The “Banana Song” draws kids out of their homes, turns introverts into extroverts, and transforms determined stares into joyful smiles.
Yes, a song can do all of that – it already has.
“Banana” represents the power of education and what that power can bring to these remote villages. Rayuwa has been described as a virtuous cycle. Education is key in that cycle as it allows current farmers to send their children to school where they can become future farmers, understanding that a healthy living can be made off the land and not only in the big city. “Banana” symbolizes a return to farming and all the potential and growth it provides.
The song is proving effective. A late-February trip brought an immediate observation, Liza Herb, PYXERA Global’s key client manager for Rayuwa, said.
“The streets used to be filled with kids who were not in school,” she said. “This time I was blown away. The streets were empty. The drive was quiet. Where were the kids I was used to seeing? We drove up to the school and all the kids were in the classroom and under the trees – learning. It was night and day.”
Muideen Jimoh, Rayuwa’s education officer, is “Banana” to thousands of children in the 11 Nigerian villages participating in Deere’s Rayuwa project.
After a day spent in the villages, Jimoh described the origins of the song. It is a nursery rhyme, taught to Nigerian children for generations. It’s known for grabbing – and holding – the attention of children. Across the Rayuwa villages there are 3,000 school-aged children who have either never attended or have dropped out of school. Getting their attention, therefore, is a priority.
The villages are separated by a radius of 3 miles with only one government secondary school to serve them all. But, as Jimoh said that night, “that’s not the story.”
In April 2019 – while talking to farmers, taking notes – there is a building adjacent to where we stand. It’s a school. But from the falling blocks and almost non-existent roofs – and deafening silence – it was hard to tell that there were children supposedly learning inside that structure.
It was my first time in the field on the (Rayuwa) project, so I moved closer.
I see a dozen or two children seated on the floor in one of the classes which had an image of a jug and a cup tied to it on a makeshift blackboard hanging limply on, well, a wall. I ignore it. But something more tragic hit me. Wait for it. It was past 11 a.m. and there was no teacher in this class.
No, let us not talk about the state of their uniforms or how they were sprawled on the dirty and dusty bare floor of the classroom.
I say hello to the kids, and they echo in a resounding “hi.” Relieved, at least they know what that means.
I ask about their teacher.
I asked what they had learned that day.
I asked what class it was that I was in.
All the while I was asking in English. Then it hit me, what if asked in the local dialect, Hausa?
I asked again, in Hausa, “What class is this?”
“Primary,” they chorused. I smiled. We were heading somewhere.
The teacher in me sprang into action and I took over the class, this time in Hausa.
I make everyone stand up and I explain to them I will teach them a song on how to spell banana. And I needed them to pay attention to the rules, not minding I had to quickly explain what a “banana” was.
Me: Banana, banana.
The kids: Banana, banana.
It goes from there.
Shortly, I break into a dance while singing and the kids join me.
Our banana song envelopes the silence that only seconds ago plagued the school surroundings. And the smiles and the glitter in their eyes sparkling brighter than a galaxy of 1 billion stars in total, absolutely beautiful chaos.
So it began, on my lips and in my heart what this song would mean for each village. And before the team got to the next village the song had arrived before us, on the lips of eager and hungry waiting children who have left their homes to meet “Banana.”
A song may not be enough to keep the children in school. They need classrooms, books, and quality teachers. But the song has brought them out from their homes. It has made them excited and curious. And I think that is a good place to start.