Giving back

Every Saturday my dad goes to one of the local schools and teaches Chemistry to whichever kids want to learn. Sometimes I go with him to watch.  The classroom is always packed solid. Boys crane their necks from the doorway, trying to see my dad and the blackboard. The ones who have gotten their early enough to get a desk have Chemistry textbooks in front of them that they've memorized cover to cover. Ask them for a fact and they'll give you the answer word for word. So my dad goes farther. These concepts they've memorized, how do you apply them.

He comes alive when he teaches. He's energized, standing in a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals in front of fifty enthusiastic pre-teens. "Mr. Sundar, Mr. Sunday, me!" they cry as their raise their hands high in the air. At AIS, we complain about our biology class: "Ugh, why are we dissecting a cow eye, that's so gross." We're annoying teenagers who will never be happy with anything. These kids are different. It would be a tired cliche: poor black kids eager for knowledge while their wealthy foreign peers moan about their privilege. Except in this case it's true, and the man standing in front of them was once a poor brown kid from a city like theirs. 

My dad is a dynamic teacher. He doesn't just want them to know how, he wants them to know why. He would have been great in a classroom if he hadn't run into visa issues applying for college teaching positions. But academia has its own problems, and the corporate life has given him the freedom to be here in this classroom on Victoria Island, with students who soak up every word. 

None of the other expats do the kind of volunteer work that he does. Especially with the compound as isolated as it is. Maybe in the city it would have been different. But out on the peninsula, removed from the rest of Lagos, expats turn to other things to keep them busy. Occasionally the company organizes a day to go out and see what's been donated to the community. but those are more photos ops than anything else. This is the real thing. Breaking kids out of the colonial British system of rote memorization and giving them tools that will help them ten or twenty years down the road.

I am fourteen years old. I am in a tiny classroom in Lagos watching my dad teach kids my age and younger. Watching him explain concepts that he will coach me through when I eventually take Chemistry.  And for the first time it really hits me just how good I have it. 

Asha SundararamanComment