Forgetting Value

One of the things that always amazes me is the drive and motivation that people have to learn just when their opportunities are the most limited. We’re sending school supplies to kids in Afghanistan that might not even have a classroom to go to, and yet still they go.  In fact they are dying to go to school and get an education. When they get the supplies that we send, they aren’t just thankful, they’re overjoyed.  To me, it seems like these people who are in this remote part of the world and have to struggle to get their education, are the ones that truly appreciate what it is that their precious years of schooling will offer for the rest of their lives. It’s amazing.

Students study at an open air school near Jalabad (Photo by David Sullivan, 2004).

Compared to that, it seems like what’s going on around me in America is lackluster, it’s wasteful.  Here we are with every opportunity provided to us, and we’re often uninterested. We don’t have to worry about school supplies. Forget your pencil? You can borrow mine. I don’t hear people (especially kids) say that they get to go to school today, but that they have to.  There are constant reminders and constant discussions about the value that Americans place on education, or fail to. After seeing the difference between a school kid in Afghanistan and one here I start to wonder if we can’t really appreciate what is so easy for us. I mean, does something have to be hard to get for it to be worthwhile. Or is it that we only want what we don’t have?

And that only worries me more. If it’s the case that what we really want is what we don’t have, then we’re just stuck going in circles. We lack something, we want it. We want something, we get it. We have something, we lose it. We lose something, we want it. I feel like that seems to characterize a lot of people. And my next worry is that making education widely available will just devalue it. However, that clearly isn’t what happens. It may be that we have lost some respect for the power of education (as a nation), but it is clear that the people who are given access to it in those places like Afghanistan do not move up and move out—they don’t take their education and run. Rather they reinvest themselves in their still impoverished communities, and they will always appreciate the chances we can give them.

Jahan Ali is a graduate Mortenson’s first school in Pakistan. After going on to receive basic health-care training, she returned to put her education to use in her community. (Photo courtesy of the Central Asia Institute)

One of the reasons that I have no doubt that what we are giving to people in Afghanistan is more than the school supplies they need, has to do with the book I’ve been reading lately—Stones into Schools. It’s a great book about Greg Mortenson’s work in northern Afghanistan, but what really strikes me is one of the opening passages. A young girl that graduated from the school Mortenson had built not only went on to study healthcare, but she did so for the express purpose of providing that healthcare to her home community—reinvesting herself. And this was not an isolated case. The majority of students to graduate his schools returned to improve the communities they had come from, and especially to help educate new generations of students.

So, they have the drive that we lack, but they lack the supplies that we have. Then, it’s our job to take inspiration from the effort of these poor and determined Afghan children, and our duty to share with them at least the abundance of school supplies that are all too easy to forget that we have.

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