When people who love to travel return from their journeys, they come with souvenirs and stories of their experiences and the people they met.
Telling the Al-Majiri story with pictures is Kolapo Oladapo, a UI and graphic designer who takes interest in changing the African narrative with code and design.
During his travel across some northern states, he learnt about the Al-Majiri community and how they are invisible realities in their own community.
Although the Al-Majiri system is now a nightmare compared to what it used to be, the number of children in the system keeps growing.
Kolapo decided to tell the story of these children who should be the future of tomorrow.
In his words, “I could show you a thousand photos exhibiting the rare & preserved beauty of Northern Nigeria”.
“I’ve seen the beautiful tall city gates, the horses,the castles…I could tell you about the INVISIBLE PEOPLE, my people, our people who are seen only by outsiders but not the indigenes and I will. They move in troops & their cloaking device is abject poverty, that way you cannot see them because they blend into the general statuesque of Northern Nigeria and indeed the entire nation, poverty”.
These children are found everywhere in the north and are usually treated like outcasts. In this photo story, Kolapo explains the story of the average Al-Majiri child.
“They are everywhere, everywhere”.
These children who ought to be in school usually work as refuse collectors.
“Refuse collectors in Kano. Lots of children ages 5-15 are engaged in menial jobs around Nigeria but a little more than usual in Northern Nigeria”.
Their parents place them in the care of Mallams who are expected to teach them Arabic and Islamic education.
“The Al-Majiri kids usually between age 5-15 can be found everywhere in Northern Nigeria even in the eyebrow places like malls, parks, the zoo, etc. It’s almost like they are INVISIBLE”.
In return for their education, their parents send funds and farm produce for their upkeep and also in appreciation of the Mallam’s efforts.
“The Mallams like pimps use the wards as beggars who file returns to them at the end of the day. If they don’t meet the target, the sleep in the many abandoned infrastructures around. Places like old theaters houses, behind public toilets, market stalls & so on”.
One can only imagine the harsh conditions they have to go through.
“An Alimajiri eating his morning ration (breakfast) from a polythene bag”.
Most times, the few who meet their daily target get to sleep in a crowded room of 20-30 people.
“Most times in pursuit of the Mallam’s happiness they get beaten, injured, whipped for either trying to steal or behaving like one who lacks home training. These are the times where the indigenes see the INVISIBLE PEOPLE. But I wonder how a child can have home training, when they have no home”.
Some of these children resort to menial jobs.
These harsh conditions of survival drive some into petty crime.
Even though their children will have to beg for a living, some parents still continue to send their children to these Mallams.
“I told my friend Abdul that in Lagos the government through its task force picks up children who hawk during school hours…He laughed and told me that if the government tried that here, they’ll be chaos because most parents don’t want their wards in “western styled” schools. They prefer them learning from the Mallams”.
Check out more stories from Kolapo on his Instagram page @Kp.e.