I have always been a justice crusader. If there was a fight for doing what was right, I was first in line. I guess that is what made it easier for me to come to South Africa than it would be for most. Now that I have been here for over fourteen years, I realize that what I thought would take me a year to accomplish has taken much, much longer. And now, the rules of engagement have changed. Somehow, I feel that I am living in Animal Farm, and I don’t like it. Here’s what I mean:
- When I first arrived in South Africa, Kurland Village was a forgotten township on top of a mountain far from the closest town and any aid societies reach. As far as I knew there was the school, one Belgian girl and us. Now, this township is teeming with aid. Aid workers are everywhere – at the school, in the community and on the streets. There are Americans, Germans, Belgians, and South Africans all ready to lend an opinion and a helping hand to those in need. Some people might think that this is a great development. I don’t. Unfortunately, while the help is great, it is not the kind that actually helps. Instead, it has fostered an entitlement mentality in parents who used to be grateful, and other options for kids who don’t really want to work that hard. I mean why do we have to work when all of these aid workers will come fix my government-sponsored house, educate my lazy children, and feed my family after I have spent all my money on liquor? So, although more options for aid are available to the people who live in the village, rarely is the decay of alcoholism, fatherlessness, sexual promiscuity, and violence corrected. In fact, the progress we made against these foes in our early years seems to be in decline in the midst of all this new assistance.
- We used to be able to point to the white boarding school in town as a beacon of educational hope and academic rigor. We drove our students by teaching them on Saturdays, taking away vacation days, and challenging them to learn two years’ worth of lessons in one. It might sound cruel to your average American, but our students were grateful because when they finally made it to boarding school they were more than prepared. Yes, they still had to work hard, but they had the foundation that they needed to succeed. Now, our students go to boarding school after spending several arduous years with us learning Math, Science, English, History and the Bible, and are bored. They no longer feel challenged. Instead of them rejoicing for the break, they become depressed. Children who are brilliant and score well on all testing inside and out of our program have a hard time managing the lack of challenge at the best boarding school in our area. For the first time ever, we had a student not pass their matriculation exam. It’s terrible that any of our students would not pass, but for her, it was tragic. This student, who scored the highest score of any student on our entrance exam while still in the fourth grade, could not manage to pass her matriculation test and had her teachers convinced that she was mentally challenged.
- The school where our program is housed decided to free itself of its eighth and ninth graders. I was told that they were a behavior problem. So, now, instead of the average child in our community dropping out of school after the ninth grade, they drop out after seventh. Thus, instead of being told to settle down in class, they are roaming the streets of the town with nothing to occupy their time, brains and life. At the same time, the boarding school in our town, which has increasing numbers of black and colored students, decided to comply with the South African government and LOWER their standards. If you don’t have to teach the majority of students math, why do it? Instead, they send children to consumer studies which I call lessons in becoming a housekeeper. No one has to go to school to learn that; my students can learn “Intro to Housekeeping” hanging out in the township. Sadly, even with these lower standards, the average child in the township cannot pass their matriculation exams which means that they cannot go to college. So, they are stuck right back in the township where they came from. The cycle is successfully unbroken and no progress is made!
- Somewhere along the line, my students discovered television. With it, they discovered covetousness, jealousy, false ideals of beauty, and social mores that work against community and family. With it, they lost the desire to learn just for the sake of learning, the ability to read, concentration and focus, creativity and the ability to dream of an attainable future. When I first came to South Africa, boys wanted to be soccer stars and some girls wanted to be singers, but most of the children wanted to be things that would help their community like teacher, builder, doctor, lawyer, police officer. Now, more than ever, they all have one goal: to be famous. They want to be famous more than they want to be useful to their greater communities. I know that there is a wave of people who think that giving every child in a developing nation an iPad and allowing them to watch “educational programming” would solve all academic issues. Well, I am here to declare that too much media clearly muddles the mind.
I know that all is not lost. My students still have the flashes of brilliance that I long to see. Their attitudes, although in need of the occasional fine tuning, are still open and loving. We are constantly blessed by the fact that they still fight to get into our programs and are willing to embrace the difficult tasks we place before them. However, more than all of that, they show an increasing love for Jesus and willingness to do things His way that warms me. So, in the midst of all of this challenge, our desire to inoculate them against this so called progress seems to be working, a bit too slowly for my taste, but working nevertheless. We do know that the answer lies in getting them out of their current environment, and we are working on that. However, in the meantime, we are still justice fighters and we will not stop until the battle is won.