Justice

I was not prepared to visit Sheta School. As I walked to the school I remembered the pleas from the community to help rebuild it. It was a priority of theirs, and one we would soon share.

There is a certain shield we wear as Peace Corps Volunteers. As we integrate into our towns and countries, we become immune to hardship.

It is the most rewarding and beautiful  aspects of our service. I never view my town as destitute or its people as poor. I see them as neighbors and friends. Annoying and awesome.  Nevertheless, sometimes we see something that breaks us down. Amidst so much hardship I try to find happiness, but eventually your shield will crack, and it breaks us.

I entered the compound and found Gezehegn, my friend and teacher. He has only one ear, but he has a big smile and a bigger heart. We walk together to a classroom where I am teaching 8th graders an introductory English Lesson.

The classroom is dank and dirty. It is hot and cramped and claustrophobic. Rains from the night before turned the floor into mud. Kids in two-dollar plastic shoes are susceptible to soil-borne diseases. Hookworm and Elephantitis are common. The walls have been washed away, and the sun shines through. This is almost appreciated on days when the power is out.

I teach the kids a basic format for understanding English pronouns and conjugations. The students have a great understanding of English but are far behind in with grammar and pronunciation. We play a game using different tenses of the verb ‘to go.’

I end the lesson by showing them a movie clip. We pause it occasionally to discuss what is happening. The scene is from the movie ‘The Matrix’ which is a big hit with the students. Karate may have surpassed soccer as the national sport here.  In the scene, Morpheus is teaching Neo about expanding his mind to embrace his potential. He says, “I can only show you the door. You have to walk through it.’ So I wrap up class by saying the same phrase. Listen I say, I can’t teach you guys English. However I can give you some tools to learn it on your own. I point to the door. You have to walk through it.

I exit the classroom with the kids and get a brief tour of the school. There are eleven classrooms serving 1,626 students. Ten percent of them are Orphans or are living in extremely vulnerable conditions. Roughly five percent have mothers or fathers with HIV/Aids. Many come from the discriminated Menja tribe. The school has been ignored for too long. More so than the school, the children have been ignored. Then I see a blackboard nailed to a tree. The school is so overcrowded that many lessons are taught here.

So we are taking action. We are rebuilding the school, and it will be a large community effort. 40% of the funds have already been donated by Bonga teachers, parents and the administration. Some great men and women are donating their time and labor. In the end, we will turn all of the classrooms into concrete structures, fortified by brick walls that prevent flooding, rats, and disease. Solar light bulbs will give the class much needed light. One building will be added to move the outdoor classroom back indoors.  We are going to make sure that these children can learn without fear for their health.

When I think of this project a strange paradox exists in my mind. I focus on the sadness too much. This school is in desperate need of help. The children deserve more. As a former volunteer said regarding education in Bonga, helping these students is not about mercy. It is about justice.

I recently visited an inspiring orphanage in Hawassa. The director told me he always highlights the hope rather than the misery. What a great lesson.

So I turn from the sadness to the joy. This project is not about building a school to cure our consciouses because we feel bad. So we should not focus on the misery, even when it is so easy to. Instead, join me in this joyful project where we are giving students a safer and better place to learn. This project is not about sadness but about hope. This project is about giving these children the ability to expand their mind and embrace their potential. We will rebuild the door, and they will walk through it.

So please join me in rebuilding Sheta School. By donating, your dollar will go a long way. You will be donating to a project done at the community level, and without profit. This project is not about throwing money at a problem but solving it with hard work and a little help. It is about showing a community that they have the ability to exact lasting change. We are not only creating a school but a mentality.

If you have the means, one dollar will buy us eight bricks. five dollars will buy us forty. Please donate what you can, and together we can give these children the justice they deserve. 

Here is the link to donate:

https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=663-023

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Honesty

This is the blog of a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer. She contracted HIV during her service. What’s incredible about her blog is that it embodies her approach to life. She is honest, genuine and a real teacher. Her attitude towards her reality is nothing short of beautiful. Her openness will inspire others and save lives.

