Poverty and Education

By Shaun My stay in my host family is nothing but a very enjoyable experience. Thanks to the exceptional hygiene standard (especially compared to the average hygiene standard here) of my host mum, I have never had any single diarrhoea, which I had been very concerned about before I came . Slight indigestion resulting from eating too much of the delicious home-cooked food in the first few days might be the only occurrence of discomfort in my three-week of homestay. That said, hygiene standard in the village does vary across households, and some of my less fortunate friends are more prone to diarrhoea than I am. Parents and teachers obviously do not emphasise the importance of staying clean and healthy enough because they themselves do not have the basic habits like washing their hands before they eat and after they go to toilet.

It is often said that education is a way out of the poverty cycle. It might be true in developed countries where every child can go to free and high quality public schools and those in underprivileged families can enjoy a relatively levelled playing field and move themselves up the social ladder through hard work. Nonetheless, in poor economies, it is often easier said than done. For one, it is very hard to make sure the quality of education in poor economies. When educators themselves do not receive proper education and sufficient training, the effect of education in instilling the right values and concepts is therefore seriously compromised. It really shocked me when I listened to my friend’s recount of his visit to the primary school which most of the children in the village attend. The school principal is a racist who holds a strong bias towards Muslim. “Do not trust them.” he warned my friend and expressed his unreasonable discomfort in working with Muslim volunteers from other countries last year. It is very scary to fathom how his strongly racist worldview can badly affect his impressionable primary school students. What will his students grow up into when they directly or indirectly learn from him during school events such as assemblies? When even the correct basic values are lacking due to the low quality of educators, it is only a far-fetched dream to have high quality education to help people escape poverty cycle.

IMG_5121Children here also do not have the luxury of a conducive learning environment at home. The frequent blackouts that almost happen daily make it all the more difficult for them to focus on their studies in the evening at home. Seeing my host sister and brothers doing their homework conscientiously under the dim candle light during blackout is both heart-warming and poignant at the same time. Cliche as it is, I am constantly reminded of how privileged it is to have even sufficient light at night to read, let alone air-conditioning. In terms of the access of information, local students are losing out because of the poor Internet coverage. The Internet, which is supposed to bring democracy to education or information flow in general, is obviously not working its magic here. IMG_5195

Mitigating factors like these greatly hinder the power of education in Guimaras. Young people are not aware of so many other things in the world they can aspire to. The issue here is not they are staying in their comfort zone but rather, they do not know they are in their comfort zone and they need to get out. That’s why my friend Monty and I carried out this little project in our village – teaching kids names of the best American universities.

“Hey JM (the smartest kid in our village), do you still remember where you are going for college?” I asked.

“MIT” he said confidently.

“What is the full name of MIT?”

“Ma -ssa – chu- setts… Ins-ti-tute… of Tech-nology”, JM said, rolling his eyeballs and trying very hard to pronounce the cumbersome name.

We are planting a seed in his mind and wishing that one day it would grow into a blossoming mango tree, the sweetest in the world.

“JM, go to USA, the world is all yours.”IMG_5228

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