Twenty-seven-year-old Emmanuel Lazarus, a visually-impaired, speaks to OLIVIA DOMINIC about his love for education and financial challenges.
Tell me about yourself.
I am Emmanuel Lazarus. I am from Imo State but grew up in Edo State. I am 27 years old. I live in Magboro, Ogun State. I recently gained admission into the University of Ilorin, Kwara State and I am waiting for resumption.
When did you lose your sight?
I lost my sight when I was four years old. I didn’t really fall sick. It wasn’t really clear what happened to me.
What kind of help or solution did your parents seek when you lost your sight?
I was taken to so many hospitals and they all said the same thing that the sight had been damaged. After that, my parents gave up on my case after the doctor said he didn’t know what the problem was. It was when I was about entering Pacelli School for the Blind and Partially-Sighted Children in Lagos that I was told that I had to run a test to determine my health status. It was then I was told that I had glaucoma.
At the time you were diagnosed with glaucoma, did the doctor say there was no solution?
Yes, they said the damage could not be reversed. In fact, they sent me to UBTH, that is University of Benin Teaching Hospital, but the doctors there also told me that my eyes were permanently damaged.
Can you take us through your academic journey till now?
With the help of a Reverend Sister, Sister Blessing Okpara, I was able to attend primary school in Lagos. I started primary school at the age of 18. I recently finished from King’s College. I was a day student.
In primary school I didn’t pay fees but at King’s College, I had to pay school fees and I had to raise the money myself and provide myself with other things that I needed, as my parents refused to support me. As I speak, they no longer pay attention to me.
Why did your parents refuse to support your education?
They actually wanted me to remain at home rather than go to school and get an education. Because I am blind they felt education is of no use to me and they decided they wouldn’t send me to school. They sent my siblings to school. But they simply stopped paying attention to me. I’m just grateful to Reverend Sister Blessing Okpara, who did a fantastic job in my life. I had to move on without my parents’ help because I couldn’t keep deceiving myself that they didn’t have money to send me to school. After all, they sponsored my siblings’ education.
When I took UTME (Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination) last year and called my father on phone to inform him, the question my father asked me was: ‘Who asked you take UTME? Of what use will it be?’ But I am determined to go to school. I had to prove my parents wrong and prove myself right. While I was in King’s College, I paid my fees from JSS1 till I left.
How exactly did you raise the money? Were you working?
I didn’t really stay in school because a lot of times I was moving from one church to another, seeking financial help to be able to pay my school fees and take care of my other needs. I became used to that way of life because the reality was that I must work if I must pay my school fees – working in the sense that I must walk around churches in order to get money to pay my fees. As a result of that I was always missing classes but I was still able to cope.
Were your teachers aware that you were going to churches to seek financial help?
I actually did not make it known to teachers. I tried to live like every other student. I didn’t let them know.
Why did you do that?
The school was actually aware that I was finding it difficult to pay my fees. I didn’t really tell them what I was going through. I decided to keep it private.
How did you create time to study for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination and make your papers, despite going around churches to seek financial help?
I’m a kind of person who actually likes rejection and loves pushing. I took WASSCE in SS2 because of my age. I didn’t wait to take the final exams at King’s College. I took WASSCE and NECO as an external student in another school. The name of the school is Jufradol College; it’s also on Lagos Island. I was able to enroll there as an external student with the help of a medical doctor who gave me some money. I passed WASSCE, NECO, and UTME. I scored 237 in UTME. I studied during the week. I have most of the textbooks in PDF on my phone.
But I won’t say my education did not suffer at all because when my classmates were in school I would be on the streets going to different churches trying to seek help. But I have stopped doing that since I got admission.
Where are your parents now?
My parents stay in Benin, Edo State. We are from Imo State but I don’t know where exactly in Imo State we are from because my dad hasn’t gone to his town since I was born.
What are your parents’ occupations?
They are farmers. They are not rich but they are comfortable. I believe that if they believe in me they could have managed to sponsor my education like they did for my siblings.
How many siblings do you have?
