Due to a fluke of geography
I was born into a society that taught me I could do anything.
I was born in a country that places a high priority on all children having access to a reasonable standard of education, that offers social and financial support to those who can’t find work, and that gives government loans for university, and only makes you pay them back once you can afford to!
I was reflecting on this the other day, after an interesting conversation with a friend in Fort Portal. This friend has a low-end job, comes from a poor background, and will probably never move beyond these circumstances.
We were discussing the fact that David, my son, is currently obsessed with motorbikes. I was joking that I hope he doesn’t become a boda-boda driver when he is older (a motorbike taxi – an extremely ‘low end’ job with little prospects which often comes with a lifestyle of women and alcohol).
My friend reminded me that David is an extremely stubborn, head strong little boy, and will do whatever it is he wants to do…no matter what I want for him!
I sighed, and agreed.
He then nostalgically described his primary school days, a time when he thought he could become whatever he wanted in his heart to be. He remembered his peers saying they wanted to be pilots, doctors, engineers, teachers. He shook his head and clicked his tongue in disgust at their naivety.
I asked him what he wanted to be, back then.
He hesitated, obviously embarrassed to share this with me. Quietly he spoke: ‘a doctor’. Following this, was a sort of half-laugh-half-sigh.
‘you know, that was never going to happen. As a child, I didn’t realise. But Africa has a way of separating people – there are those that can manage, and those that can’t. ‘
I sympathetically agreed, listing all the hurdles with him – having to work and study at the same time, trying to find school fees, going to a government school where teachers don’t turn up for days so your grades suffer, trying to get into university – but not being able to afford the fees and bribes nor knowing the right people…
He explained that he could barely manage to finish S4 (year 10) because of school fees, and needing to help his family in their garden. By the time he finished, he was offered a job, and took it. Now, he said, ‘its fine – you manage what you can, and try to enjoy life’.
Then I offered thoughtfully ‘you would’ve made a good doctor’.
But in my mind I was thinking – this life is so UNFAIR.
Because I didn’t want to become a doctor, not in a million years. But I am pretty sure that if I really wanted to, and worked hard towards that goal, I could’ve managed.
I explained to my friend that I felt very lucky – almost guilty – that I had the opportunities I had purely because I was born in Australia. That even though neither of my parents finished high school (but went on to technical college), even very few people in my extended family have gone on to do further study, even though I went to reasonable but not amazing schools…I still easily managed to get into university.
It was easy to get a place, because there were so many places and so many courses and so many universities. It was easy to get the grades, because I had good teachers who cared about me and knew how to teach – which is mostly the norm in Australia. It was easy to afford, because the government paid for my course at the time, and I only had to pay for text books, which wasn’t much of a stretch even on my part-time salary whilst living out of home.
And that about sums it up.
The ease of it all.
Obviously there are children in Australia that face an up-hill battle to get an education, that don’t grow up in safe and loving homes, and that struggle for survival in a variety of ways.
But the majority find it easy.
Not because they are deserving
Not because they are so much more hard working
Not because they possess some gift or intelligence the rest of the world doesn’t
But because of the fluke of geography.