June 23, 2009

More obstacles

I found myself thinking a lot in these last few weeks about the many obstacles to education that students in Itipini face. It’s June so that means it is time for mid-term exams, which stretch over three weeks and give students some time off during the course of the school day. That, in turn, meant I saw them more frequently than normal during the day.

One student, Siziwe, lives with her family in a shack just above the clinic. On a few occasions, I had to head that way for other reasons and poked my head in to say hello.

One time I found her warming her hands over the dying ember's of the morning's fire.
Another time, I found her lying in her sister’s bed, bundled up in a blanket in the middle of the morning.
A third time, I found her sitting in the sun with her sister, her sister’s child, and a neighbour’s baby.
Each time I saw her, I asked when her next exam was. But I didn’t quite know how to ask the question that was most pressing: how come you’re lying in bed when you should be studying?

On one trip, I asked Siziwe to show me her bed and she pointed to this tiny thing, which she shares with her younger brother.
She can’t sleep very well there. I wondered if that had something to do with the answer to my question. If she can’t sleep well at night, perhaps she needs to spend time during the day catching up on that sleep. And if she’s always cold because there’s no insulation in the shack and there’s not enough blankets, then maybe she needs to spend time during the day warming up. (No one ever believes me when I tell them this but it gets quite cold here during the winter, especially at night.)

I remember how much I studied for exams in high school and college. But I never realized that what allowed me to spend so much time on studying were things I took for granted, like a comfortable bed, thick walls, and a working furnace, among much else.