagos State to share relief materials. We had arranged portions of rice, beans, noodles, vegetable oil and others in sizeable quantities for a targeted section of the population living there. They were happy to see us. Most of them lamented the failure of the government to share its highly publicized Covid-19 palliatives amongst them. They argued that they need them the most in Nigeria. We pacified them with soothing words and in no time, the smiles on their faces almost overpowered the rays of the sun. It was a beautiful sight.
Our relief materials were not enough as news spread around town that we were around and the number of people on the ground kept doubling. We soon took our leave and promised to return at a future date. We felt fulfilled to a large extent as we journeyed back to our various homes. Then the rain began to fall; as Africans, we regarded this as showers of blessings. We assumed that Providence was happy with our efforts and was trying to part us on the backs. The business of the day seemed done and dusted but that wasn’t all, something that would mark the beginning of another landmark story was developing.
As we negotiated excruciatingly with the potholes around the Agbado-Ijaiye axis, we spotted a middle-aged man who was physically-challenged. He was only moving around with a makeshift wooden wheeler. It was quite small and low. It is commonly used by crippled beggars. He sat on it and used a pair of bathroom slippers worn on his hands to move it around. Everywhere was flooded. The vehicle we came in was already crying for help as the bad roads had the best of it. This man was navigating around the potholes by the roadside energetically. Some of the potholes at times looked as if they were going to take his life.
The director was moved as he stared at him from the car. He ordered that the car should be parked and he approached the man. For once, I felt he had wanted to heal him like Jesus Christ as he alighted from the vehicle and gazed at him. When he got close, he bent and said ‘Please gentleman, what is your name?’
He struggled to respond as he could barely speak the English language. From his intonation, it was clear that he was Hausa. One of the workers who understood the language perfectly interjected and communicated with him. It was then that he gave his name as Ayuba. The middle-aged man whose looks tell the gory stories and wicked challenges of life revealed he begs for a living. The boss ransacked the vehicle for some palliatives. Luckily, we found some. He also handed some cash gifts to him. He explained he is a married father of 4. His wife is crippled too. We all abandoned our trip temporarily and followed Ayuba to his home. Ayuba’s life was a true image of poverty. His first child was about 10 years old. All of them have never seen the four walls of a school. They were not only malnourished with their bodies covered by tattered clothes, they also had no future to bank on. Tears flowed down on the cheeks of everybody as Ayuba narrated what it takes to put the cheapest meal on the family table every day. If the tears weren’t controlled, the imminent flood around his house could have been fastened by the collection of tears from our eyes. One could only peep through Ayuba’s house with fear. It was dark and looked like a dungeon from which the next pandemic could emerge. The door was so low and small that a fat animal might be discouraged from entering.
“I want my children to go to school. I want a better future for them. I don’t want them to end up like me. Life is hard, life is just too hard” he said with the tears been seamlessly unleashed.
“I can’t afford a wheelchair. It is so difficult for my wife and i to move around during the rainy season. I can’t count the number of times I have fallen into deep gutters. Going out is a risk. I feel I could die anytime but the well-being of my family means a lot to me. I just have to go out and make something no matter how little” he added.
The boss looked up and signalled to everybody that it was time to leave. Ayuba looked at the relief materials again and thanked us. He wished we could stay longer and eat with his family but we respectfully declined.
For the first time in a very long time, the boss was quiet all through the trip home. We all knew he was touched by the story of Ayuba. We were all moved too. When I got to the junction of my street, the car parked and I came down with my bag containing my personal effects. The boss looked at me and said, Ayuba is our new project now. He is part of our family. His children are our responsibility and we have to make the sun shine on that home. I nodded my head in acceptance. Waved him goodbye and left for my home. I was troubled all night and restless due to the day’s experience.
HOL Foundation has struggled to solve the structural challenges of Ayuba but we are very hopeful and will never forget him. The boss ordered the logistics team to dispatch some relief materials to his home recently. Life seems the same for Ayuba but we are very sure things will soon take a U-turn in his life as we continue to gather the needed resources to make the promised change.
George Osayimwen is the Director of Communications at HOL Foundation; he can be reached on [email protected]