Education

Changing Poverty Into Opportunity: A Moral Cause To Bring Us Together

Aerial view of Pennsylvania Avenue, Orhan Cam / Shutterstock.com

Aerial view of Pennsylvania Avenue, Orhan Cam / Shutterstock.com

I know I am not the only one who is sick and tired of Washington’s manufactured crises around budget and deficit debates. Brinksmanship has replaced statesmanship in trying to find a sound path to fiscal responsibility. It is time to make the right moral choices that will defend the most vulnerable and pursue an opportunity agenda to reduce the highest poverty rate in 50 years.

Ideological debates over the role of government are the real battle in the nation’s capital — more than the debt crisis. Political calculations about the next election are more important to many of our political leaders than the common good of the country.

It’s just time to move on from the partisan politics that has polarized and paralyzed us for so long — by committing ourselves to moral issues that could and should bring us together. The first will be comprehensive immigration reform, which will change the lives of 12 million people in this country, lift many out of poverty, and help the economy at the same time. This is a clear example of how the faith community has changed, and now come together to become a political game changer in Washington, D.C., at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue on both sides of the aisle.

And it’s time to make another moral commitment in the midst of our growing economic recovery — to include poor families and change poverty into opportunity. Fighting poverty must not be a partisan issue. When we look at both the causes and the solutions, this battle should bring both liberals and conservatives together. Overcoming poverty, by creating opportunity, happens because of three very basic things that most of us can agree on: family, education, and work. All three are crucial and necessary in moving people out of poverty and into opportunity.

Let’s break it down.

In Kabul, Widows and Orphans Move Up

Photo courtesy Kathy Kelly.

Zainab, Umalbanin, Ali, Kathy, and Martha going up the mountainside. Photo courtesy Kathy Kelly.

Kabul —Yesterday, four young Afghan Peace Volunteer members, Zainab, Umalbanin, Abdulhai, and Ali, guided Martha and me along narrow, primitive roads and crumbling stairs, ascending a mountain slope on the outskirts of Kabul. The icy, rutted roads twisted and turned. I asked if we could pause as my heart was hammering and I needed to catch my breath. Looking down, we saw a breathtaking view of Kabul. Above us, women in bright clothing were navigating the treacherous roads with heavy water containers on their heads or shoulders. I marveled at their strength and tenacity. “Yes, they make this trip every morning,” Umalbanin said, as she helped me regain my balance after I had slipped on the ice.  

About 10 minutes later, we arrived at the home of Khoreb, a widow who helped us realize why so many widows and orphans live in the highest ranges of the mountain.  Landlords rent one-room homes at the cheapest rates when they are at this isolating height; many of the homes are poorly constructed and have no pipes for running water. This means the occupants, most often women, must fetch water from the bottom of the hill each and every morning. A year ago, piped water began to reach some of the homes, but that only meant the landlords charged higher rent, so women had to move higher up the mountain for housing they can afford. It only made their daily water-carrying longer and more arduous.

 

Getting Children Out of Work and Into School

 PavelSvoboda / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Unidentified young boys work hard as porters instead going to school: PavelSvoboda / Shutterstock.com

Beau Underwood reminded us at this year’s Sojourners’ Christmas chapel that Jesus was not born into a calm, peaceful world in a serene nativity scene. It was a chaotic world in which the Jews were oppressed by Roman rule and Jesus’ very act of being born freaked Herod out, resulting in a mass genocide of baby boys. All was not calm and peaceful as the birth of Jesus challenged the sinful powers and structures of the world from the very start of his life.

This Christmas the world remains a very frightening and chaotic place for many children around the world. Jim Wallis and I met with former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown just a few days ago and Gordon told us about a group of children in Delhi, India who were being held in unspeakable conditions — forced to work for up to 15 hours a day making Christmas decorations. 

Children! Forced slave labor, some of them as young as 8 years old, imprisoned, beaten, and required to make decorations intended celebrate the birth of the savior of the world. Making matters worse, these are only a few of millions of young children trafficked into slave labor around the world all year long. What horrible irony.

Nurturing An Inner Voice

Photo: Young girl reading, AISPIX by Image Source / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Young girl reading, AISPIX by Image Source / Shutterstock.com

During my first year as a second-grade teacher, I struggled with classroom management. I am a soft-spoken person by nature and habit. I didn't have the experience to help me set up great rules and procedures for my students. My classroom was noisy and chaotic. I think you could hear us all around the school.

A well-meaning colleague stopped me one day after school and offered, "Trevor, you need to find your teacher voice. Most of the children at our school won't listen to you unless you yell at them. You need to show them who's boss."

