Two years ago we embarked on a campaign to raise a significant amount of money to bring a kindergarten education to the community of Burayu, Ethiopia. I searched for a tagline of sorts to motivate the audience for this campaign. I happened upon some of the history of Nelson Mandela and his story of trial, triumph and pursuit of justice. His quote became a pinnacle for the advancement of education in our Kindergarten Campaign.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela
Reading about his life, I wondered if he was referring to the formalized kind of education or the lessons we experience by educating ourselves through exposure to new things–new ways of life.
Mandela was born to a mother who was one of four wives to his father. Sent away for education, he was raised by some foreign settlers where he was exposed to a different way of life. No doubt he learned the necessities of reading and writing, but this exposure seemed to transform his system of beliefs. This different experience allowed him to think beyond tradition and cultural norm.
One might assume he then became a product of his new culture, but that didn’t happen either. He ran away when he found out a marriage was arranged for him. Maybe he was running from his fear, but maybe he simply learned that what was set before him did not have to be his only life path or option. Never fully engrained in a single culture, education taught him HOW to think. A single culture would have taught him only WHAT to think.
If we are only in exposure or experience with one way of thinking, one culture, we are only ever taught WHAT to think. If we only expose ourselves to the way we do life, we are only living in an echo chamber that makes us robots- clones- of what we have already heard. People can be more than products of their culture, but assets critical to the advancement of the greater good. Education is not about math and phonics. It is about teaching children how to think with an analytical mind as well as a compassionate heart. We can teach that through exposure.
I am proud to say that Children’s HopeChest is a part of bringing this type of education to more children in Ethiopia. Not only does this give them an opportunity for advancement into a system of sustainability in life, but it also gives them exposure to other people and an opportunity to see beyond a life that has been fed to them. Learning to think critically, to analyze and to empathize will be what changes this world. Keep in mind, we are not talking about the exposure they have to us as westerners, but the chance to go beyond their daily chores in their home to provide a safe day for their family.
I had a meeting with some leaders at Aware CarePoint who told me they thought the key to a sustainable future for their community was to empower the women to be able to work. As westerners, we jumped to thinking this meant teaching a trade to market and serving microloans for startup. It meant a huge shift in the cultural mindset of many women who have only ever seen WHAT to learn. Their community wanted to let them know they are actually valued agents of change, not just servants of their tradition.
The same is true for each of us and our families. The way in which we experience life shapes and molds who we are and how we think. If we never leave our pleasant spaces through exposure, books or real relationships, we will never know anything besides that which we have always known. I don’t want my kids to be made in MY image or made in the image of our pleasant-presenting community. I want them to know that they are made in the image of an ever-loving and creative God who also values them as independent thinkers. Jesus is the embodiment of God in flesh and was the most countercultural, independent, radical thinker of all for his time.
I recently read a few articles about the toughest places for girls to get an education. I wasn’t surprised to see Ethiopia ranking in the top 10 in the world on that list. Girls are a part of daily chores that include caring for siblings, cooking, and fetching food. I have driven by the fence near the bus station where girls are lined up waiting for a solicitor after being tricked to travel into the city in hopes of wages to send back to family. Living in rural areas, girls may be assigned to marriage before the age of 15. In fact, many articles state that early marriage is the number one reason Ethiopian girls have a difficult time accessing education.
I am proud to say that you all have been a part of bringing both types of education to Ethiopian communities of Aware and Burayu. This has been done through supporting HopeChest’s indigenous leaders working with women of Aware, building a school building to work collaboratively with the government and through sponsorships that bring thousands of kids to school. Their educators and mentors are seeing to it that these women are not only taught skills for sustainable living, but the skill of freedom to think creatively.
When we travel, we get to see other cultures and the ways other people do life. When we travel, we expose those we visit to a way we may do life. The goal isn’t to change one into the other, but to educate us all on the many ways in which we can do life differently, yet together. I like to think that the education Nelson Mandela was talking about, the kind that changes the world, wasn’t just about how a bill becomes a law but the kind of education that teaches us all HOW to think, not simply WHAT to think. Read stories. Listen to others. Get out. Invite in.
As children are returning to school after the holidays please remember to pray for them or consider sending them an encouraging letter! Many of the children we serve have to walk miles to get to their school, or may have insecurities about going to school and fitting in with children who have nice things. Letters are received with joy and completely make their month!
Ethiopia: January 8
Guatemala: January 15
Russia: January 12
Swaziland: January 12
Uganda: February 5
India: January 15