Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thankful for Education: Part 2

This year for Thanksgiving we want to share with you one of the many things we are thankful for - our education.  This short series includes reflections from many various Starfish supporters on why they are thankful for your education.  We encourage you to read these reflections and also reflect on your own education.  Read our first reflection below and comment, What part of your education are you most thankful for?

Why am I thankful for my education? 

Let me back up a minute - how about instead of why, am I thankful for my education? Well now that you asked, of course I am! But what if you didn't ask me - would I realize how thankful I really am?  I grew up in a town where the percent of students who graduated college and continued on to college was ridiculously high.  No one asked if you were going to college.  They only asked, "where are you going to college?" with the implication that of course that's what you would do upon graduation.  From honors & AP classes, to sports & other extra-curriculars, SWHS sure laid out a pretty nice path for me to finish high school and continue on to college.

At Fairfield, the Jesuits took education to a whole new level.  Cura Personalis - care for the whole person? Seeking Magis - the more?  You mean learning isn't just at school during class?  I know I (read: my parents and my scholarship) paid a whole ton of money for the 5 classes I took each semester, but at least 75% of my education took place outside of the classroom.  Retreats, community service, immersion trips, ministry, student association, clubs, jobs, study abroad - you name it - if Fairfield offered it, I signed up!  Also I can't forget the fact that I had the opportunity to design my own second major called Social Justice in Latin America - I decided what I loved and I got to design my own path to learn more about it - how great is that? I even traveled to the Philippines & Nicaragua (3 times!) and domestically to NYC to serve the homeless population, Atlanta to a teach-in to protest injustices & Washington, DC for a humanitarian action conference.

That's not to say the classes weren't great - where else would I get the opportunity to sit with professionals in their field and just chat with them?  Those of you who know me now never believe me - but I was quite a shy person growing up.  However, over the year the professors at Fairfield taught me to believe in myself, to challenge what I learned - and even to challenge them.  Open doors during office hours, small classes of 10-15 where one could really engage in a subject - that's what education was like for me.  Years later I still stay in touch with many of them and they never hesitate to help when at all possible.

Let's back up again and pretend I wasn't born in Connecticut.  Let's say I was born in Guayaquil:

I grew up on less than $2/day.  So when it was time to go to school, most days I didn't eat breakfast first - I usually can't eat a lot in the morning anyway, but this time it wasn't my choice.  I'm hungry, but there isn't any food - or there is only a little so mom has to give it to my younger siblings and we go without.  I arrive at school after my 25 minute walk, but my homework is incomplete because I didn't have money to go to the internet cafe and complete the assigned research so I used some old books I borrowed from the neighbor.  I receive a 6 on the assignment.  At least I don't fail.  In my next class I have a test.  Despite my best efforts to pay attention and take good notes, we couldn't afford the book this year so it is hard to study. I hope I do okay anyway.  In my last class I have a really hard time understanding my teacher so I timidly raised my hand and ask a question.  He says we are out of time and that I should figure it out on my own because he already explained it once.

When I get home around 2pm I still haven't eaten anything all day but since mom & dad are at work I have to cook.  I go to the store with a few dollars and bring back the ingredients for soup, rice and menestra.  The prep and cooking takes a little over an hour.  By 3:30pm I can eat a little lunch and save the rest for dinner when everyone else is home.  I start my homework but it's so hard to concentrate.  I go outside for a bit and play soccer with my friends.  At my friend's house a social worker from a foundation is visiting.  She's talking to my friend and her mom about options for college.  No one's ever talked to me about college, I can't even think about college - I won't even make it through my first year of high school! Plus college is expensive, there's no way I can do that - I'd better get a job and help my family.  It's dark now so I go back inside to finish the rest of my homework before going to bed and starting over tomorrow.

Now that's pretty different from my reality.  I recently saw a cartoon online trying to explain privilege and opportunity.  Imagine a classroom where maybe I'm in the front row because I grew up in Connecticut.  In the middle rows are some disadvantaged schools in the U.S. and maybe some private schools in the developing world.  In the back row are our Starfish students.  Now there's a garbage bin in the front of the room and we all have a crumpled up piece of paper that we're trying to shoot into the bin.  Most of us from Connecticut are able to make the shot because we're so close.  But my friends from Starfish - they are trying at least as hard but they haven't been given that opportunity.  They were born in the back row and have to work many times harder to overcome those obstacles.  A few of them make the shot, but most of them miss.  Is that just? Not even a little bit.

So yes, I'm really thankful for my education and I'm thankful for this opportunity to share that with you all.  Without education, I could never have even imagined being where I am today.  I also believe that education is not only a privilege but also a responsibility.  It is a responsibility to act and to never turn a blind eye to injustice. So thanks to my education, and a big thanks to all of you for your support in continuing to make my dream come true so that Starfish can continue to allow others to value their education in Ecuador!

Written by Jenn Zocco, Starfish Co-Founder

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

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