When I make presentations to groups about our work, there are always many questions. I speak about helping educate teens and accompanying them as they gain greater leadership skills, and people ask if we’re not just preparing them to leave their communities and go off to the big city where there is more opportunity.
It’s a valid question. And I haven’t been able to answer it until now because we hadn’t yet had a critical mass of graduates from the program. But now with 16 teens who have graduated from our program and from high school (a number that will continue to grow larger each year), we at least have a few answers.
Of those 16 teens, five are recent high school graduates doing odd jobs until they find something better (much like many US college grads), and 11 are working in professional jobs as teachers, nurses, health promoters and bookkeepers. Of those 11, six are attending college on the weekends. All continue to live in their respective communities, except two. Those two – two who may be seen at first glance as leaving their communities just as the skeptics fear – are the best possible exception to the norm. These young men have been accepted into a teaching fellowship at an innovative school an hour away from home. The ultimate purpose, however, is to return to their communities in three years’ time to open an educational institute based on the model they are learning and teaching in. In short, they have walked away so that they will be better prepared to come back.
As a matter of fact one of the fellows, Julio, already several months into the fellowship was recently offered a teaching position in his own community. It was a very, very difficult decision because he loves his family and community so much that he would rather be there all the time. But he decided to stay in the fellowship program because his vision is on the future. He is willing to make a personal sacrifice in the short term for the betterment of his community in the long term. This is a rare quality in folks who live on the margins in impoverished villages. You always take what’s in front of you because there is no guarantee of tomorrow. We understand that and we respect that, so his decision and his newfound ability to delay gratification for greater long-term reward makes us very proud.
I am inspired by Julio and all our teens who are dedicated to the health, education and economic development of their own communities. I am thrilled to be able to answer the questions and lay the skepticism to rest – Reading Village scholars are committed to the betterment of their communities no matter how near or far from home they have to travel to make that happen.
– Linda Smith, Founder & Executive Director of Reading Village