When I was volunteering at Maya Pedal in Guatemala there was a sign on the wall that said “Que Caro Es Ser Pobre”. It means “How expensive it is to be poor.” As I travel through many of the world’s “poor” countries, I am writing a series of articles about how expensive it is to be poor. I don’t think many people in “rich” countries understand how difficult it is to climb out of poverty. I am all about positivity and I am having the time of my life right now. But I would be doing a disservice to the amazing people I’ve met if I didn’t share their story of what life is like dealing with poverty.
I visited a school here in Yoloaiquin just 3 minutes walking distance from where I am staying and it inspired me to write this post.
Poverty is a cycle and education is one of the things that can break that cycle. But education is all relative.
Here are some pictures of the school here in Yoloaiquin.
This is not the best environment for learning. It gets worse though. The broken roof over the classroom has been like that for three years. The furniture in the adjacent room is all rotten as a result of exposure to the elements. Half the school is essentially shut down.
Many parents withdrew their children from the school and now send them to others farther away. As a result of the reduced number of students, there is only one teacher there now to cover grades 1 through 5. There are only 12 students total now, way down from its high.
Imagine the different needs an 11-year-old fifth grader has compared to a 6-year-old first grader. One is learning how to read, the other should have mastered multiplication and division. Completely different. But here, they are all under the same roof for the four hours of school they have per day.
Given these conditions, it’s hard to see how the poverty cycle gets broken. Many parents in middle class/wealthy families opt to send their kids to private schools. Their kids receive a better education, but it’s not the solution and it only propagates the poverty cycle by keeping quality education out of reach for the poor.
The U.S. has its own problems with public schools in many cities and the crushing student-loan problem. I understand that and I think drawing a parallel with this example is completely warranted. So far if a few words were changed, I could very well be speaking about the U.S.
In visiting the school, I have no doubt that the students are eager to learn and are motivated to succeed. It’s just hard to see, given the limited resources, how they could be expected to keep pace with students in schools with better conditions.
The hardest thing about visiting the school was talking to the teacher. He has been teaching there for 32 years. He says he will retire soon and he doesn’t want to leave the school in its worst condition it has ever been in to whoever replaces him. And he, obviously, doesn’t think it’s fair for the students.
This has just been one anecdote about a small school in rural El Salvador. But I think elements of it are representative across many developing countries (and some developed countries).
What do you do when the government is supposed to provide free, universal education to all students yet it is failing well short of doing so – thus nearly ensuring the propagation of the poverty cycle?
Complicated question. No easy answers. I just know it’s not right.