She was initially mocked, insulted and gossiped about for returning to school at 50, but that is no longer the case for Mrs Folashade Mary Ajayi, popularly known as “Mama Shade” by her teachers and colleagues.
While speaking with Daily Trust when she enrolled at the Ilorin Grammar School (IGS), she said, “I was insulted by some of my neighbours for my decision to go to school at my age and was widely gossiped about even though most of them are not educated either. But I was never intimidated or ashamed, which is what they wanted.
“They laughed at me most times, saying I was competing with my grandchildren; they mocked me, calling me “Iya Ilewe”.
“As a human being, some of these comments are saddening because they will sustain it until you feel discouraged. But I never allowed it to affect me or dampen my resolve because I have my motivation.
“The fact that I don’t wear my uniform from home till I get to school also helps reduce the insults. Otherwise, it would have been more difficult,” Mama Shade said.
Today, however, that is no longer the case. Rather, it is a story of how hope, belief and determination can lead one to achieve and attain success in life, no matter the circumstance.
Meanwhile, it is not yet uhuru for Mama Shade in the pursuit of her dream of acquiring education. She is still soldiering on, confident that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
For Mama Shade, who has scaled through Junior Secondary School (JSS) and SSS classes, it has not been easy.
When Daily Trust visited her at the Ilorin Grammar School (IGS), she was in the middle of a Yoruba language test but was excused to speak with our reporter with a promise by the school to organise a make-up for her.
“It has not been easy, but I thank God, who has seen me through, with the help of others. Initially, those who were mocking me thought I would later drop out or hit the brick wall, but I am determined to put such critics to shame and achieve my burning desire of becoming educated.
“I continued after my JSS because of my love to get educated up to university level, and I know this step is very important to achieving that. The examinations were not easy, but here I am today and I am even more motivated,” she added.
Mama Shade, who thanked her teachers and principals, appreciated the support thus far but called for more financial assistance to enable her to concentrate properly on her educational pursuit, which is taking its toll on her petty business.
“I must say that some people have been very supportive. These are people that I don’t even know. My present principal, Mrs Muslimat Abdullahi, has been a strong pillar of support and has been extremely helpful.
“When I began SSS, she bought my uniforms, books and writing materials. And not only that, she has been at the forefront of ensuring that I never regret my decision to return to school at my age.
“Also, three members of the Rotary Club in the state, led by the principal of Queen Elizabeth Senior Secondary School, Mrs Sidikat Taiye Lawal, took it upon themselves to contribute N12,000 stipend for me monthly.
“This is the second month of that pledge and they have not defaulted. There are also other good Samaritans who have brought writing materials, uniforms and others for me.
Coping with the new environment
According to Mama Shade, it has not been easy because the SSS class comes with its own peculiar challenges. “Now, I have to do more subjects that seem a bit complex. But I am determined. If there is anything I don’t understand, I usually ask the teachers and students. I am not the shy type, nor am I ashamed to complain if I don’t understand something.
“I am in art class, and I try my best. But among the most difficult subjects for me now is mathematics, and at times, recollecting some of what I have been taught is difficult.
“I have to make extra effort to remember, unlike when I just finished a class or lesson, which is easier for me to recall.” But I am coping and doing the best I can.
“I hope my story will be a reference point to others that we can do whatever we set to achieve in life.
For Mama Shade, her plea is for the government and people to help and support her with capital to establish a foodstuff business to complement her bag business.
“Because of my studies, I now stay longer hours in school because I have to attend lessons after closing. At the weekends, I sometimes attend adult literacy classes also. For this reason, I sometimes get home around 6pm.
“My customers would have all gone when I arrived. That is why I am passionately seeking assistance to enable me to sell foodstuffs instead, as I will still make sales when I return to the shop after school hours.
“I am pleading with our Governor, His Excellency AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, who has demonstrated that he is a great lover of the masses, to please assist me with capital to invest in this line of business,” she added.
Mama Shade said, “Aside from my business, I will also like to work or teach after I finish in whatever capacity I will fit in.”