By Joshua LordJosh Olanrewaju
It was the year 1995, I was a primary two student of Our Lady’s Nursery and Primary School and my life was about to change forever. What I was about to get wasn’t totally legal yet, I wasn’t qualified for it but the end justifies the means, right? School was over for the week. My classmates were rushing out of the class, the weekend was here. But I waited. And I didn’t wait for long.
“Here is the book, make sure you bring it back next week.” Mrs Musa, the school librarian, said to me.
I looked at the book she had just handed me; it was titled ‘The King’s New Clothes’. I was ecstatic. Taking the book home meant the world to me. It was my first but it was soon followed by several others. From the classic fairytale story books to the ultimate children’s series ‘The Famous Five’, I read my way through primary school.
This was made possible by one woman; Reverend Sister Helena Boland.
She was a British missionary who was the head mistress of my primary school. Her colour was definitely different, but it didn’t matter much after a while. Her accent was sometimes too difficult to understand but she always got her message through. She was different from the Nigerian reverend sisters, she didn’t wear a scarf all the time and we didn’t fear her. I never had any personal interaction with her, I wasn’t one of the very brilliant students who got to shake her hand every prize-giving day but she influenced me greatly.
She chose a life of celibacy and sacrifice as a missionary to Nigeria even though she didn’t have to.
She didn’t have to come to Nigeria, she could have been a Reverend Sister singing ‘Oh happy day’ in a convent in her own country.
She could have stayed in more convenient cities like Lagos or Port Harcourt, but she came to Ilorin, to a small primary school in a community even I hated.
This was more than a job for her, it was her life. She had time for the students. I wasn’t so lucky but my sister and a few friends got to interact with her personally. She had time for parents too.
I don’t know how this worked but whenever she came back from a trip to Britain, our library will get a batch of fresh books. More material to fuel our curiosity.
I got the best foundational education available at the time because she and other reverend sisters of Notre Dame (at the time) cared not about money but about making an impact on kids like me.
The story books I read in Our Lady’s opened my eyes, ignited my creativity, broadened my knowledge. She brought several British men and women to interact with us. One of my fondest memories from primary school is seeing these oyibo women try and fail horribly to join in our cultural dances.
Several women have influenced me greatly, my mother, the very first of them and they are all my sheroes. But today, I celebrate a woman who came from her home, several miles away to make my life better.
Sister Helena with Sister Audu (2016)
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