“Too old to learn? Do women “age-out” of their opportunity for an education?” [2013 VOF Week 3]
My community of women and girls live in a refugee settlement in Uganda, they live there because of the ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Many have lived at the settlement for more than a decade, some were born there or arrived when they were so small they have little memory of life outside the camp, many are widows, and some are orphans caring for other orphans. They arrived at the settlement with very little, most arrived with only the clothes they were wearing. Many witnessed firsthand brutal murders and rapes. They were given supplies for six-months and a plot of ground to farm; after six-months they were expected to be mostly self-sufficient. Because the war is ongoing new refugees arrive each week.
Life is a struggle. Most homes are mud with grass roofs that leak when it rains. Food can be scarce during the best of times but during a drought people go hungry. Sickness is a constant problem made worse by the difficulty of obtaining medicines. If a mother gets sick and can’t work the whole family suffers. Malaria deaths are common. Pregnancy is a health risk.
But not all is bleak - there can be found care in the community, love in families and among friends, laughing children and friendly people. Many chase the hope of a better future.
People want an education and if they are lucky enough to be healthy they work and sacrifice to get the money to go to school or to send their children to school. I know an orphan who works instead of going to school so she can earn money to send her sister to school.
In 2008 my friends and I formed an alliance to improve the economic status of the people in our group. We’ve given microcredit loans, provided each other with business and personal support, formed business co-ops and done community work. As their economic conditions have improved so has the ability to send their children to school. When reports are given often included with the status of the grain mills, crop production, goat and cow breeding is the number of children attending school.
Several times in the last few years the women have said they want to learn, they to be educated. At the end of a recent meeting they said they wanted to learn to speak English. Considering their ages (20 – 50), where they live and how hard they struggle to survive it takes a certain amount of courage to even verbalize this. Since then I’ve been amazed at how many people snicker when I mention the women want to learn English. When people snicker at someone who wants to learn I get angry. Turns out anger can be a good thing because it’s caused me to think;
• Is the worldwide focus on educating girls too focused on the young? Are women being discriminated against?
• It appears women often “age-out” of their opportunity for an education. Why? There are leaders in this group, mothers, teachers, and nurturers. Can a woman not learn and lead and teach at age 18 and at age 88 and in the years between?
• A woman who wants to learn sends a message to all that education is important. She takes pride in what she learns. She will SHARE what she learns.
• A woman who insists on learning when others snicker behind her back shows strength and courage. She becomes a role model and a mentor for others like her.
• Stopping the discrimination of teaching women would help stop the discrimination that keeps girls from school.
So with a dream of learning and a snicker for motivation the ladies and I have decided to hold a pilot (test) class to start in June.
• We must keep the costs very low and make it easy for the ladies to attend.
• Classes will be held at someone’s house.
• Our teacher will be a newly arrived refugee who was a teacher at home. She knows English and the dialect of Swahili the women speak.
• At last count 20 women have said they will attend.
Overlook these ladies and we overlook a voice of a better today and tomorrow.
(On a personal note – I started college when I was 31 year old, newly divorced and the mother of two young girls. It took me 12 years to graduate and there were sacrifices made by all three of us. Both my girls graduated college before I did. I’m proud of them.)
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