It’s back-to-school season in the United States. My kids are starting school next week, but my Facebook friends and the newspaper ads are a clear reminder that most of the nation is already back to school!
Going back to school sometimes makes me wonder how this season feels for families around the world in vulnerable places. In many of the communities where Food for the Hungry works, few children have historically stayed in school through graduation.
For you and me, sending our kids to school is a no-brainer. What would possibly make a family choose not to send their children to school?
As it turns out, there are many barriers that can keep a child out of school in vulnerable conditions. Here are some reasons I’ve noticed. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s representative of the situations in which many families find themselves.
1. He doesn’t have school supplies or a uniform.
In many countries, public school is free. However, the child’s parents must provide supplies, books and uniforms. When parents can’t afford these expenses, children may be prohibited from attending school.
2. He can’t walk that far.
For families without transportation, a school just 10 miles away can mean a three-hour walk in each direction. I’ve met children in Bolivia who live more than a one-day walk away from their school. If they don’t have extended family or a boarding house in the school’s neighborhood, schooling is beyond their reach.
3. She can’t afford the time away from work.
Families in vulnerable circumstances often need their young children to work at home, often as farm labor. Without the children to help, there is simply not enough food for the family. Of course, keeping children out of school becomes a vicious cycle of poverty for the family – a pattern that can extend for generations.
4. She is a girl.
Sadly, many girls around the world have been overlooked for education because of their gender. Some families prioritize keeping their sons in school, but not their daughters. Sometimes, girls are kept out of school to marry early and start a family.
5. No one thinks he can succeed.
Vulnerable communities can feel like hopeless places. Poor people can believe that their family is doomed to always remain poor. They may feel less capable of learning or succeeding because of the color of their skin, their background, their caste, or their ancestors. When a child is raised to believe he cannot or should not be educated, it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When we start considering the multiple factors that perpetuate poverty, it can feel too overwhelming. But it shouldn’t.
It’s true that poverty is complex, but understanding the complexity is actually the most important step in finding solutions. We can’t address one issue and assume that all of them will be fixed.
That’s why I sponsor a child with Food for the Hungry. The girl I sponsor, Noemi, is still in school at age 9 because every barrier to her education has been removed. My sponsorship, her hard work, and hope from God are paving the way for Noemi to stay in school and graduate.
Have you noticed other barriers that keep children from attending school? How can we lift barriers for them?