Perhaps it is best to start here:

http://nogoingback-thereisonlyforward.blogspot.com/2011/12/he-gave-me-more-than-bracelet-he-gave.html

Encounters

Here are three encounters of mine from last week. Nothing exciting here, but I think it gives a look into the social complexities of being an American in a small town Peace Corps environment.

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Jon and I went out for dinner to a local restaurant. We ordered a dish called ‘Bayenet’ which translates to “each type.” It is a fasting food that combines several types of spicy bean stews, lentils, and cooked vegetables over Injera. It’s a staple of life here. While we are eating, an outgoing waiter comes up to our table, and just starts eating off our plate, his fingers soaking up as much of the stew as the sponge-like Injera.

While he chews, he makes attempts at conversation. He uses the command form, “Techewot” (translation: Play!) to break the awkward silence. I start to think about my reality: What is stranger to me is not that our waiter is eating off of our plate. What concerns me is that I no longer consider this strange.

How would that fly in the States I wonder?

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In our towns we all have people we really don’t like running into. For some of us, we even walk specific routes to avoid these folks. Or we just hang out in our house for a weekend. Some of these locals are truly problematic: drunks and beggars who harass and shout. Perhaps worse, I am sorry to admit, are the people you can’t simply blow off. They might have good intentions, but they habitually ask you for things, talk about themselves, and won’t let you escape with a simple hello.

One such person lives a few blocks away, and is very proud of the fact he occasionally works with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He always shakes my hand for too long and is strangely obsessed with my hair. He thinks his English is a lot better than it is, and is always telling me about how his name means ‘development’. Here was our last exchange. In parenthesis are my thoughts.

D: Michael. Michael! It is me, development!!!

(shit) Hello development.

D: Where are you go?

(Quick! think of something important) I’m going to a meeting (brilliant!)

D: Wonderful! How is Mr. Dave. Mr Dave is good man. He is strong worker. Strong man. He America went? By the way, now you must fix my computer.

(Yeah that’s not happening) Yeah that’s not happening.

D: You see you will come to my office and look. You can fix it on Monday.

(How do I get out of this conversation?) Sorry Sir, I’m just not good with computers. You are better off asking someone else.

D: You know I work with Bill Gates? He is world RICHEST MAN. Number one in zee world.

You’ve told me before. That is quite exciting.

D: You will come visit with me yes. Shall I invite you? Coffee? tea

(I need to remember not to walk this way) Thank you but I am very late for…

D: Michael I must tell you! Your hair is so desirable. It is like woman. For me. I must tell you that for Ethiopians, hair is the most desirable. Body is less important. But your hair to me is most desirable.

(I need to cut my hair, and probably wash my hands when I get home) Thank you! I was going for the woman thing.

D: Surely! It is the most beautiful. I would surely like to touch it.

(Get out. Get out. Get out. ) Ok Development. Thank you, It was nice to see you, but I’m very late for my meeting. See you! Goodbye! Bye! Ciao!

I retreat to Jon’s House.

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Last night, four Americans gather on my porch. My fellow volunteers and I are watching a massive lightning storm while they sip on some of the world’s worst wine. Jon and I are joined by our newer counterparts, Chuck and Laura. Later that evening we will make some Indian curry and watch Red Dawn. For those of you not familiar with this gem, Red Dawn is a 1980’s movie that stars Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen as brothers fighting a guerilla war in the Rocky Mountains against a Communist Nicaraguan/Russian takeover of the Midwest. Epic, right? I’m having a hard time deciding if it is the best or worst movie I’ve ever seen and may just conclude that it is both.

But first, we hang out on the porch, watching the lightning. The rain starts to come down hard, and it is a welcome sight. We are just getting out of the worst dry season in years. It rained twice in 3 months. (Not great when you live in a rainforest.) Water was very scarce during this time, and I learned to shower with a 2-liter bottle of water.

So as the rain comes pouring down a gutter, Jon looks at me.

Jon: “I almost want to take a shower, or at least wash my hair”

Me: (Taking my shirt off) Yep.

Jon: Cool I’ll grab the shampoo.

Chuck and Laura: Let’s never turn into them.