Can’t help them all

Just back from an evening study session and I am exhausted. The other three volunteers are in town tonight, having dinner with someone from the Ministry of Education. As I had already scheduled a drama club meeting, I could not go. Being the only one here for the study session, I was pulled in a million different directions. Or at least 125.

We are trying to set the girls up with email addresses. Aside from being important for scholarship and university applications, this also gives them a private way to communicate with their friends and family – all letters go through staff and are not necessarily private. This is not an easy task when the only way to do so is to carry my laptop around and give whispered instruction during study time, but we are making slow progress. Some have addresses already, thanks to earlier volunteers. And we have added about 10 in the last 3 days. However the list of those wanting one gets longer and longer.

On a similar and more serious note, there is the issue of medical expenses. The school cannot cover this, and so it is up to the student’s guardian. Many (most) of the guardians are too poor to cover any of this. So the girls are left with no money for a doctor. Previous volunteers had been covering this, but they have left (their program term has ended), and so has their budget.

In the interim, I have tried to cover what I could. One girl needed a cast removed, which cost 60,000 shillings (about $40). Two more needed glasses (less than $25, including the eye test). The cost is so low compared to home, it is easy to say yes. But as more requests some in, I realize I will have to draw a line here somewhere too. On the one hand, I have more money than they can even dream of, and yet even that is far from unlimited. Especially given I am on leave without pay right now.

My approach so far has been not to say yes to anything right away, and tell them I will consult with the other volunteers to see if there is enough money. Just so I have time to consider my options, though I can’t imagine saying no. A family member had offered to help as well, so between the two of us, we should be able to cover anything that comes up during my stay. At least I hope so.

(Interestingly, I have been approached by two older girls to tell me to be careful not to be fooled by someone not actually sick, just looking for an excuse to get out of class. They promised to help me with this, and told me to ask if I was ever wondering. Deep down, teenaged girls really are the same everywhere, social and family conditions notwithstanding.*

What happens after that is unclear. Hopefully someone else will be around to take up the cause.

*I taught a lesson on the use of ‘notwithstanding’ last week.It’s a good word. I am going to try to use it more.

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