A valuable education

How fortunate do you really feel to have what you do have in life?

You have just arrived in a rural village somewhere in Africa and you meet little Thembi, sitting on the side of the red dirt road that was painstakingly dug by hand.  She is wearing a tatty old red check dress that had been given to her by some aid workers.  Her little feet are bare, the soles as hard as a rhino-hide.   Her skinny arms hold up her tired head as she sits there, waiting.  The beaded bracelets tinkle around her wrists as she shoos away the flies and the coloured beads at the tips of her braided hair fly through the air as she swings around to stare at the stranger walking toward her. “Why are you sitting here?” you ask.

“I wait for the bus” she replies in broken English.

“Where will it take you?”


The school to which she refers is in a clearing at the end of the dirt road. The ride is long and bumpy.  The school is a single building, about the size of your lounge and kitchen.  There are no tables inside, no chairs.  Only a blackboard at the front of the room.  The sun beats down on the tin roof.  It is hot inside, despite no panes in the windows and a gentle breeze rustles the papers in the teacher’s hand.  The children sit on the floor,in a semi-circle, crowding around the blackboard to get a good view of the day’s lessons.  They each have a pencil and a notepad.  All of their work is completed in this one, precious book.  They sit in awe of this knowledgeable person who teaches them to read and write.  She teaches them to speak different languages.  She teaches them Maths and Science.  She teaches them Geography and History.  At the end of each lesson she gives them a quick practical test to see if they were listening.  You are amazed that each and every child has absorbed everything they learned from the day.  You look in Thembi’s book.  The writing is meticulous, the notes are very detailed.

After a very long day at school, Thembi gets back on the same bus and heads home.  It is about 6pm when she arrives home.  A long day for a little child but she walks straight in, changes her clothes, puts her precious book on the tiny table in the corner of the tiny room she shares with her five siblings and then takes a water pail and joins the other village girls to collect water from the river, about a mile away.  When she returns home, she helps her mother cook supper outside in the large pots on the central fire.  They eat around the fire and then go to bed.  There is no electricity in the village so no lights, no radio, no television, no computer.

If you ask her to direct you to the shop, she will point you to Mama Ntokozo’s spaza shop.  The shop has a few ‘modern’ items, brought from the city to the village once a month in the big white truck.  Items would include paraffin for the little stoves, candles for light, matches, occasionally she would get some lovely balls of wool which would be snapped up really fast for the women to make blankets.  But mostly, the shop contained fresh vegetables that came from the farmers own backyards and, if they were really lucky, someone would have slaughtered a cow and not used it all so the chopped up left overs would make it to the front counter of the shop to be proudly displayed.

The next morning Thembi is up early, before the sun shows its face over the surrounding mountains.  She is heading back to the river with the other girls.  This time she carries a basket of washing upon her head.  At the river, the girls wash the clothes then spread them across the rocks to dry before stripping down and jumping into the fresh, cool water.  It is their bath time.  After the long trip home, she changes into her tatty red checked dress and the long wait for the bus begins.

You ask Thembi, “Why do you want to go to school everyday?  Isn’t life hard enough without having to travel and spend a whole day at school then come back and still do your daily chores?”

She laughs at you then replies, “But if I don’t go to school how do I ever leave this hard life behind? How do I get a job in the big city and help my family to live better?”

You slink off, feeling a bit sheepish because of your blinkered view.  You wonder to yourself what is better, a hard life where nothing is handed to you and every day is a struggle or a privileged life where you have every opportunity in the world to achieve and be all and have all that your heart desires…

So, how fortunate are you, really?

Copyright  © 300812 by Karen Payze


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