The Enemy of An Education
In Steenbok, without a doubt, the biggest obstacle the children face is poverty. Debilitating, all-encompassing, abject poverty. It undermines every aspect of their lives, limiting their potential and stunting their development. And we’re not speaking strictly physically. At the two primary schools where I teach, somewhere along the lines of 60% of the student population are orphans. And that’s an informal, rough estimate based upon myriad factors. Sixty percent. Sixty. Thanks to HIV/AIDS, staggeringly high unemployment, TB, and an array of smaller factors, those children either live alone, with a parent that appears for one weekend a month (to drop off some groceries and ideally leave money), or an exceedingly old Gogo (that, in reality, they care for; not vice versa). There is no moral, emotional, or intellectual support at home. No one to help with homework. No one making dinner or breakfast. No one to wash a cut or sew a torn shirt. And the average student at both schools is no older than 13 or 14. Tops. The majority, obviously, are younger. The enemy of an education is an empty home.
Above you see the exterior of one of my two primary schools. The brick structures provides a deceptively solid facade to interiors that are literally falling apart. Ceilings in several rooms of all three wings have collapsed. Rare is the window without a missing or partially shattered pane. Last week, the temperature was oppressively hot (over 100F), and there are no fans. Children were literally sleeping at their (shared) desks during class. And not one teacher was upset – how could they be? It was difficult to breathe inside, but because of a lack of shade outside we remained indoors. The enemy of an education is a crumbling school.
Then there’s the feeding scheme. The government provides “lunch” to all primary schools; it’s called a feeding scheme. It’s brilliant, as I’m sure it’s one big reason many of the students show up. Of course, for those students who have their only meal of the day then, it’s not only life-giving but enabling. The enemy of an education is an empty stomach and a tired brain.
Now, let’s not forget all the small things that encourage and support a child throughout their day… clean bathrooms, laundered clothes, access to pencils and pens and paper, access to books and the internet (and general outside knowledge) – you get the point. The decks are stacked ridiculously high here.
The enemy of an education is poverty.