The Battle for Education

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Working in low income communities can be a very emotionally rewarding job, but sometimes working in these marginalized neighborhoods is a struggle and takes an emotional toll on us as teachers and administrators.

Nothing is more demoralizing than watching a bright student, someone with a bright future, have to drop out because their family pressures them to work to help with the needs of the home. Other times, especially with our female students, they drop out because they think they have found their true love and being with their boyfriend/girlfriend is more important than being in the classroom. And if they are in the classroom, their grades drop because their minds are somewhere else. Sometimes the reality is that parents in poor communities just don’t place important value on education and they transmit and infect their children with the same apathy. They are in survival mode and education is second to survival.

“They cannot stop me. I will get my education, if it is in the home, school, or anyplace.”

Malala Yousafzai

Through very hard work, our program has managed to turn many lives around and make an impact in the community as a whole. Our newsletters and website and facebook page are filled with stories of students who have managed to make their dreams a reality because someone like you and us took an interest in them and gave them a helping hand. Many of you know about the Pacos and Marcos and Paolas and Uris and Kennyas and every other student in our program who is out there going to school, staying in school, and dreaming big because we believed in them enough.

But it is not an easy task. These neighborhoods are a war zone and the battle is for education. We strongly believe that education is the key to solving many of the problems these forgotten communities face.

Brisa Marilin Alvarez is one of the students we are trying to stop from becoming another casualty and statistic. She is 15 years old and dropped out after she finished elementary school. Her whole life she was bullied by other students (and her own mother) because she had a problem with her tongue which prevented her from saying certain words correctly. Hearing her tell me of the horrible things they would say or do to her was infuriating. She had not gone back to school because the bullying traumatized her and she did not want to go through that ever again.

In January 2018, Don and June Baxter helped Brisa get a surgery which fixed her tongue problem. She was eager to get back to school after that. She was attending our English and computer classes and was studying to take an exam that would let her graduate middle school even though she had missed over two years of school. She came out of the shell she had been in. The Baxters invested a lot of their time, money and energy on her because they believe in her as much as we do.

For Brisa, home is a nightmare. Her mother is verbally and physically abusive and constantly ridicules Brisa for trying to get back in school. She tells her she is never going to amount to anything and makes other comments that crush Brisa’s spirit. Sometimes Brisa believes it and acts it out in rebellion. But sometimes, in her heart, she holds on to a flicker of hope that maybe, just maybe, she can be the lawyer she wants to be. This is a constant battle that we have to go through with her. It can get exhausting at times. Sometimes she seems unreachable. And then something lights up in her, a fire, that tells her she must go back to school.

“I don’t want to be like my mom. She dropped out at second grade. I don’t want to be poor all my life. I want to have enough to travel and provide for my children, when I have them, and give them a better life than we have here in the colonia. The only way I can see that happening is through education,” she says between sobs at a meeting we had to discuss her exam date. It is these heartfelt sobs that tear us apart and show us how important our program is for a lot of these young people. It is literally a battle for education and we cannot afford to lose it.

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