What would you give up in your quest for a better life? What perils, what travails would you suffer to attain your dreams?
Every time we come across someone who has achieved something against all odds, we feel inspired.
We wish sometimes that we could have the same inner strength that would see us through any adversity. It could be the frail but winning smile that came from terminally ill Nkosi Johnson in South Africa.
Or, it might be from the millions of anonymous citizens of this country who have heroically rebuilt their lives over the last fifteen years.
Some years ago, CNN journalist Jonathan Mann produced a series showing the hazards that prospective immigrants to Europe have to go through, in their bid to achieve a better life.
The series followed a group of four Nigerians who were intent on getting into Europe. For this particular group, the series followed them from their village in Nigeria.
The next stop was to go through the Sahara and the Sahel, a trip that would take them through Burkina Faso and Mali. After a trip across the deserts of about 3,000 kilometres they ended up in Tangier, Morocco.
On the northernmost tip of Africa, separated from Europe by only 30 kilometres, they planned and executed a daring entry into Spain.
It was daring because every day, bodies of Africans wash up on Spanish shores. Bodies that speak silently but solemnly of those who never made it. It is a story that is repeated every day, be it in Tangier, Morocco, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico or Beitsbridge, South Africa.
Immigration is a hot potato the world over. It is even too hot to handle in this article, so I will not discuss it. I bring it up because for all the perils that stand in the way of would be immigrants, for all the hazards that they confront, there is one thing that stands about them – their determination to live a better life, their quest for something better than what they have previously known.
All of these fetes, large and small would not have been possible without the requisite determination to overcome. It is that iron will determination that counts in life, and there is no better place to learn it in this day and age than in school.
Students often complain that they cannot see the practical value of everything that they learn in school. It is a charge that many teachers are often hard put to explain away.
But does the fact that you cannot see where you will apply integral calculus after school, mean that you should not bother with it? Most of us will never go to the moon, so why learn about Kepler’s Laws of interplanetary motion?
Through the eyes of a student, it can all look like a lot of striving after wind. The purpose of a good education is not to fill the mind with an impressive array of facts and figures. They would be pretty much useless if you don’t do anything with them.
The purpose of learning is to develop vital skills that you would need in life. In addition to language skills, it is also important to have numeric skills, knowledge of history and other subjects.
But the overriding skill that a good student should develop is the ability to know how to look for knowledge, how to find answers to whatever subject matter is at hand. These skills take time to develop.
They require patience and determination. Very often such skills are especially honed when studying harder concepts. School also teaches us self-discipline. Many of us do not remember the-waking-up-at-five routine with fond memories.
Many times, we wished that it was different. But then we also remember those who quit, those who gave up, and we thank that strict parent or that stern schoolmaster who egged us on.
But more often than not we fail to recognize the determination that we summoned to see us through to graduation. For the same determination is what has helped you achieve all other goals in your life.
It reminds me of an illustration that was given to us by a deputy principal once. He gave us the example of a warthog. Now, everything has been said about a warthog’s aesthetic appeal.
But here is an amusing anecdote about this creature. Many times it shares water holes with lions, crocodiles and other predators. Its life is constantly in danger. So what is a warthog to do?
It usually does a quick about-face and gets into the water from the rear, the doing of which enables it to drink and face any predator with its deadly tusks! With those twin objectives accomplished it can then trot into its foxhole.
So like those who brave the Sahara in their quest for a better life, or like the lowly warthog, as a student you should be determined to succeed at whatever you undertake.
By doing that you will learn how to set goals and achieve them, a quality that separates the winners from the losers in life.