when education is not enough.

I come from a family built solidly and firmly on the bedrock of education. Becoming an educator is a source of deep pride; my father, for example, attended Overland High School in Aurora, Colorado (a member of the first graduating class) and after receiving his education license during his undergraduate studies, he returned to Overland to teach and has been there ever since.

For nearly 30 years, my father has been teaching a diverse, multi-cultural student body in geography, history, and social studies. Much of his life has been formed within the confines of a classroom, and honestly, I think it’s super badass. He’s inspired me to know the incredible gift that education holds.

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That matters because I grew up noticing and observing and then believing that education was the tool. For me, it was. I attended school systems with resources, qualified teachers, and supportive add-ons to enable the highest student potential to be met. This extended into college too, as if education was assumed to always be present and existent in my life.

So, remaining always enthusiastic to the process of education, I am faced with a deeply important and stark question: what happens when education is not enough?

Kigali, Rwanda

Inside a thick-aired upper room of a small alimentation in Kimironko, Kigali (towards the east side of town) I sat together with a Rwandan student of mine of whom I have known for six years. I hadn’t seen her since my last work trip to the country (in late 2015) and so she updated me, slowly and meaningfully, on each fragment of her life. I leaned in, listening, hanging on every word, wanting to know exactly what was happening.

With bread and fanta on the table, she chewed and sipped and told me everything.

Her mom is sick. Gravely ill. I try to imagine her lively, energetic mother withdrawn and in pain. It’s agonizing, honestly, to even imagine. This student does not have a father – her mother is her only parent. She confesses a fear of what happens if her mother dies. It will be okay, I tell her. But, really? Will it?

Her older sister, in pursuit of a job, left for Kenya without telling anyone in her family. Her family is devastated. They are waiting, hoping she will return.

Her younger sister passed the national exam last year and was selected to a reputable school two hours away from their community. They could not afford the school fees, so instead, she is attending a school that requires a 90-minute walk each day, one-way trip. The school’s education is sub-par and so, she fears that her sister will retain little, and perhaps be confined to the fields for farming for the rest of her life.

This student has the same concerns for herself; she graduated secondary school last year (a major accomplishment) but now, without an accessible (or even permeable) job market in her rural community, she feels stuck, isolated, and alone. Her fear, in addition to being single, is how she could possibly support her family without finding a job.

As she tells her story, I listen. As I listen, the same question repeats itself. This is a girl who did everything “right.” She studied hard, got good grades, and yet still, remains stuck.

How does she get out?

That’s the question, and it’s one that I cannot shake.

As she confesses all of things before me, her throat tightens as she does her best to not cry. Crying in public is quite taboo in Rwanda, and she knows this as much as anyone else. I give her a few minutes to hold it together, reminding her that I’m there for her, and with her. She is stressed and rightfully so; she worked for the last six years (even coming back to school after her father’s death so she could make a life for herself) and now this?

Now what?

How do we fill this gap?

Certainly, that’s the root of the model with my work with TWB: we seek to provide a tangible, realistic, and powerful application for an educational foundation. Yet, our program hasn’t yet reached this young woman – nor has it for all the women in Rwanda (and around the world) that enter the sphere of education but fall short when it comes to applying it. Herein lies privilege – yes, privilege, that uncomfortable elephant in the room of a word where we confront what others have (or do not have) and try to understand how we leverage our own existing mobility.

This student of mine is currently immobile – at least in an opportunistic sense.

For now, I have encouraged her to join other girls that I have supported to map out “next steps” especially as it relates to community-based solutions that would enable her to continue to take care of her family. Whether a small business (of tutoring in English for example) or seeking out educator jobs, I have instilled the hope that she can seek with diligence and confidence. She has something to offer the world and my god, she will offer it.

Yet, even in these small actions that work for a better future, we must take a larger step back and think about the education systems we promote and the larger systems of society they exist within. The strongest education, I believe, is one that is experiential and applicable. Learning can be done for learning’s sake, but it also must allow the learner to build capacity to leverage their own work ethic, knowledge, and potential for a better life.

What if we could re-work our systems and integrate the job market with what we are teaching? What if instead of teaching rote memorization skills, we built a curriculum that was alive, active and channeling participants directly into a trajectory? What if, instead of de-funding our entire system, we invested in it and compensated teachers for the value that they are worth?

I don’t have an answer for these questions, thought I genuinely, authentically wish that I did.

What are your thoughts?

How can we address the gap of education and income security?

How do we protect those, especially women, who are left with limited opportunities and yet incredible, limitless, budding possibility?

These are hard, awkward questions.

But until we ask them, we cannot discover and work through possible solutions. Let’s begin the conversation together. Let’s do this together. Let’s make education work for everyone. And I do mean, everyone.

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“Imagine…”

I’m writing this from my small mobile device while on the bike at the gym. I feel that compelled and urged to share.

I just got off the phone with Divine (yes, I am also that annoying girl who talks on the phone while exercising. Yes, I know it’s annoying. Add it to my list of “things to work on“.

Our morning conversation went something like this:

Divine: “ehhhhhbabaweeeeeee! You saw Susanna in that city, New York?! Wow! How is your family now Christmas has finished?”

Me: (after musing on NYC’s massive amounts of people), “Divine, they are great. Brother is doing well. But we have finished eating so much food that somehow we can become fat!”

Divine: “Imagine! That’s so wonderful!”

Because really, this is the best kind of news you can give when it comes to families.

This led to a conversation about school and family. First, one of the children Divine’s mother has taken in as her own temporarily (the father is Divine’s half-brother who has been busy searching for work in a bigger Eastern city) has lost it’s birth mother to illness. This means another mouth to feed on a more permanent basis. Which also means Divine’s priority on school holiday has not been gathering information on transferring to another school with a more stable environment (even at her boarding school this year they would sometimes be out of water). Luckily, we may have found one, but more funds will be needed over time.

Sometimes I IMAGINE if things were different. And it breaks my heart. But, it also encourages me too.

If you are at all able, please consider donating even just $5. That pays for a part of a uniform. Seriously. Eventually I hope to achieve an ability to provide tax receipts. Wihangane as they say in Rwanda: sorry, but please take patience.

The link below does not only serve to support Divine’s school. It’s for Yazina, Eugenie, Zahara, and Maisara. My girls. Our girls. With all my heart, thank you.

CLICK HERE – DONATE TODAY!

 

educate divine & yazina

Hi y’all,

As many of you know, I am currently fundraising to help support my dear friends, Divine and Yazina, with their school fees for them to finish their secondary education over the next three years.

I’m passing along the link which provides full explanation and a break-down of the current budget.

Please pass along to anyone who may be interested and I thank you so much for considering this cause for two incredible girls. See the link below for more information.

http://www.gofundme.com/5vfcbo

Peace and love,

Heather

Mom and Yazina, July 2013

Mom and Yazina, July 2013

From left to right: Mom, Divine, and Yazina, walking in my village after visiting Yazina's family.

From left to right: Mom, Divine, and Yazina, walking in my village after visiting Yazina’s family.

Sharing a meal with Divine and her family. Her mother and sister are to Divine's left side.

Sharing a meal with Divine and her family. Her mother and sister are to Divine’s left side.