In the Biblical Story of Jacob’s family, Yusuf had a dream. He was a favorite son of his father but his 11 brothers except Benjamin betrayed him and sold him off to the Egyptians. In a twist of fate, Yusuf comes from prison to become the Prime Minister of Egypt and his God-given dream and leadership talent saves the whole world from a seven-year famine. That may be the Yusuf of Israel but he’s not that different from the Yusuf of Kitengela and his unusually talented son. Parents, when it comes to the future of your children, the back stops with you.
A child prodigy: The ten-year-old who is constructing apartments
He was nine when he drew a giraffe though he had never seen one. This caught the attention of his class teacher. The class teacher took the drawing to the school head teacher. The school head realized that Yusuf Karanja was not an average child; he had a God-given talent of drawing things. He gave Yusuf five drawing books and a pencil to nurture his talent. He also sent for the boy’s father to discuss about his son’s exceptional talent.
His father never showed up. The teachers always asked YUSUF to draw them, something he did to everyone’s amazement. At ten, Yusuf’s family moved from Pumwani to Ngong.
At Ngong, no teacher ever took interest in his talent. It was the end of a dream but a lesson on parenting and family.
He was the next Michelangelo who never became but his son is the next master architect who will become. Ten-year-old Ismail Mbugua is a budding architect and he is building apartments in Kitengela where a construction boom has pitched tent.
Ismail Mbugua is named after his grandfather and so he has been nicknamed Babu. He is a normal child when you meet him. He is always with his toy racecar raising dust in their half-an-acre compound in Kitengela, Kisaju area. He is the second born in a family of four and lives with his father Yusuf Karanja and mother Fatuma Njoki. He loves soccer, he’s a Chelsea fun and Didier Drogba is his role model. His dream is to play professional soccer and become a star like his role model. But Babu as his father calls him, has a God-given talent; he is an architect.
“He started by making cars; he always dismantled toys and assembled them again, that was when he was 9. When he turned 10, his interests shifted to building houses”, says Yusuf, the boy’s father whose talent was cremated forty years ago.
At Pumwani primary school, Yusuf had the support of his teachers but when the family moved to Ngong, the teachers there were different.
“In the new school, no teacher took interest of my talent and that was the end of a dream”, says Yusuf who is now a painter.
In the Kisaju area where his family settled, he gets small jobs of painting houses or fencing plots. Kisaju area of Kitengela has seen a construction boom lately. But Yusuf is determined to see his son develop his talent unlike him.
The ten-year-old’s piece of architectural genius, one month since he started.
“I will not do what my father did; ignore my talent.”
As I talk to the father, Ismail, the boy, is unaware of the possibilities ahead of him. He is climbing trees, flipping and jumping off them just like any normal child. It concerns his father that the local schools falls short of his son’s ability.
“We do not have talent-based schools here”, the father says.
Ismail attends Kilakir Academy but the father sees no hope in the current curriculum.
“The schools should have something for kids like Babu.”
At class three, Ismail says his favorite subject is mathematics.
“My class teacher is called Nancy and I love Mathematics”, says the shy child prodigy.
His father says that Babu used to play soccer all the time and used wires to dismantle and assemble toy cars. But when Yusuf started to build the family house, Babu took interest.
His father wishes Babu would get a school that can meet his needs where he is part-time in school and part-time nurturing his talent.
“Our education system is all about books, there is no chance to develop any skills for children like Ismail. There should be skill-oriented lessons on mechanics, electrical wiring, construction, sports but many schools do not have such arrangements”, argues a bitter Yusuf.
These skills are introduced too late when the child has already lost interest, says Yusuf, the boy’s father.
Ismail’s current project is a three-storey apartment building. He started the construction last Monday of December 2012 and in four weeks; the building is 70% complete. He should have been given the vice-president’s palatial home to build. The former vice president, Moody Arthur Awori would have enjoyed this house that took forever to complete.
Babu’s apartment building is made of real sand, concrete and cement. His father has been nurturing his son’s talent by providing him with the necessary materials he needs.
“I make sure I provide everything he needs like water, sand and cement. I also let him use my tools to do his construction. When cement is over, I go buy a new cement bag and put it in the house. We have water here”, explains the father.
Ismail at his construction site. His dad, Yusuf has been very useful in providing his son with the right construction material to nurture his son’s talet
His father has also bought him drawing books.
“We sit down with him and I show him how to design a house.”
Fatuma Njoki, the boy’s mother is proud of her son.
“Sometimes, I have to get him off his project when the sun is too hot.”
When Ismail starts working, he gets absorbed to such an extend that you can’t get him off the construction site. His mother has to force him to take a break.
“He constructs something, if he doesn’t like it, he dismantles it, picks his drawing book, designs it afresh and starts again until he is satisfied”, says Fatuma, the mother of four.
The family wishes their son would get the right school so that his talent can be nurtured.
“As a father I feel my son is missing something. I am giving him the best I can right now but I don’t want him to end up like me”, the father says.
Yusuf Karanja ended up doing house painting, erecting perimeter walls and once in a while, whenever he is called, do some roof work and electrical wiring on houses around Kisaju.
“I am proud of what I am doing for a living but I could have been better. That’s is why I am supporting my son actualize his God-given ability.”
I encourage my son to have a positive attitude towards the construction jobs, says Yusuf.
“I explain to him that construction work pays well as it is a booming industry right now.”
Kisaju in particular, the bungalow appetite is well articulated from the genius pieces of architecture that dot the area. Perhaps, this is the inspiration that drives the 10-year-old Ismail Mbugua, the kid architect whose talent needs a mentor. Like clay, he can be shaped at his tender age. His father is trying all he can as a parent.
“The success of a man is not cars or buildings, it is his family.”
In a recent story, I watched a video of a boy who had used discarded electronics to come up with a radio. He wants to be a DJ. He was lucky to be spotted by a PhD student in Massachussett Institute of Technology. He secured him a visa to Boston and the boy had an opportunity of his lifetime. But there are many kids who never get discovered and their talents sink into oblivion.
For parents, I have four indicators I gleaned from one Harvard Business Review podcast that I think you can use as a guide to look out as talent traits in your children. The four traits are: Experimenting, Networking, Questioning and Observing.
One group of exceptionally talented children ask unusual questions like, “mom, where do children come from” but not-so-bright parents answer their children “the supermarket!”
Other types of prodigy kids experiment like Ismail. He is experimenting by breaking apart toys and building them back. Most parents reprimand their children when they dismantle that new toy that cost the parent a leg and an arm.
For some kids, they are the neighborhood Kofi Annan’s. They are notorious in getting other kids to their house to the chagrin of the parent. Frowning on your child’s ability to make friends is discouraging them from learning networking skills that form the DNA of innovators.
The other trait among innovative kids is the observer skill. There are kids who are keen on a process, adapt it and start doing things their unique way.
Once bitten twice shy and Yusuf is not going down the path his father took and killed his son’s dream.
At this point, I leave Kisaju thinking of Eleanor Roosevelt words “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” The father’s dream is to see his son’s architectural talent nurtured and not neglected like his own talent was.
The cry in the desert has been heard and I hope parents will get to know their children with the four innovator’s DNA.