Men don’t cry? Wait until you read the eMail a 19 year-old sent me! Hope he allows me share. I NEED A (JAVA) PROGRAMMER TO CO-MENTOR HIM!!!
— ‘Gbenga Sesan (@gbengasesan) March 7, 2012
Few days after posting Equip Them! Don’t Kill Their Dreams! on this blog, Favour (not his real name) sent me the eMail below. I think it’s a moving story that speaks to why today’s young Africans must learn to reach out for help. Facebook and twitter have opened up huge opportunities to connect with potential mentors, or folks who can help connect you with opportunities. As for tech skills, so others: make a move towards your dream and ask for help, don’t sit on your dream hoping to see it become reality someday. Don’t just use social networking for gist, checking out new pictures/videos, confirming/debunking rumours, etc, use the platforms you’re on to connect your dream with enablers. Let me get out of your way so you can enjoy Favour’s story, which he’s asked me to share with the hope that it can inspire others.
Good morning. My name is Favour [edited, not his real name]. I’m 19 years old, see my story below. Please don’t mind the errors or the long story, it’s just that I felt you were sitting in front of me and I was talking to you. I pray you have time to read it all.
The story so far…
I still remember like yesterday that faithful hot Saturday afternoon. My brother’s friend asked me to accompany him to the cybercafé. I was just an 11 yr old whose previous knowledge of the computer was queuing with my classmates to type 2×2 on our school’s computer system. If I was told that the event of that day will change my life and shape my dream I will call you names cos like other kids, I had made up my mind to be either a lawyer or a doctor so I can have enough money to take care of my parents.
I followed him just so he doesn’t get angry cos my elder brother who was supposed to go with him went to the market with my mum. Fate? On our way he was so excited, telling me all the cool things a computer can do; like playing games, chatting, drawing, etc. I did not believe him cos the computers I’d seen before in school were only used for calculating. He said that he spent the last 6 months in a computer training school that he even paid hefty sums for it. I still did not believe him.
Finally we reached the cafe and I just shouted Jesus and surprised cos I saw a man talking with somebody abroad and they could see each other through what I later learnt was called a webcam. Still surprised, I asked if it was done with magic or what. Everybody there laughed at me. My brother’s friend was so embarrassed that he threatened to take me home if I disturbed him again. He sent me to buy time and asked me to type it in the log-in page. My mind was beating; I was so nervous that I made a mistake typing it. He logged in to what he told me was yahoo mail which took 10 mins to load a page. We checked live scores of the matches been played and I was astonished.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. I kept visualising the events of that afternoon, what made the computer work? If somebody was controlling it and so many other questions inundated my thoughts from that day; a dream was born – to know more about computers, how and why it does the things it does.
From the next Monday, I started saving my lunch money at school so I can have money to go to the cybercafe alone and explore it. I remember the 1st time I went alone, I forgot where and how to type the log-in PIN I bought. People laughed at me but that did not stop me from learning what I wanted. I learnt how to log in, open a website, etc, all alone with no help. I started frequenting the cafe cos the more I know the more I want to learn more. At 12 I was already good that I took my classmates there to show off and teach them. The next time I went to the cafe with my brother’s friend he was the one that needed help getting around.
The next year phones with browsers became popular. I learnt how to configure phones at 13; I was the youngest and the best when configuring phones for free browsing was concerned. I was seen as the last resort for phones that are hard to configure, even Chinese phones. I was so popular that people visited our house as early as 6 in the morning, all older than me, and the funny thing is that I never owned a phone till I was 17. To cut a long story short, I grew from phones to PCs but I had a problem. My father insisted I must be an art student in my senior secondary so I can study Law.
I wrote my WAEC as an art student in 2010 but I had a D in Maths so I couldn’t gain admission into any university. I saw that as a blessing cos I never wanted to study Law, I wanted to study computer science and be a web developer or programmer. I re-wrote WAEC as a science student though I was not good in Maths or the other science subjects, but I believed I will learn it cos computer science is the only thing in my mind. Not just that but to be a web developer and programmer. To His glory I passed the required subjects.
Still on the dream, my passion for programming grew day by day. It is that or nothing. I started downloading different books on Java which I chose to learn first cos of its universality. I have never been to a computer training school, all the things I know I learnt it myself. Nobody taught me. I started reading and trying out the codes but the more I learnt, the more confused I got cos there is no one to direct me or tell me why I get errors.
Sometimes I feel like giving up, its so bad that I have not opened the book or my netbeans in the past 3 weeks. To make matters worse, my dad had an accident and is no more working so things are hard. So I had to come to Lagos to stay with a cousin, working in a company to see if I can get admission and pay my way through school. I promised myself that I will be good in web designing and Java before I enter school but now I have learnt none and I was on the verge of giving up till I read your blogpost, “Equip them! Don’t kill their dreams!”
Well written, it inspired me to know I can still make it. I seriously want to learn this and I believe you will help me achieve this. How you will do it, I don’t know, but I know you are God sent and you will help me achieve this dream of mine.
After posting a tweet asking for help with his specific Java quest, four amazing techies have accepted to help out one way or another. When (not if) Favour becomes a pride to Nigeria and Africa, as a code-spinner with influence, we can look back to say, “Thankfully, we joined hands to connect him with his dreams.” Favour’s story should inspire other young Africans to get to work and ask for specific help. Favour will be writing university entrance examinations later this month, and I wish him the best as he hopes to study Computer Science at the University of Lagos (“so that I can work and pay my way through school”, he said) or Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (his 2nd choice).
Maybe all the young people who’re still wasting time on cybercriminal activities can learn from Favour. Pick up a programming language, then call out for help. Don’t blame the system for so long, others are helping themselves with alternative skills. Young (wo)men who search for credit card details to scam others can do research if exposed to alternatives; those who clone websites to defraud can obviously design websites; and those who have hacked government websites (National Assembly, NDDC, EFCC and the First Website, Nigeria.gov.ng, have been victims) can help protect our critical infrastructure. Looking back at the last few years of work with young people through Paradigm Initiative Nigeria‘s projects, it’s obvious that amazing stories can follow those who move, ask for help and don’t sit on their dreams. Move! Ask! Don’t Sit On The Dream!