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: