I watched as the tears rolled down her cheeks before she quickly smeared them across her face with her sleeve. My natural instinct was to reach out and hug her, but my head overruled, sternly reminding me that it was best to empower her with words. I should encourage her to continue the battles she had bravely fought throughout her life. So I decided to give her the advice I’ve been trying to take myself – give yourself a break and be kind to yourself. I could also throw in, be proud of what you’ve achieved and, never let anyone tell you you can’t do something – only you can know that.
I regularly come across people through my work who are ‘broken’ from their educational experiences. Often they are scrambling around in the darkness desperately trying to find the remaining pieces that they can haphazardly put back together. Sometimes it’s as though they have only sticky tape instead of super glue to adhere the remnants. The fact they are willing to try, and have very little to work with is indicative of their inner strength.
Education has to be one of the most powerful gifts anyone can receive, but one of the things we can take most for granted. It’s easy to associate lack of education with developing nations, but the reality is that this is happening in Australian cities. If the value of education isn’t seen by parents then children can be left behind. People will go to extreme lengths to cover up illiteracy and I routinely see students become overwhelmed when asked to give an opinion, they have never had the opportunity to do so.
I never tire of the elation I feel as I see the transformation from shy and nervous students to those who are eager to offer an opinion and mentally challenge themselves.
Debate and lively discussion were sport in my family, everyone had an opinion on everything. Broadening our understanding of a topic was actively encouraged and debates could rage for weeks or even months. So the first time I heard a student say that their parents or school discouraged them from pursuing further education I was dismayed.
The lengths that some of these people go to get an education is nothing less than awe-inspiring. One student relayed to me her experience of waiting in an African refugee camp to be selected for a new life in a foreign land. She was picked from the tens of thousands to come to Australia, a moment akin to winning the jackpot in an unwinnable lottery. She didn’t waste a moment upon arrival and quickly started taking the first steps to gaining a tertiary education.
So as I talked to the young lady with the tear-stained face, I could see she had the determination not to give up until she’d achieved her goal of completing a teaching degree. She didn’t need me to tell her she could do it, she already knew. But I wanted her to know that I cared that she could do it, that I could see it would be a remarkable achievement against all the odds and naysayers and I was willing to impart my knowledge to help her.
This little interaction made me reflect on the relative ease my education had been and never to take that for granted. As I left the young lady on that sunny afternoon I stopped off at a vending machine for a snack. My little treat soon became stuck alongside another, which looked like it might join the snack graveyard. With a little encouragement the two items dislodged. Feeling like one treat was plenty I called to some people walking by and offered them the other snack. Looking at me quizzically, they accepted. I didn’t want anything in return, just letting them know that I wanted to share the bounty was enough.