“Hold fast to your dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
– Langston Hughes
It seemed there was no hope for young Lordes. She was desperate to attend school, to learn and to hopefully attain a good job one day. Both her parents had died a few years ago of aids, leaving her and her two young siblings in the care of their very old grandmother, Rudi. There was a time when Rudi was able to look after the 3 children, making a meagre living by selling mangoes in the market and planting a small crop of rice. But Rudi was weak now. The years of surviving a brutal civil war, of being deserted by her husband and of being regularly attacked by malaria, had taken its toll.
Now, any hope of survival for this ailing family, rested on the shoulders of the 17 year old Lordes.
I found her bent over a bucket of soapy brown water, scrubbing the ragged clothes vigorously. Her usual smile had been closed shut, her mouth taut and her jaw stiff. Her eyes were fixed on the dirty brown water, holding in the tears of a tormented child. She blinked, unable to contain her disappointment. A silver tear slid down her cheek, evaporating under the hot sun into nothing.
She told me that she will no longer attend school. I couldn’t understand why. She was one of the top students in her class of 100. She’d attended all her lessons and her grandmother had picked enough mangoes to pay for the annual school fees.
“I couldn’t afford to pay for the test,” she says. “They wanted 5 Meticals but I did not have it.”
Confused, I asked her what the 5 Meticals are for? After all, she’d paid her school fees in full.
Lordes explained that writing a test is compulsory to pass the year. But the teachers will not allow the children to write their tests unless they pay them a non-refundable ‘fee’ of 5 Meticals. Lourdes could not afford this unofficial fee, amounting to less than an American cent. Her entire future had been killed by the very person, her teacher, who was meant to be the key to her freedom, her dreams and her family’s hope.
That Friday morning, Lordes walked out of the school gates and away from the old black board she had come to know so well, never to return again.
She would be married next week. To a man who still lived with his family but who she perceived as her only hope. He was hardly an adult himself. It was clear what her future role would be. She’d be expected to earn her stay, to keep their house clean, his family fed, to wash their clothes and to bare his child. I asked her if this is what she wanted. She looked at me grimly, with dead eyes. “No, I want to go to school.”
“Human history becomes more and more of a race between education and catastrophe.”
– H.G. Wells
“Children are one third of our population and all of our future.”
“It’s the children the world almost breaks who grow up to save it.”
– Frank Warren
“Give a bowl of rice to a man and you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to grow his own rice and you will save his life.”
“A childs life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.”
– Chinese Proverb
“Be like the bird that, passing on her flight awhile boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she hath wings.”
– Victor Hugo
“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
“Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.”