Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A woman I admire

A woman I admire died this week. It is a great loss. She was a scholar who was determined to document the truth even when it was not popular. She believed that justice must be applied to all sides in a conflict. And she spoke up when it would have been easier to remain silent.

This morning I spoke to the mother of a boy whose school fees we have paid for the past two years. When I met him, he was 9 years old and had been to school for a total of 3 months in his life. I taught him to read and write and then put him in school. I held his hand when he started school, had him do his homework at my house. And he was doing ok.

Except that in the past month he fell apart. He stole two phones from our house. One of the phones had over $200 worth of credit on it, although he didn’t know that at the time. That money could have paid for his school fees until high school graduation.

And he lied, and he started skipping school, and he falsified his grades…

I required this boy to tell his mother what he had done. I’m not sure what result I expected, but I know I didn’t get it. She took the news in stride, appearing only mildly interested. She did not demand explanations. She was not enraged. She really didn’t have much to say to her child, this 11 year-old boy who has just destroyed his only chance of going to school.

This corner of the world is known for being loud and chaotic. But there is another side to the culture that fosters silence. Silence in place of “calling someone out”. The people who do wrong, the people who steal, the people who lie and even the people who kill are not often held to account. News of theft and corruption, even when it is personal, is often met with a shake of a head rather than indignation. Sometimes this is because those who do wrong hold power, but it goes beyond that. There appears to be little to say, even to the child who has so thoroughly lost his way. A common response is “nifanye nini?” What can I do?

Perhaps to speak requires believing; believing that change is possible. That a better world exists. Whether you are documenting the atrocities of war or the mistakes of a child, to speak the truth you must believe that a better world, or a better person, could exist. Indeed, refusing to fall silent in the face of wrong may be the ultimate act of hope.

And perhaps this is why it grieves me so much. To see a parent who has lost the will to demand better of her child, and a world that has lost the will to demand better of those in power. It is the loss of hope.

The woman who died this week, spent her life documenting the horrors that we inflict on eachother. She counted and recorded atrocities. She must have been a woman of great hope. To regard with open eyes the depths to which we fall, and demand that we remember the people we could be, the people we should be.

This corner of the world is loud and full of noise, but at the same time, I have begun to realize that it is way too quiet here.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Again, another post I completely relate to and could have written - but not anywhere near as articulately as you! Thank you.