It’s hard to not constantly make comparisons between life here, in Sierra Leone, and life back at home in the states. Now, I’m certainly not saying that everything is better in America – you can be sure that the natural beauty of the land, the unflappable friendliness of the people, and sweetness of the pineapples in Salone put their American counterparts to shame. But there are also daily conveniences and infrastructure that are easily taken for granted.
Not least of these conveniences was access to education. Even with the taxes that my parents paid, I had a public school education for twelve years that was excellent and essentially free. I had school buses, libraries, and extracurricular activities. I knew that going to college was always an option (actually a mandatory next step after high school, in my family) and, even if my family hadn’t been middle class and able to afford to send me to college, I would have had options to take out federal loans to finance my education. It’s so easy to forget these blessings, all of which were simply bestowed upon me because I was born in the U.S.
I am awed and, belatedly, so thankful for these advantages as I see the roadblocks placed in front of school children here. Families in Sierra Leone are often forced to choose between putting food on the table and sending their children to school. Girls in our Learn to Ride Program are walking for as long as 4 hours every morning to get to school. Once they get to school, they are in classes with an average of forty other students, all of whom may or may not have school supplies or books. They want to be nurses, accountants, and writers and they all want to go to university but only a small percentage of them will find the financial means to do so. It is hard to look at a group of young adults that are full of the hopes and ambitions of any high school student and know that they have a hard road ahead of them. It is not fair but it helps to know that there are things we can do to inject a little fairness into the scenario. We can help build schools, we can help improve the content that is taught, and we can help them get to class by loaning them bikes.