The Common Good

Joy's Shadow As New School Year Begins

My daughter attended her first day of kindergarten today. A poignant milestone dressed up in an exceptionally cute plaid jumper.

My wife and I thought we were pretty cool with it. Our daughter had attended preschool, after all, so this wasn't a major logistical change. She was excited as we dropped her off, said goodbye with a smile over her shoulder, then back to drawing in her new notebook.

We still thought we were cool with it after we signed up for PTA at the courtyard table. We ran into the local rabbi. My wife is pastor at a Lutheran church in town and they cross paths regularly. The rabbi's third child was starting kindergarten. He's an old hand at this.

We only realized we might not really be so cool with it after we had stood talking with him, kept talking, kept standing, and the rabbi finally said, "You know, she's in her class. You're allowed to leave now."

Busted.

So we left. I was happy all day knowing she was in this great, free, local school here in South Florida where we live. But after dropping her off and walking a couple blocks to my office, I then worked on education issues for children in Haiti.

Joy is always accompanied by a shadow if you see the world realistically, even more so if you're personally engaged for justice with people who struggle in hard circumstances.

Our seven elementary schools in Haiti, with 1,100 girls and boys, open in the weeks ahead. I'm happy for them and all the children in Haiti starting school soon, but approximately 1 million school-aged children don't get to attend. Haiti wants to be able to educate its own children, and parents are willing to sacrifice, but the resources are too scarce. Today that is Joy's dark, way-too-big shadow.

My daughter had a great day: "I love kindergarten! I love my teacher!"

Now at the end of the day, she's here curled up next to me reading an Olivia book. It makes typing more awkward, but sweeter. Now I'm thinking back on the day, about talking with the rabbi, about the schools in Haiti, about the lack of schools. I'm thinking about parents I've known in Haiti whose children couldn't go to school.

The last months in the U.S. have been marked by discouraging, contentious disagreement. But today I find some hope that amidst dissension on politics, economics, theology, and a thousand different things, there are issues like this that are an incredible opportunity for unity: Every child in the world should have access to good primary education.

I'm not going to break into hymn or a John Lennon ballad. After more than eight years working in Haiti, what excites me is real, gritty, day-by-day, hard-fought partnership and progress.

So we shouldn't just endorse the ideal. That's meaninglessly easy. More of us should be investing in education, not just for our own children, but for tens of millions of children in countries like Haiti where their potential isn't being nurtured.

Tonight, on this fun, hope-filled first day of school, I can't think of a better way to make joy's shadow shrink a little and make way for more light.

Kent Annan is co-director of Haiti Partners (www.haitipartners.org). He is the author of After Shock, which explores questions of faith, doubt, and searching, and he is also the author of Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously, which is about living and working in Haiti.

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