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Boy, 3, whose eyes were violently removed sees hope again

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Courtesy leading telecoms company, Airtel, Little Sadiq Usman, whose eyes were forcefully gorged out by suspected organ harvesters four years ago, now enjoys a new lease of life, giving expression to his inner brilliance and trusting again in human relation. AFOLABI IDOWU reports.

What sort of person grabs a three-year-old boy, plucks out his eyes, and tosses his body in the bushes? This was the dreadful puzzle that bothered the residents of Joshi, a small village in Kaduna State back in 2016.

The horrific attack made national headlines and brought the worst kind of attention on the community. But beyond their shock, the townspeople must confront a more critical problem – how to save the life of little Sadiq Usman, the innocent victim.

When passers-by discovered the distressed boy in the outskirts of town, they had rushed him to St. Luke’s Anglican Hospital in nearby Wasasu. But as it turned out, he would need better healthcare. They therefore moved him to the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital. There, doctors and nurses scurried to bring him back to health and eventually, Sadiq made full recovery.

Sadly, though, that was only the beginning of his problems.

Next, the boy’s folks, an indigent family of eight, must devise a way to reintegrate him into society. But as money was a great inhibitor, they must depend on the goodwill of neighbours and friends, if they their son’s life must mean something. This was where Professors International Group of Schools, Zaria, stepped in to help.

At this point, it looked like Sadiq and his family had finally found the saviour they so desperately needed, except for one little snag: Professors International School barely possessed the tools to do the job it just accepted.

“Although we were able to acquire [some of the equipment] we could afford, what we had still wasn’t enough,” says Ibrahim Yusuf Morah, head of the Special Education Unit at the school.

He had been recruited as an expert from the Federal College of Education, Zaria to be Sadiq’s lead tutor.

Aside the problem with Morah’s tools, his evaluation also showed him that the trauma of Sadiq’s experiences had transformed the child into a fearful paranoid. Morah, an orientation and mobility specialist, describes the early days of Sadiq’s programme as some of the most frustrating since the school admitted him.

“He could not stand being around people,” Morah recalls. “He cried continuously. It was very difficult. The school had to offer his brother a scholarship, just so he could have someone around with whom he was familiar. Even after that, things remained quite difficult. I had to work towards earning his trust over a long period of time.”

For it to be effective with the therapy and training it intended to provide for Sadiq, the school would have to upgrade its facilities pretty quickly. They sought out all the people, who, in the wake of the horrendous attack had made promises, to fulfil their promises. But none was forthcoming.

As fate would have it, some executives at Airtel, Nigeria’s leading telecoms company, had seen the headlines about a toddler’s near-death experience at the hands of homicidal organ harvesters.

Through their Employees Volunteer Scheme, Airtel’s staff quickly raised N400,000 to cover Sadiq’s tuition. Then, they shipped in several sophisticated training apparatus, including a Perkins Brailler, a laptop computer, a Braille Coacher, a Crammer-style abacus, and a Taylor frame. The company handed all these to Professors International Group of Schools and has continued to fund the boy’s education since 2016.

Morah says Airtel’s nick-of-time support instantly changed everything. The teachers now had world-class teaching aids to make their work easier. Sadiq also got a chance to come out of his shell. It turned out he was quite brilliant.

Now, three years later, Sadiq is in Primary 2 and multilingual—fluent in Hausa, French, Arabic, and English. He has mastered the Perkins Braille machine, the computer, and typewriter. His brilliance has tremendously astounded the faculty, so much so that they have given him a nickname – The Professor.

These days, everyone compares the boy’s quick improvement to a miracle and much of this incredible change should be credited to Airtel, the teachers insist.

Their contributions, Morah says, “have further propelled me to tutor him better than I ever could have.”

“He is very zealous when it comes to his education and particularly likes using the laptop Airtel got him, as it came with a computer programme called JAWS, which allows the visually impaired to read and operate a computer using text-to-speech. He uses the typewriter when there is no power on his laptop, which is a remarkable feat, considering the fact that most visually impaired children do not operate Perkins Brailler efficiently until they are about ten. He started to type efficiently when he was only in primary 1.”

Meanwhile, the hunt for Sadiq’s attackers continued in the background. Investigators could tell from the surgical excision of his eyes that a medical professional, or someone familiar with the practice, must have done the job. But try as they did, the inquiry has yet to yield any result.

Airtel intervention however delivered fresh hope to Sadiq and coincidentally renewed the sense of community in Joshi and across the country. As news of Sadiq’s progress slowly spread, other people started to step forward, asking what they too could do to assist the caregivers.

Morah says, “Some have donated clothing materials, among other things, for his upkeep. One person even donated a car to help with his transportation. The car conveys him to and fro the school every day, which has eased his family’s burden in terms of transportation and security. I think it boils down to empathy because in the beginning, we got a lot of promises that yielded nothing. But ever since Airtel came along and actually acted upon its promises, more people have reached out.”

In 2019, things continued to look up for Sadiq, now a six-year-old cheery little fellow. Just like any other boy, he has his own best friend with whom he does everything. Some visitors to the school who recently saw him fully functional among regular pupils could hardly tell that he was visually impaired.

He has also recovered from his intense fear of the human touch, while the level of compassion and unexpected magnanimity received have shown him that it is still possible to find kindness among Nigerians.

“It takes real empathy for a company to make such generous contributions and impact the lives of others without expecting anything in return,” says Morah.

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