In many cases, a person migrating from rural Ethiopia to the city of Addis Ababa has a lot more to get used to than just living among 3.4 million other people. Back home, they may have awoken when the chickens did and went to sleep when the sun disappeared. They may have had no running water or electricity in their grass huts, let alone books. They may have even become addicted to chewing the popular narcotic leaf called khat, a stimulant that, among other side effects, can eventually lead to lethargy and difficulty concentrating.
Sister Carol Reed, who teaches English to many students who moved into Addis Ababa from the countryside, observes: “Their reality is just very different. They’re not stimulated and learning, they don’t have a custom of reading. Following a time table is an incredible adjustment. It just strikes them as completely foreign.”
In mission in Ethiopia since 2002, Sister Carol, who teaches English at Cathedral High School and St. Francis Seminary, found that many youths were learning only to memorize and regurgitate information, reading by memorizing what specific words look like without necessarily knowing how to distinguish one letter from another. To address this problem, she created new course materials that are designed to help students improve their critical thinking skills.
Around the world, families are faced with a variety of other obstacles that stand in the way of education. In places like Chumukedima, a community in the Indian state of Nagaland, Medical Mission Sisters (MMS) noticed many families who were so poor that sending their child to work seemed more practical than paying to send them to school.
In 2005, Sister Mary Alex Illimoottil collaborated with two laywomen to launch a literacy program in colonies composed of Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, a group that was particularly marginalized and underprivileged. The migrants were almost entirely illiterate, and some children were so malnourished that their growth had been stunted. Some were infected with worms and many were anemic. So, in addition to offering literacy classes, the program also provided healthcare and nutritional aid.
Some of the students were child laborers and working women who attended classes only whenever possible. Still, they were eager to learn and studied their copy books in the dark of night. In just six months, 70 children and 20 women learned to read. While there were some children who left the program in favor of finding work, there were many reasons for Sister Mary to feel hopeful when the program ended in 2011 when public schools were declared free by the government. Although the schools still charged an admission fee, MMS and others from the community provided financial assistance to the families. With Sister Mary’s encouragement, parents who now understood the value of education began sending their children to school.
Reflecting on the program’s successes, Sister Mary shares: “What inspired me most was the joy radiated by the children on receiving the colorful textbooks in their hands. Also, the women who were very shy would come out of their houses begging for the books while carrying their babies on their backs.”
Rooted trees forever present Teach me stillness, if you will. Life is here… a gift unspent Help me slow to have my fill.
Trees always present Smile on one intent on haste Teach me “still” wisdom. – Sister Jane Fell, MMS
The large willow That grows close To the old Spring House Is so big, Two people cannot reach around it. It looks quite dead. A few feet from the trunk The Spring surfaces, Quietly, Under a root. The power of the water Lives in that willow. Out of those dead branches Thousands of shoots, Leafy and green Persist.
The Earth Power Is there for us, Under our feet. It is for us- As it is for the willow- Only, If only, We awake To it.