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A Way Out of Poverty
Friday, 21 November 2014 Written by Valerie Kae Ken

Here in Kivumu there is no such thing as garbage pickup... in fact, there is very little garbage... there are a couple of reasons for this – one is that no one owns enough of anything to create much ‘garbage’ and secondly, no one wastes anything. Once a week, I take my personal garbage from the woven basket in my room out to a pit nearby the friary to burn it. Without fail, three children show up at my side, hoping to find anything they can salvage... It is heartbreaking...

A Way Out of Poverty

One day they mustered up the courage to say “Give me clothes”... then, “Give me pen” and “Give me paper”... they have nothing but the clothes on their backs, which, sadly, are worn and faded, with years of dirt ground into the fibers. But, as difficult as it is to refuse, giving a handout is not the answer... for many reasons.

You see, if, every time a poor child asks for something and receives it, he or she learns to beg. Rather than learning to ask for work in order to earn something, they begin to believe that the only way out of their situation is by lowering themselves to become beggars. One can only imagine what this does to their self-esteem!

But if albeit well-meaning volunteer ‘muzungus’ (i.e. white persons) hand out items to these children, it is actually destructive – first of all, it creates an imbalance between those who manage to receive a ‘gift’ and those who do not; secondly, it fosters greater and greater dependency of the poor upon those more fortunate, and thirdly and most importantly, it makes it very difficult for the development workers who actually live here year after year, as they attempt to teach the value of education and hard work as a means of achieving a livelihood.

The Kivumu schools - the Vocational Training Centre and now the Senior Secondary School - are truly a beacon of light in the darkness of the hopelessness that poverty creates. The schools offer the community not just the opportunity for education and for a working skill – the schools offer hope; they offer the chance for a way out of despair and the schools offer the students invaluable lessons like discipline and character building.

And the community surrounding the schools also benefits – they see the students working hard, they hear the clamour of noises as students hammer and saw; they watch as masonry students carry cut-up plastic containers filled with sand and cement to use as mortar in their brick building exercises. Younger members of the community eagerly await the day when they too can join the ranks of these trade students!

At assembly each morning, the schools’ teachers offer advice – advice on hygiene, advice on matters of discipline and advice on any other issues of importance to the students. The schools’ students arrive looking smart in their school uniforms - even the builders, carpenters, welders, electricians and plumbers manage to look smart, despite the wear and tear on their faded coveralls that have to last them for the entire one to two years of their training programs.

Patches adorn the one piece uniforms – tears are repaired, buttons are replaced and gaping holes are covered over with new fabric – all done by the tailoring students. As these young adults gather in lines according to their study courses – with tailoring students to the left and construction trades to the right, the teachers come forward to set the tone for the day.

There is often a skit presented by two or more students to display their knowledge of English, as well as to teach some kind of lesson in morality. This is followed by a prayer, and if one is lucky enough to hear it, the prayer is sometimes sung – in voices beautifully blended and soft with an enchanting melody.

Gradually these students learn to take pride in what they can achieve through hard work. Where once they might have been the ones begging, they now have the chance to turn their lives around – to provide a living for themselves and for their families.

It is truly wonderful to witness the changes that have taken place in Kivumu over the years with the presence of our two schools offering education as a way out of poverty!!

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