Posted by: Errow | June 20, 2008

Les Miserables: Giving vs. Teaching

Contributed by Erin Reynolds

Suzie had a mentor meeting with Timothy yesterday, and he mentioned that the government was trying to shut his school down because there aren’t enough places for students to sleep so they are overcrowded, and he has so many orphans and so few students actually paying student fees that he can’t pay his teachers well, so teachers like Sula can’t afford to feed their families.

Sula has started a rice-growing business on the side–which he does after teaching for 10-16 hours a day, with classes of 50-100 students each hour. His teachers are paid 100,000 shillings a month, about 2 dollars per day.

Then, as Suzie and Timothy were talking, someone came in and said that there was no food for dinner that night. Timothy gave them enough money to buy flour so the kids could at least have something in their stomachs before bed.

All of that on his plate–worrying about all of the little details and implications of running his school–and Timothy still is the first to finish the book (Education of a Wandering Man). Seeing things like this is incomprehensible to me; last night I was really struggling with what I could possibly do to help in this or any other of the thousands of other situations that I know exist and I felt like it simply was too much.

The problems are too big. Kids starve here or die of poor sanitation or illness that could easily be avoided with small but important changes. People like Timothy are swimming against an impossible tide that is only growing stronger. When I see things like this the urge to just give everything material I have is literally almost overwhelming.

I could easily go back home and send every dollar I ever make back here to Africa, I could fundraise like crazy and I could pour more and more money into Africa and it would change a few things; a few schools would be better, a few more children would be off the road and a couple teachers could actually go to bed at night not worrying about whether the 700 non-paying kids at their school will even be there tomorrow or be once again on the street.

But it struck me that the fundamental problems would still exist; the reason that Sula can’t support his family, that Timothy can’t feed those orphans, that the family next door’s annual income is one pig and whatever piglets happen to survive–those reasons exist because freedom matters.

Liberty matters. Knowledge matters. And however else we try to compensate for those things, it will never be enough. There are no substitutes for public virtue; there is no replacement for individual liberty.

There is an abundance here of food–and yet people starve. There is plenty of water–and yet people walk for miles each day to fetch a couple jerry cans worth, only to do the same thing the next day. The resources are here, almost every material thing that a country needs to be free and prosperous is here (at least the raw sources are), and yet the knowledge, the leadership, the initiative and the courage are lacking.

It is actually painful once you realize that all you can do is what you’ve been doing (and of course try to improve and perservere), while knowing that “Les Miserables” will continue to face the immediate consequences of decisions made long ago (and even being made today) by someone in power who cared only for his or her own selfish concerns, without thinking of what it would mean for generations to come.

Seeing things like this changes something inside you and makes you reconsider what you really have to offer and why you’re offering it. It brings up questions you’ve never considered before that demand answers you don’t have…yet!

Click Here To Invest In Ugandan Education

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