The story of what happened to Emmanuel Tulu in Liberia has the ingredients of a modern legend.
The 19-year-old, dressed in a school uniform and blue shirt and shorts, stands out in a classroom filled with students at least six years younger than him.
Emmanuel, who has already left primary school, is happy despite the age difference.
In 2021, while driving by taxi, a means of making a living, he found $50,000, from a mixture of Liberian dollars and bills, wrapped in a roadside plastic bag.
He could easily have saved this amount of money, but decided to give it to his aunt to take care of him. When the rightful owner asked for help on National Radio to find the money, Emmanuel showed up and brought it back.
Although some mocked him for his honesty – people laughed at him saying he would die poor – the work brought great rewards, including a place at Rex Institute, one of Liberia’s most prestigious schools.
President George Weah gave him $10,000, and the owner of a local media outlet also donated the money to the young man.
The owner of the money the young man found also donated $1,500 in merchandise.
On top of all this, and perhaps most importantly, a university in the United States offered the young man a full scholarship once he finished high school.
Now, he is dedicated to completing his studies at the Rex Institute, which was created 135 years ago for the elite of Liberian society, descendants of the freed slaves who founded the African nation.
Its two-story structure is located on a beautiful tree-lined campus 6 km from the Atlantic coast.
“I’m comfortable in school,” said Emmanuel, smiling and adjusting his shirt collar as he spoke. “Not because Rex has such a prestigious name, but because of academic and moral discipline.”
Like many Liberian children from poor rural backgrounds, Emmanuel left school at the age of nine to try to earn a little money and help his family. This was after his father had drowned in an accident and the boy had to move in with his aunt.
A few years later he became a taxi driver.
Having been out of the education system for so long, he needs a lot of extra support at school.
When Emmanuel first entered sixth grade, he “felt a little inferior. He couldn’t express himself in class, but we worked with him day in and day out,” his teacher Tampa Bangpur told the BBC.
“Academicically, he came with low basics, so we put him in an educational enrichment program,” she said. “It helped him.”
He still needs to attend high school for six years, and when he’s 25, he’ll graduate. But he doesn’t mind the age difference from his peers, whom he describes as “friendly.”
Emmanuel also loves the boarding house system, noting that “dorm life is good because it’s a way to learn to live on your own someday.”
Looking to the future, he wants to go to university in accounting “to prepare to help direct the good use of state funds.”
His rule and Amanah have been seen as role models in a country plagued by corruption and where government officials are often accused of stealing state resources.
The prestigious Rex Institute is located on a tree-lined campus west of the capital, Monrovia – Photo: BBC
Reflecting on the way some people have mocked him for returning the money, Emmanuel admits he could have used the money to improve his financial situation, “but I didn’t have the opportunities I had now.”
Emmanuel thanked God for giving him the rewards and also expressed his “gratitude” to his parents for “instilling in him honesty.”
“My message to all young people is: It is good to be honest; do not take what does not belong to you.”
The teachers are also grateful to Emmanuel’s presence.
“As a school, we have not only benefited recently from his honesty. He is also the substitute goalkeeper for the school football team,” Bangbior said of his pupil – a die-hard Chelsea fan – who plays for the team with the students closest to them. his age.
As your classmates rejoice.
11-year-old Bethlyn Kelly described him as “a great friend we love to hang out with and take care of because he is calm and doesn’t like to talk much. He is loyal, respectful and honest.”
On the other hand, other taxi drivers seem happy with the new views of their former colleague.
One of them, Lawrence Fleming, 30, told the BBC that he dropped out of school when he was a teenager in the ninth grade and has followed Emmanuel’s story closely.
“It’s good that Emmanuel is back in school, and we are grateful to God for him,” he said.
Standing on the side of a road in the western Moravian town of Brewerville, Chinese motorcyclist Boxer offered some advice.
“I hope she stays in school for her future and the future of her children…Now he has a chance some of us haven’t had.”
“Gamers. Unfortunate Twitter teachers. Zombie pioneers. Internet fans. Hardcore thinkers.”