Sunday, February 15, 2009

The People at My Door - Benito

This has been a tough week for me. The Zambian educational system requires every student in ninth grade to take an exit exam. Only those who pass the exam can go on to high school in grade ten. There are not many high schools, and students who pass the exam are assigned to a school. High school is not free, and students must come up with the money for tuition and boarding in order to be accepted at their assigned schools.

The results of the grade nine exams came out a week ago. Since then there has been a steady stream of hopeful students at my door asking for sponsorship. I have turned away all but a handful—the fortunate ones who turned in applications last fall and were already selected by the sponsorship committee. The rest will have to seek for help elsewhere. Every one I turn down tugs at my heart, for I know that it may mean the end of the student’s schooling. A friend recently watched me say no to a prospective student. She later told me, “You have the worst job in the world.”

But Benito reminded me to focus on the ones I can help. He arrived on Thursday from Simalundu, a village 60 miles away, deep in a remote part of the Zambian bush. Kelly Hamby once told me, “You can’t get any farther out in the bush than Simalundu.” Benito had been accepted for sponsorship, had his acceptance letter with him, and was now cleared to start classes.

I knew that Benito was an orphan being raised by an elderly grandmother, and I suspected that he didn’t have many possessions. I asked him if he was ready to move into the dormitory. He hesitated a minute and said, “I think I need to go home and get another blanket. I only brought one.”

“How will you get there?” I asked.

“The same way I came. I will walk.”

(Gulp! Sixty miles? In the bush?) “How long did it take you?”

“Two days. I stopped and slept in the bush on the way.”

“Benito, how about if I give you a blanket? Then you won’t have to go all the way home and back, and you can go ahead and start classes.”

“Okay, madam,” he said, obviously relieved.

I went in the house and got him a crocheted afghan my mother had made years ago. I couldn’t help but think how pleased she would be to know her handiwork was keeping Benito warm! I handed him the blanket and continued the questioning. “Benito, what else did you bring with you?”

He looked down and shyly said, “Well, I brought one other pair of trousers. I have this shirt I’m wearing, and I borrowed this sweater from my nephew.”

It took a minute for me to let this sink in. “Okay, Benito. Let me see what I can find.”

I dug through my drawers and boxes of donated items and managed to come up with two brand-new T-shirts, a school uniform, a new pair of socks, and some personal care items: toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, lotion, and laundry detergent. I also found him some notebooks and pens.

Benito’s smile made it all worthwhile. He took his two sacks of new possessions and set off for the dorm.

And I went in the house and thanked God that I have the privilege of helping a few of the Benitos in the world.


Little Michael said...

My wife and I are planning on moving to Zambia in a few years to do mission work. I was reading under another blog that said school teachers do not get paid over in Zambia, all the teachers were volunteer, is this true?

David and Linda Gregersen said...

Government schools and most private schools pay their teachers. There is one type of school called a community school which utilizes volunteer teachers. As the name implies, this type of school is organized by the community. Community members build the buildings and recruit volunteers to teach. Usually the volunteers are supported in some way by the community with food and housing. A community school that does well can then apply to become a government school.