Sunday, February 23, 2014
The teenagers walk to school
It is late Sunday afternoon and I am being picked up to go stay in the guesthouse of the hospital. I have agreed to do the Helping Babies Breathe training for the nursing staff there. I sit outside the clinic with various people of the village. The clinic yard is the town square. This, the soccer field and the pump are where we gather.
A man has fallen off his donkey and has smashed his leg. It is twisted and turned and not looking good at all. Who knows how long it took him to get this far. I am picked up in the ambulance but the driver does not want to put him in. Everyone crowds around and insists so in he goes with his frightened daughter and some crutches. Two teenagers climb in as well.
I do not think too much of this at first. But them it becomes clear. There are many teenagers walking down out of the mountain to go to high school in town. They are walking miles and miles on rocky, mountain roads that are little more than paths. We fill the ambulance to overflowing but there are many, many more. They emerge from scrub brush and rock and burning charcoal. They gather at the last pump and walk past soccer games on dusty crossroads and grandparents making thread from rice bags. They leave whatever family is left and whatever family survived to make this walk every week for their future, for their families, for Haiti. They wear back packs with freshly washed uniforms. They will stay with a relative, a friend, a person who needs help with cooking and cleaning. They wave to the farmer coming home with his machete and their sisters getting water. They are the best and the brightest their villages, their families have to offer. It is for them they cut the trees and make charcoal. It is for them there is never enough food. It is so they can have the education their parents never had. It is not free. Their parents and they must work and then they must walk home each Friday; up the mountainside where they must help their family and study before walking back down.
We turn a corner and the sea, cool and blue like a postcard calls to us but no one answers. They are going to school; going to school in the hope that by the time they finish, they can get into college or get a job and help their families. I watch this brave, beautiful march down the mountain.
I watch this knowing, that in the village I come from, nearly half the teenagers will choose to leave high school; to drop out, to take another path. Their education is free, the books are free and they do not have to wear a uniform. They can live at home and are given free food, if they need it. They are given a ride or a car or a bus ticket. They have sidewalks, electricity and running water. But they have lost the journey, are starved for the journey, for meaning and navigation and the belief that the world will be a better place for their effort.
I want an easy way down the mountain for these kids so much I could cry. In my heart, I am cheering like I am at a soccer match. You can do it. Don't give up. And world, please don't give up on Haiti either. At the end of this walk, they need jobs, higher education and the promise of possibility. Please make this walk worth making.
And if you are a teenager in my country, you are a part of the walk too. I know it is hard to see. Even with lights and cars and a free education, we have made the road almost impassable for you. In the name of commercialism, we have denied you the journey. I am not sure, by the end, what is breaking my heart more.
As we come into town, it is dark. We drop our students off and they melt into a path, into night fires and dirt streets. There are many still on the road behind us. We drop the man withe the smashed leg off and I go to the hospital.
Next Friday they will be back home again.