Written by Modou Ceesay
Little Fatumata lives in the hamlet of Tabanaani, an isolated settlement of four kilometers from a public school. Despite the long-distance, she managed to convince her parents to enlist her in school. She would wake up very early in the morning every school day to prepare and go to school on foot. Fatumata has always wished to wear a uniform and shoes as fancy as the ones her classmates bring to school but unfortunately, her parents weren’t financially strong enough to even provide the most basic of needs such as food and ordinary clothing. Sometimes, she would even go to school with a hungry stomach and never even think about getting “lunch” to take to school.
Despite all these problems, Fatumata remained steadfast and devoted all her time to working hard at school just to make sure that she makes her parents proud. She’d been countlessly bullied at school by other kids who mocked her tired uniform and torn bag. As she was fortunately taught by her loving parents to never lose focus on her goals as a student, she would always try to turn the frustrations she encountered daily into a force of motivation. She would ignore the negativity and never lose concentration.
The only rare moments when you would see the enthusiasm in her is during classroom lessons. She would always stand out as one of the brightest and most brilliant in class and that earned her admiration from all the teachers in school.
As Fatumata approached the end of her primary school years, she had already grown into a beautiful and bright young girl who’s even more hungry for academic success, but one major problem threatened to stall her progress to Junior school…..
The summer before Fatumata was supposed to move to junior school saw her face the biggest challenge to her academic progress.
A wealthy “semester”, Faburama Ceesay, who had just recently came from Italy approached Fatumata’s parents to seek her hand in marriage. In Tabanaani, getting married to a “semester” is considered as one of the greatest blessings that can come the way of girls and their parents. Every parent’s wish for their girl children is to marry them off to wealthy men.
The financial struggles and hardship Fatumata’s parents encountered daily had gotten over them and they were now tempted by the fresh euros offered by the village semester. After sacrificing so much to make sure that their daughter acquire a good education, they were now on the brink. They just couldn’t bear it anymore and we’re not willing to let this huge opportunity slide by.
Fatumata was totally devastated by the tight situation she had found herself in. The only shoulders she had been able to lean on for her whole life were now threatening to give her education up because of unbearable poverty. She had always seen herself as a determined girl who would one day eliminate her parents’ suffering. But unfortunately, that future was looking very bleak. She felt as if the whole world came down crashing on her.
She had always thought that her plight would be different from the many other girls in her village who had been prematurely sent off to marriage at the expense of their school careers. She never imagined for once that she would equally face the same experience.
Meanwhile, Fatumata’s parents were now tempted so much by Semester Faburama’s money that they had zero intentions of turning back on their decision to send their girl off to marriage. By giving Fatumata up for marriage, they believed their seemingly unending poverty and suffering will become history.
The parents had already set up a date to tie the knot and send her off to marriage when her former Grade 5 teacher, Mr Jobarteh, who had always admired little Fatumata and now transferred to a nearby school, decided to step In to try and save the poor girl’s education.
THE POWER OF PURPOSE
Mr Jobarteh felt really disappointed upon hearing Fatumata’s conditions. He had always admired her and in fact, was among the first teachers at school to recognize the infinite potentials in little Fatumata and had since then vowed to do everything possible to help her.
Long distance had really minimized his interactions with Fatumata. He was now teaching at a different school albeit in the same cluster. Mr Jobarteh felt a surge of responsibility to intervene and help save this young girl’s future.
He rode his motorcycle to Tabanaani to see Fatumata’s parents. He met them already discussing a wedding date while Fatumata was sitting dejected and isolated from the group of relatives and neighbors excitedly discussing how memorable the eagerly anticipated wedding program was going to be. Semester weddings are never a dull moment in Tabanaani village.
