Monday, September 6, 2010

Can we really put ourselves in someone else's shoes?

I try to imagine what it's like it be in someone else's shoes, but can't really.

I am not deaf and dumb like a little girl I met yesterday. I can't know what her world is like as I have always had hearing and probably spoken too much. She was a bright little button. Fortunately I have been able to find help for her. I hope her future will be a better one than many of the others we do not get to meet.

I am not a wealthy westerner, but am not poor. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, clothes to wear, a big dog who eats ten times what most Vietnamese eat and a cat that eats about the same as most Vietnamese. I have more than a bed, a plastic table, chairs and set of drawers. I have too many possessions - well more than the 100 that is recommended for living a simple,non-material life.

I don't know what it's like to experience hunger regularly due to lack of food. I know what it's like when I have chosen to fast and have the choice to stop anytime I want. I don't live in fear of my matting home being blown away is a strong storm and having to deal with a flooded home each time of the 100 times (approximately) it rains heavily in our rainy season. I have never experienced having two sets clothes and having to wear one while the other dries and knowing that in rainy season they won't be dry when I need to put them on the next day. They don't have a tumble drier like me. I make efforts to imagine what it is like to be them so I can respond and help more appropriately and compassionately even though I will never truly know what their lives are really like.

We have had our first girl stop school and I felt devastated. She wants to hang out with her friends and maybe find a job and earn money. She started school this term but left after three weeks as all her good friends weren't in school anymore. I was trying to keep her in school long enough for her to have a little more maturity and less chance of the all too common teenage pregnancy and abortion here. Her sister is a university student and has tried to get her sister to continue her education but says we now have to give up and not feel bad about it. She asked us to help her brothers' youngest daughter instead as he is dying of cancer. When we agreed Chi said it was such a gigantic relief for him.

But I still wonder what I could have done to help her complete another year or the two to complete school. A couple of years ago we had a girl the same age make the same decision. She left school just for a few days and then went back as she was too bored. She is now about to start university! But the girl who has left school has now been out of school two weeks and they do not take children back who have missed that much school. I am sad that we didn't succeed at keeping her in school this year, but pleased we managed to keep her in school for three years. It's also good that we can help her brother who desperately needs help. It will be less stress for him in his last months to know that his youngest daughter will receive an education. We are to meet him and Vy his daughter next week.

I don't understand Phuong's thinking enough to know how to help in that situation. I understand a little as I was no lover of high school at that age. I had one atrocious teacher whose heart was not in teaching and I ended up not caring greatly about his subject and went 10 pin bowling and swimming instead of attending his classes for a few months and did the study and homework on my own instead. I understand how much fun it is hanging out with friends occasionally in school hours, but don't understand wanting to hang out a lot when my mother can't earn enough to feed me or clothe me as she can only earn money selling lottery tickets. Why would I choose a future like hers with little opportunity?

I feel I can only use my imagination and memory to have a little understanding. But how can I inspire and encourage them to complete school and have further education if they can't see that it makes a huge difference to their lives themselves? For a teenager a love of studying is unusual, a willingness to cycle 45 minutes to an hour to get to school is unusual, a love of getting up early and going through torrential rain to get to school and home again every day for about 3 months would be radical. So what gets them to school, stay in school and want a future with possibilities?

I may be wrong, but I think the desire to better their lives and that of their families has to come from within them and be based on the conclusions of what they see around them. At that age do they see that those without an education have few choices and a hard life. Of course there are the exceptional people who are uneducated and have worked very hard and done well for themselves but the majority are still severely impoverished. With a little encouragement and financial support I hope this will be enough to help many children at this challenging stage in their lives complete school, then receive further education and create a life for themselves and their families of possibility.

By the way little Vy will need a sponsor if anyone is interested and next week we will have photos and more information we can send.

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