We are eight children in number – three boys, including me – and five other girls. I have an elder brother, who is not on the side of my parents but he is a graduate with no job; so I can’t depend on him for help. I have a sister in Delta State and another who is in 300 Level at UNIBEN. The remaining ones are in Edo State. I am the second to the last born of the family.
Can you speak more about the kind of childhood you had?
I was born on August 16, 1994. I didn’t know I had lost my sight then, I thought I was like everyone else, until I was nine years old. I noticed that everywhere around me was dark and if I was sent on an errand I wouldn’t be able to see where I was going to.
I left the village in 2012 when Reverend Sister Blessing Okpara came to my village then and saw me in my condition. She decided to take me to the Pacelli School for the Blind and Partially-Sighted Children in Lagos. And that was the first school I ever attended. It was free then even till now. I was 18 years old when I finished from the school.
Do you have any unforgettable experiences from your time at King’s College?
Yes, a lot. There were many times I had exams in school and the invigilators would say they couldn’t wait for me and then they would collect my papers. I would keep thinking about my life and I would start having regrets. There was actually a day I was coming into the school and I didn’t know that there was a gutter on my path; no one told me either, so I fell into the gutter. I had many unforgettable experiences not only in school.
You said you recently gained admission; what school, course and when are you going to resume?
I am supposed to be excited about getting an admission but I am really sad and worried that I may not be able to raise the money to pay the fees. I got admission into UNILORIN to study Education. I sat UTME last year and I scored 237. I didn’t even know I would get admission but now that I have it already I don’t know what to do. I am having sleepless nights over this. I don’t know anywhere in Ilorin, I don’t know how I am going to cope over there. I really need help in order not to lose the admission and be able to achieve my desire of having a university education.
When are you supposed to resume?
Because of the ongoing strike by ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities), which we don’t really know when it would be called off, resumption date is not certain yet. But I believe that immediately the strike is called off everyone would be asked to pay their fees. And that is why I am anxious because as we speak I don’t even know what I am going to do; I can’t even say that this is the particular person I have in mind that will pay my fees.
This is my major challenge right now. Secondary school was a bit easier because I could move around Lagos being a place I am familiar with, having been around for some time. But Ilorin is going to be a new environment for me. The fact that I don’t have anyone there that will assist me makes it more challenging. I am faced with the challenge of raising my school fees and then taking care of myself. So, what I really need now is financial assistance. Why I really want to do this is simply because I want to serve humanity. There are people who are in this same condition, probably they are locked up in the house, maybe their parents actually feel that they cannot go to school just as my parents thought about me and they gave up on me. So, I want to be a voice for all those in this same condition.
Are you still in touch with Reverend Sister Blessing Okpara who took you from Edo to Lagos State?
I know she is currently in a school in Ibadan. I don’t know the name of the school. She is aware that I just got my admission but she is not able to sponsor my education. Remember I told you I didn’t pay a dime for my primary school. She is also worried that she cannot help. I am very grateful to her for taking me out of misery.
At what point did she stop supporting you?
She stopped supporting me immediately after my primary school. She used to send like N5,000 or N10,000. Things became difficult for her. I have been calling her; she is pained and worried she is not able to do anything at the moment.
Who do you currently live with at Magboro?
The person I currently stay with is a parent that I met in King’s College. I helped her son to call her when her son was stranded and because of that, the mom started calling her son through my phone and we became really close and she decided to accommodate me in Magboro. At the moment, I am not doing anything. I am just hoping something good comes out so I would be able to go back to school.
Many physically-challenged people usually complain of discrimination. What has been your experience in this regard?
Yes, I faced that also, not once or twice. There are many times I went to church and they chased me out, saying that I always beg, that I should get out, that they didn’t have money, that I should leave. And I wouldn’t have a choice but to leave but that didn’t stop me or discourage me from going to another church and anytime I wanted to board a bus they would always push me aside. Well, churches are the only place I could go to seek financial help. But I couldn’t get all this money in one church, so, I had to move around but entering the university is another thing entirely.
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