As the calm and composed man he is, Mr Jobarteh patiently waited for the crowd to disperse before calling the parents at a quiet corner. Revered by many for his charisma and eloquence, he offered the following speech to Fatumata’s parents while they keenly listened to him:
"I have always respected you two as parents ever since I realized the enormous sacrifices you are making for the sake of your daughter's education. It is not common in this community to see parents dedicate as much support to their children as you give to your daughter, and thankfully, little Fatumata has also recognized your efforts and thus is doing absolutely everything possible not to let you down. She has faced countless problems along the way but that still didn’t make her give up on her dreams of putting an end to your suffering. I’m definitely not in the position to tell you what to do with your daughter, but I can stand here and put it to you with absolute certainty that you’ll be selling both yours and you daughters future if you send her to marriage just because of few euros that won’t put a lasting solution to your problems.
I therefore advise that you please reconsider your decision and allow your beautiful daughter to continue her education. If you would allow me, I can take up the responsibility of accommodating her and paying for her school fees during the course of her remaining school years. I’ll leave you people for now to reflect on my proposal.”
Mr Jobarteh met Fatumata for a brief moment before heading back home.
Fatumata’s parents were really touched by Mr Jobarteh’s remarks and were now pondering very seriously about the decision they were minutes ago very certain about.
Studying her parents’ mood change, Fatumata gave a secret smile and entered her mother’s hut. To her, normalcy was about to be restored finally.
Fatumata was sitting under the big Mango tree in their compound solving some math problems in her book. She had always loved doing maths . Before she could finish the first question she was attempting, her father requested for her presence in his room. She entered her father’s room and found her mom already seated. She could notice from the serious looks in her parents’ faces that they were just from discussing a serious matter. She politely greeted them and sat on her father’s old mat rolled on the floor.
“We have called you here to talk to you after your mother and I have been thoroughly thinking about you situation since your former school teacher came here two days ago,“ her father started. “We know you’ve been a very good daughter to us and that you’ll do everything humanly possible to help uplift our living standards,” he continued. “As a result, we have decided to finally allow you to continue your school education,” he further announced to Little Fatumata who could not believe her ears. “Earlier today, I went to your fiance, Faburama, to make my decision of canceling the marriage known to him.” her father concluded.
Fatumata couldn’t believe her ears. To say she was absolutely elated was an understatement. Her mother who was all the while sitting and nodding to the words her Father were saying chipped in too. “Mr Jobarteh have already offered to take you with him to Brikama,” she told Fatumata. “Since schools are going to open in a week’s time, I suggest you start packing.” Fatumata’s mother has always loved and cared for her daughter dearly. She was so emotional seeing her only child move to a completely new and different environment for the first time, so she advised her daughter to never lose sight of the reason she was moving to Brikama, that she should always focus on her education and endure with great patience the inevitable challenges that she’ll face in her new settlement. “I have huge confidence in you, so go there and make us happy and proud,” she concluded amidst teary eyes.
Two days after Fatumata’s meeting with her parents, Mr Jobarteh came and took her with him to his home town of Brikama.
In Brikama, Fatumata got the chance to attend a very good school and was able to successfully complete her schooling with very good results.
All the while she was staying with Mr Jobarteh’s loving family in Brikama, her parents in the village were thankfully doing just fine. A horticultural garden installed in their village had ensured that they had enough food for survival, and some little money to at least fend for themselves. Fatumata though never passed an opportunity to visit them during the holidays.
Through Mr Jobarteh’s relentless guidance and support, Fatumata got a scholarship in Malaysia to study Accountancy, a dream come true for her. She departed to Kuala Lumpur and spent three years of rigorous learning and as usual, performed extremely well and bagged her degree.
The day not-so-little-anymore Fatumata was supposed to come back home, both her parents and Mr. Jobarteh’s family where at the Airport waiting for her. She was rapturously welcomed by her two families. The joy in her parents’ faces was immeasurable. They thanked the almighty for blessing them with a daughter like her.
Life for so long had seemed like a hovering cloud of despair, destitution and eternal darkness for Fatumata and her parents, but there was a bright and beaming light at the end of the tunnel for them after all.