June 5th 2012
A mission team walked past me on the way to town today. Their loud conversation and Southern accents revealed their American citizenry—probably 10 or 15 teenagers, plus a few adults.
Besides the Mountaineer Backpacks and the matching aluminum water bottles, what struck me as odd was a t-shirt worn by one of the teens. Blazoned across the front was Charles Schwartz’s iconic Snoopy, apathetically lying on his dog house with big bold letters saying, “I’m Allergic to School.”
I’m Allergic to School. Ummm.
I’m guessing that the mission team missed the cross-cultural training exercises prior to departing for Malawi. I’m assuming that no one in the group bothered to reflect on the irony of a t-shirt message in a culture where education is not a right, but rather a privilege.
Snoopy’s message reeked of American privilege, laced with a kind of arrogance that says, “I’m so advantaged that I can choose to be lazy.”
Perhaps the shirt hit me the wrong way because earlier that day I met 55 ninth graders who walk an hour and a half (each way, each day!) to attend our new high school—a school with broken windows, no electricity, and an outhouse resembling a fly farm. They come because of a hunger to learn. They come because of our committed teaching staff. They are hardly allergic to school.
Our students are the kids scoring less than 90% on their government exams, therefore losing their spots in the Malawian educational system—a system where only the elite few make it. Our kids are the B and C students…the kids who struggle with test taking and have not been blessed with great memorization skills. Without our school, they will be reduced to subsistence farming and a life of debilitating poverty.
I’m Allergic to School. Really? What I’m learning from Malawian kids is that the only thing to which they are allergic is…lack of opportunity.