After five years of teaching, I agree that it is important to find your teacher voice. I disagree, however, that your teacher voice needs to be mean and bossy. I found my voice. It’s nurturing and supportive and one that students can internalize for positive growth and change. 

I thought about this teacher voice when I met 7-year-old Maria. On her first day in reading intervention classroom, she made a mistake on a skill sheet. She asked for an eraser but I said, "Don't worry if you make a mistake. You don't have to erase it. Just cross it out and fix it. I'll never be angry with you if you make a mistake. I just want you to try to fix it."

Educating Girls Reduces Poverty.

It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again. One of the surest ways to reduce poverty is to provide an education for girls. Yet, as AFP reports, a new study shows there is still a long way to go.

“Millions of girls worldwide are condemned to lives of hardship because they don't go to school, an education gap that entrenches broader extreme poverty, a new report said. The report, "Because I am a Girl: The State of the World's Girls 2012," was released in New York by Plan International on the first International Day of the Girl organized by the United Nations.

"The estimated 75 million girls missing from classrooms across the world is a major violation of rights and a huge waste of young potential," the child poverty alleviation group said in launching the report.”

The full 200-page study is HERE.

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

One of the mothers from the Mary Joy organization in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

~ Proverbs 31:8-9

ADDIS ABABA — These words of King Solomon have been running through my mind since our ONE Moms delegation — 13 mothers from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France — arrived in the Ethiopian capital on Sunday.

I hear these verses as a clarion call to action. As someone who strives humbly to follow the Way of Jesus and be involved in The Work that God is doing in the world, I want to respond and do what these verses command.

And as a believer who also happens to be a mother (a fairly novice one, still learning the ropes, if you will), I must do.

Sunday afternoon, after us ONE Moms dropped our luggage at the hotel, piled into our chartered bus, and drove to the outskirts of the city to the Mary Joy Aid Through Development Association, we met our Ethiopian sisters who are speaking out for those who cannot; who are advocating on behalf of the destitute, judging with righteous wisdom, and defending the rights of the poor and the needy.

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

In 2007, I boarded a plane bound for Africa for the first time.

That trip took me to Kenya, Tanzania, the island of Zanzibar, and Malawi.

And that trip changed me — heart, mind, soul — forever transforming my family and my world.

Today, five years almost to the day since I flew to Nairobi to begin my first African adventure, I'm sitting in the international terminal of Dulles airport in Washington, D.C., waiting to board a 787 Dreamliner bound for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

An adventure lies ahead. And yet, so much more than that.

I've been to Africa twice now (this is my third visit to continent), and each time the people I've met and experiences I've had on the journey — all of it dripping with a grace so palpable I could almost smell it like so much sandalwood smoke wafting from an incenser — have shaped me and recalibrated my spirit.

I don't know specifically what Ethiopia has in store for me, but I am sure of one thing: The Spirit will be there.

Love Bug: Kids Flourish When We Focus on Their Strengths

Close up look at the common dragonfly.

Bralyan loves bugs.

I met him during the first week of school as I conducted the standard assessment of how many words he could read per minute from a second-grade story. After the assessment, I gave him the customary caterpillar sticker to put on his shirt to show everyone that he was going to emerge as a great reader during his second-grade year.

You would have thought that I had given him a piece of gold.

"Oooh, I love bugs," he marveled as I handed him the sticker. "I have seen caterpillars around the trees at my apartment. They spin a chrysalis and turn into butterflies.

“Have you seen a roly poly bug?,” he continued. “They're my favorites!"

And so a friendship began around the pyrrharctia isabella, the armadillidum vulgar and other bugs that make up the most diverse group of animals on the planet.

This interaction told me some crucial things about Bralyan. It told me he is a smart kid, and it also told me that keeping him engaged in school would likely include bugs.

I later learned that Bralyan and his family moved here from Mexico when he was a baby. His mom and dad speak only Spanish at home. He speaks English at school.

Awful Leads to Wonderful

Farming illustration, Konstantin Sutyagin / Shutterstock.com

Farming illustration, Konstantin Sutyagin / Shutterstock.com

Being a teacher is like being a farmer. You rise early in the morning. You irrigate and fertilize the field that is your classroom. You plant the seeds that are reading, writing, and arithmetic. You hope for good soil, warm sunshine, and gentle rain that are good homes, healthy foods, and adequate healthcare for your students. You work with your hands, feet and heart with your plants who are your students. 

Your harvest is your students. 

Your winter season of fallow fields is your summer break of empty classrooms.

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