When visiting classrooms for the Missionary Childhood Association, we often talk about what it's like to go to school in the missions. We share pictures and videos of what a day is like for children fortunate enough to live in an area where missionaries are establishing schools.
Before this extended break from regular schooling, local students (especially the younger ones) would get excited to hear that in some places, children don't go to school. It conjured thoughts of snow days or regular vacations. Then, I would ask one of the little ones who had writing on their clothing to stand and then query the other students.
What would life be like if they couldn't read a simple logo or their school name on a shirt? Would they ever be able to use all the talents God gave them? Could they fulfill the dreams God put into their minds and hearts?
Their question comes quickly: why don't some children in the missions go to school?
The reasons are many, I explain; for some it's the poverty they are born into; for others, it's because they are girls, who are more likely to be made to stay home and help care for the household. Still for some, it's because they work for a living, earning what they can to help their family eat for another day.
During my visits to many parts of the mission world, I've met children who shine shoes, work farm fields, or scavenge through garbage for little bits of things to sell. These young ones show great skills and promise, in ways that you may not think they could without going to school. Those children study the tourists and know the best times to offer a shoe shine, the best times to do business; how to count money so as not to cheat anyone (or be cheated); how to read local weather patterns so as to know when to plant and harvest; or what items are marketable to those with some extra money.
In Papua New Guinea, the young entrepreneurs were along the roadside, hoping to stop cars and trucks to sell handmade vehicle decorations. The ornaments were beautifully crafted from ferns and local flowers and attached to a stick that would be mounted to the mirror or grill of vehicle. The cost? 1 Kina, or roughly $.33 US.
Here in Boston, these boys could grow up to be florists, decorators, or designers. Their creative skills are beyond their age. What they don't have is the opportunity and education to help develop those talents into a vocation.
For this, they count on our prayerful support. Learn more and help us support Catholic missionaries at www.propfaithboston.org.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.