Roxana Tiefenbach of Trinity Lutheran Church in Leader, Saskatchewan, recently returned from a Canadian Foodgrains Bank food study tour in Kenya and Rwanda. Part of her travels were sponsored by CLWR.
When you travel you inevitably find things that are exactly the same as at home, as well as things that are very different. Over time, I have been struck by how surprising this can be as one can never tell when this will occur. It happened in the Ghazi district of Kenya, at a food distribution to a group of village residents who were part of a six-month food-for-work program. The area was suffering from drought and hoped to benefit from their work to dig, by hand, a water pan to preserve future rains. The most vulnerable households had been chosen as food recipients by local leaders and our food study tour with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank had come to be a part of the monthly food distribution that day.
There I met Judy Mlawi and Consolata Mshiki. Judy was the project leader but more importantly that day, our interpreter. This allowed us, as Canadians, to speak to and get to know some of the gathered recipients. Consolata, 23 years old, mother of two very young children, was one of these people. We learned about her family and circumstances. When asked about her education, she became saddened and hesitant as she humbly explained through Judy’s interpretation that she had dropped out of school when her mother got sick and could not pay the required school fees.
Over and over we heard similar stories from others who had not gone, or had to stop going, to school because of fees. Education is viewed as important and valuable, and it’s free except uniforms are a necessity. That, along with a school fee of $1.00 kept some from going to school. Many families worked very hard to raise enough funds to send their children to school, some even selling some of the grain they received in aid to pay for these fees. When asked how much this would cost in grain, I was told one kilogram of the 50 kilogram bag of maize received monthly in food-for-work aid would provide the needed $ 1.00 school fee for a semester.
Then Judy went on to explain about the PTA (Parent Teacher Association), and my mouth fell open in amazement. The PTA? In this remote Kenyan village struggling to meet the day’s needs? Here I encountered a moment of unity across continents. Yes, Judy explained the parents and teachers worked together to raise funds so children could go to school with good instruction. Though I did not learn how this happened, I found a connection that day with Consolata and parents everywhere who do their best to educate the children in their community. Those of us, who have more than enough, need to remember others, not unlike ourselves, who desire the best for their children, and work to empower them to be the parents they desire to be.