The following was published The Capital Journal.
Access to education was never a worry for me.
Albeit not always perfect, I was able to attend school from kindergarten through 12th grade without question. Not going to college was a thought that didn’t enter my mind and I got by with part-time jobs, scholarships and loans, a chunk of which are still waiting to be paid.
It sounds cliché to say I took for granted the educational opportunities available to me but it is true. I did.
As a teacher in the developing world, it’s clear to me how lucky I am to have any education beyond eighth grade. What I thought was given to everyone turns out to be only for the privilidged.
In Lesotho, the government operates primary schools, so grades one through seven are free. Secondary and high school, no matter if managed by churches or the government, are not.
My school, belonging to the Lesotho Evangelical Church, has annual fees of 1,300 Maulti, or roughly $163. This is a lot of money to the average family in my community, especially if they have more than one child. Most families scrap by to pay the fees, not to mention additional costs including books and school uniform, and sometimes they pay with livestock or crops from their fields. Some students, specifically orphans, receive government assistance, but it is up to most to find the cash for education.
As can be expected, that often means very smart, capable students end up not going to school. There simply isn’t the money, their family says. It is hard to understand this sometimes, wondering if the family could make a few financial adjustments and budget better, but I’ve come to understand that education isn’t always a priority.
However, I’ve been able to help in a small way. Friends of Lesotho, an organization in the United States composed of mostly former Lesotho volunteers, funds the Tap Assistance Program, available to all current volunteers. Through this program, we are allowed to select ten students who are in the top third of their class and are in need of help with school fees. To apply the students write essays about why education is important and what they plan to do upon completing school and, if accepted, the program pays for half of their school fees.
I have submitted applications for students in both years I’ve been teaching and all 20 have been accepted. I work with my principal and teachers to identify the most appropriate students and then help the students complete the application.
Although I usually do not agree with just handing out cash, a principle I didn’t know I had before coming to Lesotho, this program is one that I believe in. It is not sustainable as there will be no one to offer these scholarships to my students next year after I returned home. Still, with most of my TAP students, this assistance is the difference between attending school or looking after animals full time.
My favorite part of TAP is telling the students their applications have been accepted. Their faces light up. Hope has been given to them another year. I can’t promise a college education but at least their dreams of becoming a nurse or police officer are alive for another year.