It has taken me forever to write this last blog because, no matter how many times I tried to start and no matter how many different approaches I’ve taken, none of my numerous drafts seemed right. I mean, how do I even begin to wrap up the hurricane of emotions, labor, thoughts, revelations, and changes that blew through my life in the past two months, leaving me in a hodgepodge of possibilities, ideas, and questions? The answer is simply that I can’t. Having experienced personally how difficult it is to recruit others to your cause simply because there are just so many out there and by observing others in similar situations multiple times throughout my life, I have come to realize that in order for my kids to not go hungry every day, not to get sick, or to have a life beyond wandering the streets, their reality has to become a reality to you and me.
Fortunately and unfortunately, media is more than prevalent in our lives today. It is a topic that has been and is much discussed. Yes, through pictures and videos, people who cannot make the trip to the vast squatter camp in Epako, Namibia can get a glimpse into the shoeless, electricity-less, water-less, and a-lot-of-other-things-less lives my kids and their families have. But I myself cannot deny that I have become jaded to much of the suffering and injustices in the world because of the sheer bombardment of images presented on screens to me every day. But that fog screen has shattered for me during my two months at Tui Ni Duse Pre-School and the harsh lives so many people lead has become very real to me. That is not to say that my kids’ smiles are some of the biggest and brightest smiles I have ever seen in my life. It is something that many people like myself, who come from privileged lives that represent such a small minority in the world that visit places like Epako, experience often; the people here are so happy even with so little. So do we leave them in their sunshiny world that is uncorrupted by the evils of the modern world? Or do we give them the “gifts” the contemporary world has to offer along with the lethal side effects written in small print? I know it is not as black and white as those two questions pose, but they are questions I have been asking myself even before I went to Namibia as I was conducting the academic research beforehand.
As you might be able to imagine, this is a mind blowing dilemma that no one might ever find the answer to. But as my kids flash their beautiful smiles at me from the pictures on my wall, I can only think that no matter what I do, I cannot slip into the complacency of my luxurious life in America and push them back in my mind as “those poor starving kids in Africa,” as many people, I am sure, are guilty of doing. They are not just “poor starving kids in Africa.” Martinuis, despite going through a court procedure for stealing and slaughtering a farmer’s cows, uses his break time to practice spelling out his name instead of playing ball with his friends. Steftelin is a natural-born leader, often organizing her fellow classmates. Isak has stellar attendance, is engaged during class, and can often be seen sweeping up the classroom or running errands for the principal and teachers. Mannes and Rudolf are best friends—they walk to and from school together, share food with each other, wear matching sweaters, and sit quietly by each other.
Although I have known for a long time that teachers do not only influence your academic life, this has taken a whole new level of meaning for me: I can now be held accountable for their well-being. After entering the student-teacher bond with these children, I cannot back out now that I am more than 7,161 miles away. I have limitless opportunities here at Brandeis and in America and it has become a matter of life and death for my kids that I make the most of these opportunities. For starters, I am currently trying to establish an internship program so that others can have the strong personal experience I had, create an official website, and find ways to fund the school and teachers. Hopefully, in the future, we can make long-term improvements to school infrastructure to provide a better education and more opportunities to the students at Tui Ni Duse.
To everyone and anyone planning to intern, teach, or volunteer, I would say, “Just do it.” We are incredibly blessed to have the ability and resources to make change in the world and to keep that to ourselves is to commit a deep injustice to so many people in the world.
– Brontte Hwang ’15