I was in Primary 1, in a school downtown Port Harcourt, Nigeria, when I had this classmate named Chukwuebuka, which we preferred to call Ebuka. He was skinny, lethargic and certainly due to his condition lagged behind academically. Ebuka had a mother who always brought him to and picked him up from school. She appeared to be in her early twenties and the only family the poor boy had. The young woman, though naturally pretty, did not look too good, as she often had her hair unmade; with a bare face, and mostly in worn-out clothes. There was no doubt that she was a struggling mother. Like his mum, Ebuka too appeared very untidy, often in rough uniform and dirty footwares.
It was our normal routine to sing “Some have food but cannot eat, some can eat but have no food…” at break time- you too may have sang it in your childhood days. But this song’s conclusion rarely depicted Ebuka’s situation. From a row behind and one column to the left, I always sat and watched Ebuka in pity. It was saddening to see other children open their well stocked lunch box but not see anything on Ebuka’s desk. While I ate my food, often with leftovers, Ebuka would stare at others in hunger! Some days when he came with just one piece of doughnut, he would eat it with so much happiness. Our class teacher soon learnt to supplement his lunch with 2 packets of cabin biscuits and a cup of water. She must have been doing so out of sympathy. I too felt so much pity on him. Chukwuebuka!
But why wasn’t he well taken care of? Didn’t he have a father? I honestly did not know- I was too young to have known. All I knew was that our class teacher usually quarreled with his mum at the school balcony of our classroom whenever she came to pick him up. Of course, she had many things to say: his poor dieting, untidiness, undone home works, school fees indebtedness and I suspect- ill health. The Ebuka I knew had a medical condition which I couldn’t place. Sometimes, our teacher would let him rest his head on the table while other pupils continued learning. He was not just well!
And then… For 4 days, Ebuka was absent from school. We knew something was wrong, because his mother never failed to bring him to school. It was probably the place to keep him so she could have time for her business or means of survival. So why was he absent from school for this long? When some classmates asked our class teacher, she told us he was fine. Then on the fifth day, Ebuka’s mum and a man who had his semblance, having come out of the Headmistress Office, walked into our classroom. While greeting them, we noticed that his mother had been shedding tears. They both spoke with our teacher, and she too soon busted into tears. “So Ebuka is dead? Ah! Ah! Ah!” she cried aloud. I couldn’t help but sob; the other children did so too. As little children, we simply understood death as “not seeing somebody again in this world forever and ever!” And that was the end of our Ebuka!
Reminds me of my first ever best friend-IB- who died after a car ran into her on returning home from school one fateful day. By then, we were in Primary 3. It was one shock that I didn’t get over in years. We used to attend the same church, but her parents soon left. Whenever the mum saw me again, she would shed tears, she would blame herself for making Ibinabo return on her own. I stumbled into the same woman two years ago and she said, “Oh! You have so grown!” but she shortly broke into tears for yet another time.
I write this story because today, there are many children who in under-developed and developing countries who are untaken care of; many children left unsecure. There are many children who did not beg to come into this world, yet suffer for being alive. While some of them are orphans, many others live with their own parents. The question I am asking is this: why do people bring children into this world and not take care of or protect them? As small as Ebuka was, he died of ulcer; ulcer resulting from malnutrition. Did his parents have to bring him into this world, only to let him die at five? What kind of a father had he? Why was IB left to ply busy roads at seven? Why didn’t their parents take care to sustain their lives? Didn’t they lose those kids out of sheer carelessness? Should people consider it hard work to preserve their own offspring: the treasures that they brought into this world?
I have also observed another appalling trend- the gross reality that it is the poorest people who have many children. So many times, these children are deprived education and comfortable environment. They grow into vagabonds or paupers, repeating the same cycle of their parents. These people live in the villages and slums in towns. Should this be the case? Over population is not an asset! Lack of family planning poses stress on parents and especially children. Therefore parents should only procreate the number of children they can take care of or ensure that they are financially stable to bring children into this world, so that they give them the best of life.
How many more children suffer from malnutrition? How many more children are left to walk on busy streets unguided? How many more children struggle to survive, living their everyday life of ‘survival of the fittest’ and playing in unhygienic slums? How many more children are made to live like they begged to come into this world? May God protect and keep them until they are old!