Tiwonge used to wash my floors and clothes and sometimes water my garden before it disappeared into shriveled brownness. For these tasks I paid for her school fees so that she could attend secondary school. I like Tiwonge, she’s feisty and smart though sometimes careless and uncaring but she pulls it off with also being sort of sassy. Her sassiness makes her carelessness seem purposeful as if she does it perhaps to back up being sassy or maybe to protect herself. Either way Tiwonge and I got along well. That is until she stopped going to school, didn’t tell me and required that I pay extra for her to board, as no one could go to secondary school anymore without boarding, which was a lie. The money I gave her vanished, especially not useful when you have a hard time keeping track of your money and keeping it in general. I had proposed earlier that for her to receive extra money for boarding I wanted her to read up on permaculture and institute sustainable gardens in our village starting in my backyard where it had turned to brown vastness. She never started these and she never went to school. I confronted her about it and she agreed to go back to school next term and do more washing for me as well as the gardens. But again she didn’t and I had to cut her off. I told her that I couldn’t pay her to do the little she was doing and I couldn’t trust her if she didn’t go to school and then lied about it. She then promised she would go to school next term and she could do all the work and she continued to plead with me saying she really wanted to go to school. But I told her no, feeling tremendously guilty as I denied her, her education. But in the end we both lucked out, she did a final load of laundry and went to live with her aunt in the capital to go to school there. Tiwonge will repeat form 3 and I will get to deal with my mess of garden.
A couple of days ago I met with one of my village headmen. I had been helping him correspond with a past Peace Corps volunteer who had promised to pay the school fees for his daughter. When I met with him I had to tell him that she had changed her mind, or rather decided she was unable to pay. She had apologized for getting me in the middle of this, but I really did not expect it to be that big of a deal. And it wasn’t, but sitting with him in absolute silence for a good 20 minutes wasn’t all that enjoyable either. His situation is different, he will most likely find a school for his daughter to go to, but the one he had her attend was quite good and he will regret not being able to send his daughter to a good school. Sitting with him in uncomfortable silence I thought back on how, before I knew Tiwonge would get to go to school in Lilongwe, how I hated being the one that denied her, her education. Of course she denied herself education for at least a term, but that’s still different then me holding that power over her. Especially when I believe that education should be free, should be a right, people should have a right to know the world around them, to be empowered by their teachers and peers, to get a chance to collaborate in a learning environment, to have the chance to learn ways to improve their lives and the lives of others, and I think everyone has the right to get lost in a book. Of course not all educational establishments offer this type of education, but I would like to think that pieces of my ideal education come through in every learning establishment and are better than nothing. The daughter of my village headmen will most likely get to attend school and while I can think about how her particular school fees could pay for many in my village to attend secondary school, and how I might choose to spend that money differently, she’s not my daughter. If she was I would probably fight for her to go to the best school as well, as I would wish for more than anything for her to gain confidence through critical thinking, and empowerment through her peers, enlightenment on how to change her life, and the feeling that one feels when lost in a book. I hope Tiwonge gets these things, but more than that I hope she fights for them and I hope all students fight for them as something they see as crucial and needed in the changing and forming of their world.