Every time I look at this photo, my heart turns inside out. I miss this little bit. She's three. She doesn't say much, but she likes to hold my hand and sit in my lap while just staring at me. While sitting on the grass watching the women play netball, Robyn and I find ourselves encircled by children. I give up trying to watch the game and look down to find this little bit of a child crawling into my lap with a giant, if not mischievous, smile.
She melts my heart right then and there. Her tiny hand grabs two of my fingers and her other hand fiddles with my bracelet. She never takes her eyes off me. When I smile, she doubles over with laughter. My heart feels like it's expanding in my chest with the intention of holding her firmly in its grasp, to shield her from anything that would wipe that smile off her face. I don't want anything to ever hurt her, make her cry, or deprive her of anything.
We find a mutual reassurance in holding hands and she trails slightly behind me as we walk through Buyobo, our natural strides compromised as we try to walk in sync.
She follows me into three new classrooms that have recently been constructed. Animals are painted onto the walls of one classroom. I point at one animal. "Crocodile." She giggles. "Crocodile." I'm delighted by her mimicry. "Bird," I point to a large, white bird. "Biiiirrrrd" she shrieks backs. Suddenly there are five or six children circled around me, echoing the English words I give them. "Water, tree, fish, sun, sky" They shout back the words at me and their thirst for knowledge makes me hungry to teach them, to pour anything I can into their open hands. Their curiosity and enthusiasm is infectious, and it's frustrating to reflect on the number of children who do not have access to the education they deserve.
Every child, every individual, has a right to education and to the opportunity to empower themselves and their communities with the resources necessary to defend themselves from the onslaught of disease, corruption, dubious ethics, unprincipled economics, well-meaning but ineffective foreign aid, and unscrupulous laws. There is so much wrong in the world, and so many suggestions on the where, why, and how of what went wrong. I am reluctant to oversimplify the myriad of complexities that contribute to poverty's entangling web, but I feel strongly about the role education plays in shaking loose its fetters. One's access to financial resources should never dictate the level and quality of education one receives, not in Uganda, not in the U.S., not anywhere.
This is why I smile when almost every single woman we speak with in Buyobo informs us that being a WMI borrower has enabled them to help pay their children's school fees. More than one woman tells us that her child is now first in their class. When I think of my life and how privileged I am, the shining star in my memory is the level and caliber of education I received. Education yields change. There are so many components to breaking the cycle of poverty and there is no quick fix, but surrounded by children pulling at my clothes, reaching for my hand, eager to absorb my words and teach me theirs, I am struck by their curiosity. There are any number of academic theories on development and poverty and why children should remain in school. Running down a narrow path with a dozen laughing, happy little kids, those theories suddenly mean very little to me. The desire of these children to learn is enough to solidify my belief that it is also their right.