Monday, June 27, 2011


Sis twirled around me as I did the dishes, a constant river of words passing through her mind and into the air around us. One topic caught my attention and warranted a response.

“Mom, do you know that some people never get to go to school?”

“Yes, Sis. I did know that. And it makes me very, very sad.”

“Ya,” she feigned agreement, but the tone suggested she had already moved past an emotional response to the logical consequences of such a circumstance. And she shared her childish common sense.

“If you don’t go to school you should not get married.”

“Why is that?” I asked, truly wondering.

“Because if you don’t go to school then you can’t help your kids with their spelling, so you shouldn’t get married.”

Although the end point of her thought process was harsh and overly simplistic, her ability to understand the scope of loss when children don’t receive an education was nonetheless profound. A child’s education means more than gainful employment and the ability to meet basic human needs in adulthood. It means, among other things, they can: read signs to avoid danger, understand contracts before signing them, learn from books, follow the news as it is reported in print, apply scientific principles to everyday problems, use math to save or invest or start a profitable business, and (of course) help their children with their schoolwork and feed them nutritious, leafy dreams about where their own education will take them.

Each day we were in Rwanda, we saw groups of children in uniform coming and going from school. Sometimes they were holding hands. The little ones carried backpacks on their backs that obscured all but their ankles. I loved to stare out the window of our minibus and watch. The groups of older girls always sent warm surges of blood through my heart. And the groups of older boys, with fresh white shirts and confident shoulders, caught my breath. They seemed to reflect the full strength of the sun. Radiant with promise.

There is no substitute for education.

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