Education Is An Equalizer - 08-06-2012, 10:02 PM
A few years ago my life changed even before I had had the chance to live. I was born prematurely into a country already on the verge of descending into the abyss of poverty and civil insurgence. I survived imminent death due to the herbal medicinal skills of my beloved grandmother, who swore to do everything possible to save the life of her only male grandchild at the time.
Many would later admire my grandmother’s devotion to the little sleeping zygote who was not transformed into an infant until three months later. I later had a few more years to barely crawl out of my infant bed before my father would take me with him from Sierra Leone to Voinjama, Liberia.
I was again blessed with another couple of years to live as a normal child in Liberia before the NPFL invasion in 1989. My innocent mind knew nothing about war or death apart from the commentaries on the massacre in Monrovia that I had heard repeatedly on Network Africa due to my father’s addiction to the BBC World Service. Every morning from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. GMT, he would tune in to Network Africa while I slept beside him.
I would have never known anything about what was going on in Liberia if it weren’t for the fact that there was always a report on the civil war that was going on in the country. All I cared about in my drowsiness was the funny African jingles before the news. But as the African writer Ola Rotimi once put it, the struggles of man begin at birth, but to lie down resigned to it is to be crippled fast.
In 1990 the NPFL rebellion reached voinjama where I was residing with my father, a lecturer at the local Catholic school. He had evaded local politics in Sierra Leone in order to lead a quiet life as a teacher in Liberia. But one cannot escape the awesome will of fate. A few weeks after the invasion and the bloody massacre of hundreds of innocent civilians, Charles Taylor issued a command to arrest and detain all citizens of ECOWAS member states living in Liberia. About 380 men and women were forcefully taken out of their homes. I was about six years old at the time.
It was in prison that I first came vis–vis man’s brutality to man. Killing, rape and torture were the orders of the day. The prison was often littered with human corpses and the walls were painted with blood from the torture of innocent people. At night I was kept awake by the wailing of sick and starving people who were counting the last seconds of struggle before their death. My father tried very hard to conceal the reality of these heinous crimes from my infant eyes, but I was already a man.
After so many people had been killed and my father realized that freedom may never come, he taught me a lesson that drives me in life. “Son,” he said to me, “wherever you find peace educate yourself, because education is the only legacy that cannot be taken from you.” I took these words to heart. When rockets were flying and I was starving during the war, I still kept my eyes on whatever material I could find.
By God’s grace we were freed in 1991 and I returned to Sierra Leone with my father where we had already been buried in the minds of our relatives and our funeral rites done. I remember people in Pendembu (my hometown) touching me to make sure that I was not a ghost. A couple of weeks later the RUF invaded Sierra Leone, and my father did not live to see the end of that calamity. However, his belief in education has brought me thus far.
Immediately after the war in 2002, I was offered a scholarship to study at the United World College in Norway. I went to Norway at a time when the United Nations Development Index determined Norway as the best country to live in and Sierra Leone as the worst. I normally summarize that experience as rising from hell to heaven without going through purgatory. My experience at the United World College in Norway made me most of what I am today — a votary of ahimsa and a firm believer in democracy and peace.
A couple of years later, I obtained another scholarship to study at Skidmore College where I am currently a rising senior. I am what I am today not because of magic or the wealth of my parents, but by education and the discipline imbued in me by parents.
I believe like Madiba Mandela that “education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor; that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine; that the child of farm workers can become the President of a great nation.”
I have traveled all over the world and met with leaders such as Lech Walesa and Madeline Albright carrying nothing but my education. I believe that education is an equalizer that can transcend all boundaries of race, ethnicity, color and creed.
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08-06-2012, 10:08 PM
Education and Human Development