The young man from Liberia decided not to keep a bundle of money he found on the side of the road.
The story of what happened to Emmanuel Tuloe in Liberia has the makings of a modern legend.
The 19-year-old, dressed in a school uniform of a baby blue shirt and shorts, stands out in a class full of students at least six years his junior.
Emmanuel, who had previously dropped out of primary school, feels happy despite their age difference.
Last year, while he was driving his motorcycle taxi, his way of making a living, he found US$50,000 in a mix of Liberian dollars and banknotes, wrapped in a plastic bag on the side of the road.
He could easily have kept that not inconsiderable amount of cash, but he decided to give it to his aunt to take care of it and, when the rightful owner appealed through the national radio for help finding his money, Emmanuel showed up. .
Although some ridiculed him for his honesty – people scoffed that he would die poor – his act brought handsome rewards including a place at Ricks Institute, one of the most prestigious schools in Liberia.
President George Weah gave him US$10,000 and the owner of a local media outlet also gave him money, some of which was raised from television and radio audiences.
And the owner of the money he found donated $1,500 worth of goods.
In addition to all that and perhaps more significantly, a university in the United States reacted by offering him a full scholarship once he finished high school.
Academic and moral discipline
That is what Emmanuel now focuses on at Ricks, an academic boarding school established 135 years ago for the elite of Liberian society who are descended from the freed slaves who founded that African country.
Its two-story structures sit on a beautiful, leafy campus 6 kilometers from the Atlantic coast.
“I’m comfortable at school, not because Ricks has such a prestigious name, but because of the academic and moral disciplines,” Emmanuel said, smiling and adjusting his collar as he spoke.
Like many Liberian children from rural and poor backgrounds, Emmanuel dropped out of school at the age of nine to try to earn a little money to help his family. That was shortly after his father had drowned in an accident and he had to go live with his aunt.
A few years later, he became a motorcycle taxi driver.
After so much time out of the education system, he needs a lot of extra support at school.
When Emmanuel first entered the sixth grade class, “he felt a bit inferior; he couldn’t express himself in class, but we worked with him day in and day out,” his teacher, Tamba Bangbeor, told the BBC.
“Academically, he came in with low fundamentals, so we put him in an educational enrichment program. That has been helping him,” he said.
He now has six years of high school left and when he is 25 he will graduate. But he doesn’t care about his age difference with his classmates, whom he describes as “friendly”.
Emmanuel also enjoys the boarding school system, noting that “dorm life is good because it’s a way of learning to live on your own one day.”
Looking to the future, he wants to study accounting in college “to prepare himself to help guide the good use of the country’s money.”
His discretion and honesty have been seen as role models in a country plagued by corruption and where public officials are often accused of stealing state resources.
“It’s good to be honest”
Reflecting on the way some people made fun of him for returning the money, he admits that he could have used the funds to improve his material situation, “but I would never have given him the opportunities now.”
Emmanuel thanked God for giving him the rewards and also expressed “gratitude” to his parents for having “instilled in him to be honest.”
“My message to all young people is: ‘It’s good to be honest; don’t take what doesn’t belong to you.'”
The Ricks faculty appreciates Emmanuel’s presence.
“As a school, not only have we recently benefited from his honesty, he is also the substitute goalkeeper for the school football team,” Bangbeor said of his ward – a die-hard Chelsea fan – who plays on the team with students closest to him. age.
His classmates also celebrate his presence.
Bethlene Kelley, 11, called him “a great friend that we like to hang out with and take care of because he’s quiet and doesn’t like to talk a lot. He’s loyal, respectful and honest.”
And from the life that Emmanuel left behind, the other motorcycle taxi drivers do not seem to envy the new perspectives of his former colleague.
One of them, Lawrence Fleming, 30, told the BBC that he had dropped out of school as a teenager in ninth grade and that he had followed Emmanuel’s story closely.
“It’s good that Emmanuel is back in school, we are thankful to God for him,” he said.
Standing at a road junction in the western Morovia town of Brewerville, Chinese motorcycle rider Boxer had a piece of advice.
“For him to stay in school for his future and the future of his children … now he has an opportunity that some of us don’t have.”
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