Teachers Are My Heroes

A number of years ago, I spent a workday on the road for Food for the Hungry in the Bolivian highlands. One of my colleagues had a meeting with a rural school director. I didn’t have any official duties on that stop, so I sat in the schoolyard reviewing my notes from an interview I’d done earlier in the day.

It was mid-afternoon, just after school ended, and in time several young women sat down and started to chat. They were teachers at the school.

The women were in their early 20s and were all from other cities in Bolivia. In this remote locale, the only source for teachers was those serving their “año de provincia,” a year of rural service required to obtain a teaching certificate.

It’s not normal for Bolivians, especially young women, to live apart from their families. For most this was the first time they’d left home. And they were city girls, used to houses any of us in the U.S. would find comfortable. Here, they lived in small, dark dirt-floor cells with no indoor plumbing and thatched roofs. On the weekends they escaped home for a bit, but during the week they endured miserable living conditions.

In time they started crying as they talked about how hard their lives were. More women joined and instead of two, I had two dozen gathered around.

“There’s not much I can do but listen and learn,” I thought. I knew my colleagues were taking the slow, steady road to improving some conditions here. So I help the women dry their tears and resolved to keep telling the story of teachers worldwide.

Building a foundation…for learning

When FH constructs a school, classrooms and desks are just the start of improving education in the community.  The teachers matter, too.

Tweet: Not all classrooms in the world include desks or books. Learn more at https://goo.gl/xEsB5RTweet This: Not all classrooms in the world include desks or books. Learn more at https://goo.gl/xEsB5R

A colleague later shared that the school I visited had no prayer of retaining staff beyond the one-year required stint. Every year the director had a completely new staff of green first-time teachers.

The real losers in this, of course, were the children in the community.

When FH enters a region, often the conditions for both teachers and children are top priorities for community leaders. Poor living facilities are the tip of the iceberg. Due to lack of classrooms, teachers may be required to work two shifts so that all of the children can squeeze in at least a few hours of school each day. Many teach without textbooks. If they’re lucky, they have a blackboard (although I’ve had teachers complain about shortages of chalk, so the blackboard is useless).

It bothered me at first that all teachers seemed to yell, all the time. Even if they only had 15 children in the room, I’ve heard teachers talk to kids at full-blown, gym-teacher-screaming-across-a-football-field volume. I came to realize that most teachers are trained to project across classes of 60 to 80 students because that’s a normal class size in the developing world. The children think that teachers are supposed to yell.

But they persist

I’ve met teachers who couldn’t bathe because water was so limited at their schools. Or who packed in their own food to eat all week. They’re accustomed to teaching children sitting on rocks and boards because there aren’t any desks. Or teaching under trees because there aren’t enough classrooms. At recess, they keep livestock from trampling the little ones in the unfenced schoolyards. They contract cholera, typhoid and malaria that they wouldn’t get if they were teaching in a more comfortable city school.

In South Sudan, teachers in FH-aided communities braved the bullets of the civil war to keep children in school. In Lebanon, refugee teachers who fled the violence in Syria are volunteering in some of the schools FH is helping run for refugee children.

Tweet: South Sudan teachers brave bullets to keep children in school. In Lebanon, Syrian refugee teachers volunteer to teach. https://goo.gl/xEsB5RTweet This: South Sudan teachers brave bullets to keep children in school. In Lebanon, Syrian refugee teachers volunteer to teach. https://goo.gl/xEsB5R

Ogwak Denish, a former FH sponsored child, is now a teacher in Uganda. Read more about Ogwak.

I’ve known several teachers over the years who were FH sponsored children, and who returned to their communities as committed teachers. Their families sacrificed to send them to university, foregoing the income they could earn if they were working full-time instead of attending college.

They should be our heroes. They should be in our prayers.

Someday I hope to meet a school director or national Minister of Education, who was a sponsored child. Meanwhile, I’ll work to provide them with what they need, to guide children worldwide into the adults God intended them to be.

Thursday, October 5 is World Teacher’s Day. Take time to remember in your prayers the unnamed teachers in places that aren’t on the map.

Tweet: On World Teacher’s Day, set aside time to pray for the world’s teachers overcoming unfathomable challenges. https://goo.gl/xEsB5RTweet This: On World Teacher’s Day, set aside time to pray for the world’s teachers overcoming unfathomable challenges. https://goo.gl/xEsB5R