Quality Education Creates Expectations for the Poor and the Overall Economy
by H Mac Wooten
On a recent trip to Lima last week on the day bus, I again took note of the poverty and living conditions of many here. The population of Peru is approximately 31 million with about 1/3 of the population living in Lima (South Americas 5th largest city). About 2 hours from Lima as we paralleled the pacific coast, the shanty towns begin to appear. Bastions of poverty where I presume most people (given the choice) wouldn’t want to raise their children.
The houses are precariously perched one above another on the hillsides. Four walls and a roof made from mats woven from a type of cane. There’s no park, pool or tennis club for the children, there’s often no electricity but there’s a community water supply. Given enough time, electrical service will possibly be installed. The areas are lit up dimly at night by the orange sodium vapor lights. Although it’s not yet 5 o’clock, our neighbors are sitting with nothing to do , watching the buses go by as their life passes and leaving them to contemplate their future as they watch the sun go down. The contemplation part is most likely mine and mine alone. I suspect they don’t think much about what tomorrow brings and tomorrow is just one more day to survive.
Can you imagine your life with no expectations? Assuming you’re not dealing with clinical depression and honestly can’t get out of bed, could you imagine not thinking about tomorrow?
He’s a day laborer with nothing certain about tomorrow except hungry mouths to feed. I hope someone comes by today looking for workers. I don’t mind working, but I don’t have the money to go look for work and I might miss someone if they come by. My wife takes a combi most mornings at 6:00 a.m. She rides 1 1/2 hours and then walks 9 blocks to cook and clean at a house. She makes S/30 for a 10 hour work day and then 1 1/2 hour ride back. It costs S/3 for the combi.
Poverty is the worst form of violence. Mahatma Gandhi
I can see the ocean from here, but I can’t smell it. All I can smell is the fields of sugarcane burning. The smoke fills the air and blocks the view of the sky and the dreams I should have. But the smoke from the burning sugarcane is my reality and poverty is my life and future.
“Can you smell the smoke? Does it block the view of your future or are you able to see through it with your education? Can you visualize next week or next month or next year? I can’t.”
Whatever education you have is a gift. Use and cherish it. Use it to see through the smoke and time and despair. Don’t waste it watching your family sit on a dirt floor while waiting for the soup to cook over an open fire in the corner. Fourteen hour days are exhausting and wear you down and make you numb and they kill all expectations of a better life for me and my children. 14 hour days have destroyed my expectations.
Carlos is in the third grade. He spends much of his school days learning to march. He needs a new work book. It costs S/15. That’s more than half a days work for my wife. I don’t want to spend the money. His teacher is demanding we buy uniforms for the sports day and a costume for the next parade. I don’t believe a workbook a costume or a uniform is going to help get him a better life, am I wrong?
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela
When you live so deep in poverty, your expectations come hour by hour. So, I sit here, waiting for another hour and watching the smoke.
That education allows the best chance of escaping poverty is not news to anyone. But perhaps the policy makers and heads of governments should take note that a more fair playing field, providing quality education across socio-economic classes, actually drives economic growth.
The American Prospect explored this theme in 2007 within the context of the U.S. economy, stating the need for education as a tool to combat poverty is a given, but without an economic context in which to provide opportunities, it is ineffectual.
Peru, indeed is verging on the perfect context for which to study this effectiveness of this theory. If quality education were expanded and provided across socio-economic boundaries, perhaps Peru’s economy would not be slowing.