This school year begins, for us, with a profound realization and appreciation of how fortunate we are.
My high school graduate is settling in Germany for a year abroad. My middle schooler worries about what friends will be in her class. My “little guy” just began Kindergarten. And yet, after our trip to Kenya, we are awash at home with a feeling of unfairness, a sense of injustice. By sheer luck of the draw (or what we’ve been sarcastically calling “The Lucky Sperm Club”), my kids have beautiful, wonderful public schools to attend. There are enough pens and pencils in junk drawers around our home to outfit a whole classroom. We could fill lunchboxes for weeks just with what’s in our pantry. And the choices for after-school activities exceed those of a community college course catalog.
Meanwhile, one out of three children in the world will never see the inside of a classroom. 120 million children of primary-school age do not attend school. Imagine every child in North America plus every child in Europe — that’s how many.
Free The Children is helping end this cycle of poverty. Now more than 50,000 children attend more than 650 Free The Children schools every day. FTC has achieved this in ways that astound me beyond those statistics. Through their Adopt a Village model, they are ensuring that kids don’t just go to school, but that they stay in school successfully –– healthy, with clean water to drink and with alternative income projects for their families who might otherwise not be able to afford to send them to school.
You can learn much from Free The Children’s website, but I can only tell you about one region’s schools first hand. With a lump in my throat.
In the Rift Valley of Kenya, bordering the Maasai Mara, we sat beneath a tattered tin roof at the rickety desks of the dung-walled Enerelai School, which the elders kept standing to show their children what was ‘before’. We saw the stark contrast to the sunlit school Free The Children built at that same location. Then we drove to Emorijoi and for a few days helped build a rare secondary school for girls who, in years past, would have been married at 13 were it not for the gift of education.
We learned to make concrete with a shovel. Luke carried heavy stones until his back hurt and his hands blistered. Sydney and Rio hand-cut and twisted wire to hold the rebars in place. We built with stone blocks, one layer at a time, in a way that my 5 year old called “real, not like Legos.” Picks, shovels, biceps and backs are the building tools in Kenya. With huge doses of dreams for good measure.
We saw the smiles and shook the hands of a sea of blue-sweater-clad students deeply grateful to have a cement-walled classroom, one school uniform, one pencil and the privilege and good fortune to go to school at all. Children flocked to hug us (especially Rio) and hold our hands as they beamed big “Jambo’s” at us.
And, on a sunny afternoon, we played duck-duck-goose. Or twiga-twiga-simba. That’s giraffe-giraffe-lion in Swahili which, as the Kenyan children explained to us, makes a lot more sense … since geese do not chase ducks!
Every child is born with potential. With every school built, that potential has a chance to thrive.
We have to help. A little at a time.
In the words of one of my heros:
“Do what you can, whenever you can, wherever you can, for as long as ever you can.” ~ Mia Farrow
PS: For those of you with an hour to read the most important international promises ever made to the world’s most vulnerable people, click here. The U.N. Millennium Goals: freedom from extreme poverty and hunger; quality education, productive and decent employment, good health and shelter; the right of women to give birth without risking their lives; and a world where environmental sustainability is a priority and women and men live in equality.