A New School Year

girl in pink dress with a book in her lapI’m a recent graduate of UC Santa Cruz and two other universities abroad and today I realized that this is the first fall I will not be attending classes since I was first placed in kindergarten. On my way to Firelight this morning I noticed an exponential amount of traffic in the neighborhood streets, mostly parents walking their small children to school, many probably for the first time. Seeing the excitement on the children’s face as they toddled down the sidewalk, holding their parents’ hands, combined with the nervous and bittersweet anticipation of their parents made me realize how special school really is, from a child’s first day to their graduation.

School provides children with opportunities for learning and for success. It enables children to be better problem solvers and future entrepreneurs to better serve their community. But for many children in Africa, school is a privilege rather than a right. A family’s overwhelming need for help around the house or picking crops for the season’s harvest make children’s labor necessary to feed and care for the household. In many areas, school is not publically funded by the state or country and must be paid for out of the family’s personal income.

When I volunteered at an elementary school in Manenberg, Cape Town, South Africa, I learned that going to school there cost about $100 a year (converted to US$) per student. While this amount may seem low compared to our public elementary schools, which cost about $850 per student per year according to the National Education Statistics Center, it is out of reach for many families in Africa who cannot afford the fees for their children to attend classes. This is especially true if their family consists of more than one or two children.

This is an unfortunate reality for many brilliant children who are not given the opportunity to return to school this year due to a familial lack of funds or outside scholarship. Luckily, in some of these areas, there are strong community leaders who team up with organizations such as Firelight Foundation to enable more children to go to school while helping families reach financial stability.

So this year as I see children or teenagers or college students traveling to or from class, I am thankful that we here in the US have such an amazing school system that enables so many students to go to class and to continue their education each year. These are the children of our future and someday their ideas may help the communities we live in too. As for our friends in Africa, we continue to find ways of helping students in their communities grow and to be able to continue school also. I am proud to know I volunteer for an organization that works so hard to enable African children to have the same kinds of opportunities so that we can one day follow their leadership too.