Education & The Spirit

The duality of Self has been pressing deeply into the forefront of my consciousness as of late. Navigating our personal triumphs and struggles, we perpetually pace between the dichotomies of our minds, our souls, our hearts and our beliefs. Reconciling these can be a challenge not to be taken lightly or shrugged off. As evidenced by any notably great leap forward in the peaceful advances of humankind and the evolution of Self, reconciliation breeds understanding, growth, and necessary paradigm shifts. This is something we need to embrace from the individual level all the way up to a systemic scale.

I have come across some fascinating examples of this duality between education and the spirit. When I say education, I am referring here to formal education in Uganda. When I say spirit, I am not referring to my own conceptualization of spirit and our spiritual nature, but the manifestations thereof that inundate the senses in a deeply devout Uganda. I have no intention or desire to debate, support or refute the tenants of any religion, I am simply interested in the role that religiosity has been playing in my worldview as of late.

This weekend, the roads of Uganda were choked with lines of cars stretching as far as the eye could see, filled with families of children in secondary school and university who are bidding farewell to their month-long holidays and returning to their dorms, their hostels, and any other place they may call home as the new semester kicks off in the Ugandan school year. This includes some of my favorite people I have met here – Muganda, Musa, Bayati, David and a number of others are leaving Kyabirwa behind, and in every case, there is nothing but excitement for the school year to come. School is not just a series of motions to go through here – it is a way out. It is a ticket to opportunity. It is recognized and accepted as the means by which youth can truly make something of themselves and forge a life that they or their parents never dreamed of.

This was a point that Sejal and I got to stress while mentoring a group of P4-P6 students on the importance of education this weekend at GHC’s Community Engagement day at Wells of Hope in Hoima. About 20 of us GHC Fellows piled into a bus and drove northwest of Kampala, where we were introduced to Wells of Hope’s staff and many of the kids that benefit from their services. Wells of Hope operates a prison ministry for inmates in a number of Ugandan hospitals, and runs a boarding school for their children. Needless to say, the day was a BLAST and we are so grateful that Wells of Hope welcomed us so warmly.

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That awkward moment where only me and Julius are still posing for the picture…

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From Jinja to Kampala to Hoima with my favorite co-fellow

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Song and dance time at WOH!

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Adorable.

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Danielle, stealing children.

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Netball competition! Boys vs. Girls…that paradigm merits a whole new blog post…

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Making faces into cameras was the main activity of the day. Normally I wouldn’t post these things, but Lawrence (left) was a major fixture of the day and you can see his corrected eye in this shot. Webale milimo, doctor.

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MY SISSSTERRRR!!! This is just before Heather and I started bugging the crap out of everyone else by laughing hysterically at things no one else found funny…like that door we’re still laughing about…

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VIOLAAAA!!!!!

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GHC loves 🙂

We received a tour of the complex (including the overcrowded dorms that are in dire need of mosquito nets) and engaged with the children extensively for the first part of the day. We all ate lunch together, watched some song and dance performances, played netball, did some ice breaker activities, and split off into small mentorship groups to talk about topics we are considered knowledgeable about with the kids. Sejal and I headed up a discussion about education, which turned out to be great as we got to stress how important it is to focus on school. Maybe not exactly changing lives, but I think what we said resonated with the kids at least a little bit.

The whole event was a great success. Wells of Hope were incredibly welcoming and are truly doing some great work in Hoima and filling a heretofore unfilled gap in youth outreach and engagement. But I could not help but be struck by the vernacular being utilized at the event. As WOH is run by ministers and has a heavy Christian component, all speeches, songs, and activities seemed to be structured around God or Jesus, with a steady downpour of “Praise Jesus” and “God willing” and “God will provide” at every turn. I personally believe that in impoverished contexts, religion can play a spectacular role in providing hope and structure and, ultimately, funding, to help to improve the lives of children. However…

I also think that the sense of agency and empowerment inherent in the provision of education can be undermined by insisting that it is God who provides everything good in life. If the power of God is the only thing that is to be credited when a child gets good grades and earns the opportunity to attend a better school, or receives sponsorship for school fees, or finds a job out of secondary school, or makes the right connections at university and lands her or his self a chance to study further on the other side of the world, how do we expect to empower youth to take their lives into their own hands, or take pride in their accomplishments?

When little Lawrence had corrective surgery on his eyelid that allowed him to see properly for the first time in his 8 years on Earth, was it the hand of God that cured him, or the steady hand of the surgeon that is able to perform surgery because of years of hard work, diligence and his own well-nourished intellect?

Is it one’s faith that brings about great change? Or is it their hard work? I suppose this is a question of free will and how you define or interpret it. I am personally a deeply spiritual person. I believe in the great spirit generated by an amalgamated energy the whole Universe over and the power it has to manifest itself as and through each and every one of us. I believe that everything happens for a reason, as you all know by now. Some could call this concept God.

But God didn’t help me graduate first in my Master’s class at NYU. I did that. I studied my ass off day in and day out, I poured my heart and mind into my term papers, I worked alongside the right professors, devoured my readings, presented at conferences, led student groups, and called Bobst Library a second home. So although I thank the Universe for many things, and I could thank It/HER for my intellect, the power was ultimately my own.

Just like the power to succeed is squarely in the hands of each and every student at the Wells of Hope Academy.

Obviously, I believe there is a greater power all around us, and I have nothing but gratitude for it. I recognize the unrecognizable beauty that sews the fabric of this existence together. I see the good all around us. I see the work of something greater, but I believe that “something greater” is a collection of what we all put into it.

I hope I don’t offend anyone’s sensibility or Spirit with any of this. I just see a need for the duality of Self to be reconciled a bit more, hybridizing the power of the soul and the power of the mind to accomplish greatness, not relying on only the power of God to carry us all through life. Religion has a profound power to offer hope to be lifted out of this life into an eternity free of struggle and strife. But education gives us the opportunity to lift OURSELVES out of hardship. When we focus too much on the pearly gates of the afterlife, we forget to focus on simple things like the provision of mosquito nets – which will not be provided by the grace of God, but by hardworking government officials, NGO and CBO staff, and yes, missionary workers, all of whom got where they are because they worked hard to get there.

I commend the efforts of each and every human being working hard to make this world a better place, whether from a faith-based or non-faith-based approach. All our varied beliefs aside, there is no great Hand reaching down to fix the world’s problems anytime soon. We have to do that. No, we GET to do that. It is our responsibility as a human race, and our privilege as a rational, conscious, empowered species on this Earth.

Let’s get those kids some nets.

 

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