There is a certain school. Let’s just call it a rural school. Let’s just say it is somewhere. The learning happens in a large tent divided into classrooms. When you go into the classrooms, the students sing you a hearty welcome song. They sing with energy and with happiness. They have a teacher-student ratio of about 1 to 7, of which they are very proud. Together with their hopefulness, this is their primary asset.
We reached this school by driving over dirt roads and past a partial roadblock consisting of a pile of earth and stones, which was being removed by hand by several men from the community.
In this little rural school there is no running water. There are no windows, and there is no electricity, so the classrooms are dark, but if the doors remain open, enough light enters for studying. Each class has a blackboard and a whiteboard. There are no books except the students’ workbooks. It goes without saying that there is no computer. But there is a battery-operated boom box for language tapes. The tapes can be borrowed from another school when they are needed.
The school was built because the students would otherwise to be away from their parents for a week at a time. This would be hard, both for the sake of the students, who would be lonely, and for the sake of the families, for these are working children. When they get up, they help milk the goats. They help feed the sheep. They care for the chickens and the geese and doves. They draw water from the cistern for their families. They go out shepherding.
This means that when they come to school, they are hungry. They have not had breakfast. And so the World Food Program has given them chocolate milk and date bars. They used to receive one date bar every day and one 5-ounce serving of milk. But now, although they still have the milk each day, they only receive the date bars three days a week. I guess that the economic crisis is being felt all over the world.
The teachers and the administrators have one room of their own, which must be both office and teacher’s lounge. It has three desks, three chairs, two filing cabinets, and a propane tank from which they can make a flame to heat water for coffee.
A few months ago the weather destroyed the tent. So the administrators put it back up. They wish they could have something sturdier, a building that would withstand the elements. Of course, that would be a permanent structure, and therefore it would be subject to demolition by the government.
There is another school. Let’s just call it an urban school. The children who study here must pass a number of checkpoints every day. They have their bookbags searched at gunpoint. Because of their race, they are spat on, chased and teased on their way to school. They walk past hate graffiti that wishes them dead. Other children throw rocks at them. Occasionally they have to run away from tear gas or bullets to go into their school. There are soldiers there, but they do not help them.
When I used to go to my children’s open house night, I never gave thanks for the road, the walls, the roof, for electricity and plumbing, for the school food program, and for government support for my children’s education. As a parent, I took all this for granted. I was wrong.