Let girls learn
As I sat in class on Monday during the alphabet game, I looked around and had this thought, this epiphany of how special every one of these women are.
Bonnie and I teach Nyanja literacy on Mondays and English literacy on Wednesdays. Our classes are open to all that wish learn, and to this point in time not a single male has attended. But over 30 different women have attended, with 20 of them being regulars. Some even take attendance more serious than I.
This enormous moment swept over me as I sat back on my stool and watched these ladies unscramble the alphabet in teams. They never had the opportunity to learn. And by learn, I mean in the school setting. The women in our Nyanja class were mostly deprived of a formal education, and if they were lucky enough to attend at all they didn’t reach Grade 6.
I write this not for pity. Not for the ‘oh man, that is so sad.’ But more for the utter excitement and testament that it is to these ladies that given any opportunity they will seize it if it has anything to do with learning. I’m not a professional teacher. But they don’t care. They want to learn and I am trying to teach.
Men here, like in most countries of the world, are favored in many ways. They automatically garner respect, they make decisions, they go to school. If a family can’t afford to send everyone to school, most of the time it is not the son that misses out. It is the daughter. In Zambia, she will remain home to help out with chores, cook meals for the rest of the family, fetch water, etc. But she will not attend school.
It’s a hard thing to stomach sometimes when you see a bright young girl fetching water on a school day during school hours. But, unfortunately, this is part of the culture. And, as much as we might want to on some occasions, it is not our job to change their culture.
As I sat there with the women of my village, I smiled at their commitment. They might be 70, but they are going to learn. They are determined to take home knowledge. So, at the end of class on Monday, I posed a question.
‘Why do you want to learn?’
The responses varied. Some were borderline selfish but a majority of them were for their children. ‘We want to teach our children.’ All of their children. Daughters included. They are learning from me so they can teach to them. So they can show, by example, the importance of an education and how in most cases it is not given to you – you have to work for it.
It was with a strong sense of peace that I felt comfortable. I felt content. I felt the importance of teaching. Of sharing knowledge. But especially to those that otherwise would be left out.
We might not change the culture here. In our two years here, we might not teach a person to be perfectly literate in Nyanja or conversational in English. But if we can satisfy their yearning to learn and then maybe, just maybe, we can equip them with the tools to share with their children then we can smile. We will continue to push forward, but with a smile.
The young girl might not attend a formal school, but if her mother is more confident in her abilities to share knowledge and teach, then all hope is not lost. Hopefully, that spurs change in time. That spurs the desire for all to learn equally and for the sister to have the same opportunity as the brother. We can hope, and while we wait for the outcomes we want we can all continue to act.