The phrase “making a difference” seems so overused now that I am here in Africa. I’m sure many people(including myself) travel to these parts of the world with the aim of “making a difference,” We want to give back to our community. It almost seems SIMPLE to make this difference. When we are kids, we want to become presidents and end poverty and hunger; become doctors and cure diseases; become lawyers and defend the defenseless. It all seemed so easy but it’s not that easy. Today more than ever my views have changed.
In a place like Kibaha, which consists of an orphanage plus their education facet which is the Wali-ul-Asr Education centre consisting of nursery school all the way to college, I am finding it difficult to make a difference. Forget ending poverty or hunger, try filling in the cracks here. This place is truly amazing based on the many people it has affected and helped yet at the same time there is a lot of work that can be done here.
If you were to walk in, I think you would be impressed. It would not seem like a school that caters to the disadvantaged. They wear smart uniforms, eat good food, have beds with mosquito nets and even have nice classrooms with desks. It’s not what you see in the movies, it’s much better. Yet, if you spend more time you come to realize certain fractures in the system. Due to the lack of manpower here, it is tough to follow-up on these breaks in the system. An example of this is the lack of textbooks. About 10 students in a class of 75 have textbooks. Can you imagine going to school without a textbook and all you learnt was what the teacher had written on the board? You may not have even learnt it because you were so busy trying to write it down. Writing it down is one thing, understanding it is another. I don’t think any of us would have finished our syllabi at that pace. These kids can’t afford these textbooks and expect to finish and pass a syllabus at the end of the year. Further, teachers are also not that reliable here (as in they just don’t show up or if they are given even a 50 dollar raise somewhere else, they leave their jobs to go there and later that place can’t pay for them anymore and they ask for their jobs back). So when you don’t have a reliable teacher nor a textbook, then what? Forget changing this kid’s life, let him first have a textbook, let him first pass Grade 9, then Grade 10 then Grade 11, then Grade 12 and hopefully he will go to become something that will keep him on his own two feet.
If you look at the bigger picture, sitting and reading with a kid everyday, you may help teach him how to read maybe over the time span of a year but that entails an everyday commitment for a year. When you come in from the west or wherever and hope to “make a difference” and plan to come for 3 weeks, you WILL grow impatient and probably leave unsatisfied. Making a difference seems to require a large amount of patience. When you are trying to explain how to conjugate each verb in the English language, it is hard to think you are changing this kid’s life. You leave after an hour of teaching the continuous present tense to 19 year olds and wonder what the point of you even doing so was. There are so many bigger things in life you want to tell them about but you have to start somewhere and that somewhere is the beginning.
When we think of the people or experiences that changed our lives, we think of the encouragement our parents gave us to follow our dreams; the teachers who told us we were smart enough to become whatever we wanted to be; the sister who told us nothing was impossible. Here and now, you want to jump in to be this person who makes a difference in this kid’s life but you have to make sure they have their basics first. Their base needs to be compact and strong before they build their hopes and dreams up.
You need to teach them how to read, then make sure they make it through school (have books), and THEN give them pep talks otherwise it’s all just false hope and that’s unfair. You are setting them up for failure.
Like I said in my previous post, it is difficult to see the difference you are making here because you are trying to fill in the missing parts in the foundation. At this point, I feel like this place is changing me more than I am changing it. I feel like I have gained more than I am able to give. Everyday, you do go in thinking today will be the day you will “make a difference” and at the end of the day you wonder if you did. Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t. There is always hope and you know that the next day you will attempt to chip at that same wall a little more. Maybe, that wall will have a dent when you leave, maybe it’ll break down, and maybe it’ll be exactly the same. Only time will tell.