Saturday, January 14, 2012

Que sera, sera? What Will These Kids Be?

Monday, Cate, Amani, Gunilla, Willy and I once again traveled the rutted road to Mumosho.  After days without rain, the dust from passing trucks blew in our windows.  Dust in the teeth beats slick, mud-washed roads any day.

We drove to Orebu Elementary, where, through your support of Action Kivu, Amani's local non-profit ABFEK sponsors 23 students who could otherwise not afford to pay the $4/month for school fees.  As we walked into the principal's office, the sound of sing-song repetition of French and Swahili lessons emerged from each window, a single rectangular hole in the mud brick wall per classroom, providing a bit of light.

The kids sit shoulder-to-shoulder on rows of short wooden benches, their knees for desks, a simple blackboard the only teaching tool. The school uniform is a bright, cobalt blue skirt for the girls and shorts for the boys, their white shirts ranging from button downs to tee-shirts, all yellowed with age and dirt, frayed and torn. Almost every child sports a pair of rubbery plastic sandals in a variety of neon colors that are dulled by dust.

In the fourth grade class, we were introduced to Shukura, a 10-year-old girl sponsored by ABFEK / Action Kivu, who is at the top of her class. In fact, all girls had taken the top three spots of the fourth grade.  Sponsoring kids, especially  girls, whose families cannot afford the monthly school fees, makes a marked difference in a community where poor families often choose to educate sons over daughters.

Shukura tells us shyly that she wants to be a teacher when she graduates.  Most of the children in the schools we visited plan to be doctors or teachers, two of the only professions they see in their villages.  Zawadi, however, whose name means "gift," wants to be an agronomist.  The land here is wildly rich, but despite the beans, bananas, corn and cassava growing like weeds, many of the children are malnourished.  Zawadi is in the second grade at APSED, a sort of charter school formed by neighborhood parents who wanted to ensure war orphans and poverty stricken kids receive an education.  ABFEK / Action Kivu sponsors 19 kids there.  With so many children at the school, and only three small, dirt-floored classrooms, the kids only go a half day, so the other classes can meet the second half.

We waited to meet 11 of the sponsored kids in the principal's office, a few chairs and two desks filling the room, posters of basic anatomy and a hand-printed list of the school's objectives decorated the mud-brown walls.  The first girl, around eight years old, walked in and confidently shook our hands with a clear "Bonjour!  ça va?"  An extremely serious boy wearing a torn shirt with a brick red collar somberly shook hands with both Cate and me, then solemnly gave Amani a fist-bump.

The principal explained that the kids at APSED school come from particularly bad situations, and that it is his job to encourage them.  Many live with extended family or host families, having lost parents in the conflict.  He singled out one little girl, showing how her right ankle and leg curved unnaturally out, making it difficult for her to walk and play.  She was scared speechless by the cameras and the muzungus (white people), her lips moving, but making no sound.  The serious boy, Bisimwa, volunteered to take her place, putting her out of her misery.  Without cracking even the smallest smile, he told us how he likes science and nature, and plans to be a teacher.  He lives with his dad, after his mother died.

Ashuza stepped into frame, wearing an over-sized tee-shirt that nearly covered his blue shorts.  He balanced easily on his right foot, his left foot twisted inward at a right angle.  The principal explained that he was born with the defect, another reminder how few medical treatments are available or affordable here.  Ashuza loves to read, and wants to be a doctor.  They took the gifts of crayons and candy (snack-sized snickers, m&ms and twix) with a whispered "merci," and carefully put the chocolate in their pockets, to savor later. 

The song "Que Sera, Sera" kept playing in my head.  "When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, what will I be?"  Is it really whatever will be, will be?  I went through so many answers to the question of what I wanted to do, usually based on whatever book I was reading at the time.  A ballerina!  A lawyer!  An archeologist!

These children in eastern Congo have experienced only uncertainty, and seem to have a hard time envisioning a bright future.  In response to Amani's question, "What is wrong with Congo," the kids at Burembo Elementary answered:
  • Hunger
  • Killings
  • People robbed going to and from mining areas
  • Rape against women should stop
  • Theft
  • Teachers should be paid
When you were 6 or 10 or 12, did you even think about what was wrong in  your country?  How would you have answered the question?  How can we create change so the next generation of Congolese kids answers differently?

 Practicing reading and speaking French.

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