Thursday, January 29, 2015

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” — Victor Hugo

School starts on Monday and January has been brutal to our meager cash reserves.  We are paying for two university students, one prep school student, one nursing school student, two boarding school high school students (top of their class), and about twenty-seven government school students.  This does not include the scholarship students at the Bunda Teachers College as their tuition comes from donors in Arkansas (the students come on Monday to get their tuition checks).  Today, we pay our last school fees till August for the eight-year-old orphan we have been helping to raise (about $300).  She is going to the same school where Shaban’s son, Hemedi, is attending, a Catholic private school not far from us.  She works hard, but school is not easy for her.  Hemedi, on the other hand, loves it, embraces it, and excels at it.  He is first in a class of fifty.  More than half of the students for whom we pay school fees are girls, and most are very bright and doing very well.  We generally tell them two things about school—study hard and stay away from the boys.  So far, it has been working.  Also on Monday, our mission compound will be filled once more with the laughter and singing of the sixty some odd orphans and poor children we teach and feed here.  The attitude toward school here borders on adoration.  You are special if you can go to school because of the money it costs, and all the parents know that a good education is the only way out of poverty for their children.  Everywhere we go, we see small children working in the fields, herding goats or cattle, harvesting rice, and we know that for these kids, their lives are pretty much set in concrete and they will never know a life apart from what they are doing now.  It is painful to see.  One of the good things we have heard lately is that for the first time, Tanzanian students are going to be fed in some of the schools.  Some primary schools in the area have little farms that the children tend, but the produce of those little farms goes to pay teachers and buy school books, so it doesn’t help those who go to school hungry and come home the same way.  We feed our little ones two cups of hot porridge (ujii) every morning and then rice and beans for lunch.  The afternoon English students also get rice and beans before they start their lessons.  Happily, the Bunda Teachers College also provides three meals a day that is included in the tuition.  I didn’t care for school very much when I was a child, but then I was bullied a lot and followed a very bright older brother so much was expected of me that I could not produce or didn’t try to very hard anyway.  I squeezed fours years of undergraduate school into seven (kicked out once for academic reasons and once for behavioral reasons) but did finally graduate.  After I got into graduate school, I finally excelled and had straight A’s in two programs and would have been the valedictorian of my seminary except for an “F” I got over a difference of opinion with a professor—who was let go the following year.  Now, I realize that when I saw what school could do for me, I loved it.  It took me into my mid twenties to realize what four-year-olds already know here.  School, education, is a prize to be sought at all costs.  When I see what they go through to get an education, I am ashamed of my own attitudes when I was young, and ashamed of many of the attitudes of American students today.  Thankfully, there are thousands of wonderful teachers in America who inspire, excite, and guide their students to become better people and the leaders of tomorrow.  My wife had a “line leader” in her kindergarten with a badge that said “Line leader today, world leader tomorrow.”  That’s what my friend Pete O’Neal calls the orphans he cares for—they are the “Leaders of Tomorrow.”  God bless Pete, God bless the children here, and God bless the teachers in other countries who understand this, especially the ones who teach girls.
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