Florence is beautiful. She is tall and strong, big boned with muscular arms and a perfect figure. Her smile is wide kind genuine. Her skin is a perfect smooth creamy black.
She is only 17. One year away from being able to take the bac – something we might think of as equivalent to getting your high school diploma. Except that here, people have to take it over and over. It’s a huge accomplishment – it is very hard – and there are no text books to study from. No review book. Nothing.
But she is committed. She walks 14 Kilometers every day to school, and then back again. She leaves at 4 AM. She doesn’t come back until 5 at night. And then its cooking for the family – walking to get water – only at 10 or 11 at night can she find time to read her notebooks…..
She is exhausted
She came over tonight. Waited for me for 2 hours. I didn’t know she was here. And she didn’t really say much. We ate together, drank tea.
Talked about the weather
So the rain.
Her house doesn’t have a roof on it.
There was a rainstorm last night. They couldn’t sleep. They were cold, and wet. And then she got up to go to school.
And she needs money for school fees or she will have to stop going.
Their mother and father both abandoned them.
She started crying. She said she was going to go too. She said she couldn’t do it anymore. That she wanted to abandon them too.
The weight of her entire world is on her shoulders. Her family is hungry. They don’t have a roof. They don’t have a well.
They have no income, they are all stubbornly still in school.
She says she is too tired to go on.
She says she is going to die.
She says the road is dangerous – walking alone in the early hours of the morning. She has already been harassed multiple times. She says if she keeps walking the road she will die.
She doesn’t understand how brave she is.
How rare she is.
In this culture where most girls drop out of school when they are teenagers – get married young, try to improve their situations (often ending up in far worse ones)
Everyone would expect her to just get married. Or stop studying to work. But she still goes to school. Walking 4 hours a day.
Working every waking hour.
When I write it it doesn’t even sound real. That people I know could be in this kind of situation. That people I know are crying in front of me, telling me they are too exhausted, telling me they want to leave too, showing me their breaking point.
Somehow, we expect more resilience out of the poor – we know they are poor – but somehow they manage – somehow they live.
But imagine if you had a crumbling mud hut that didn’t have any roof. Imagine if you had 6 brothers and sisters all depending on you for food. Imagine if for months all you ate was a little rice and green mangoes. Imagine walking 28 Km a day, just to go to school, imagine having a mother who was never coming back, a father who was dead, a family that looked the other way. Imagine that your well is the color of green scum, you have no potable water. Imagine that everything you own is muddy and drenched by the rain – that you are surrounded by danger – surrounded by societal and cultural pressures to just give in, quit school, find a man to take care of you.
And imagine that despite it all, you get up every morning and face a new day anyway. You leave the house at 4 am anyway. You cook whatever food you can find anyway. You walk to find water anyway. You take care of your family anyway.
I don’t think many of us understand the kind of courage that that takes.
How rare it is.
What kind of courage do you have?
Do you have the courage to do the hard thing anyway?
To walk 28 km in search of a better life?
To do it every day?
To take the road less traveled by? The road only you believe in?
Do you have that kind of courage?
That kind of grit?
How would your life change if you did?
Courage is something that cannot be bought or sold, planted or cultivated, harvested or used up. Courage is something you were born with. Something that beats in the soul like a heartbeat. Every time you challenge yourself, it takes courage. Every time you take tiny steps towards the person you want to be, steps no one will ever see, that takes courage. Every time you talk to a stranger, speak in public, try something new - that takes courage.
but the ultimate courage - that is the courage to believe in yourself. That is the courage to tell yourself you can do something - the courage that is the wings of risk - the courage that propells you forward to take that first step, whatever it might be. The courage that tells you you can take another. The courage that faces a hard dark road - because you know in your soul there is freedom on the other side -
courage - we all have it.
and when we summon it, it will never abandon us - every courageous act has meaning within itself - brings freedom within itself.
what kind of courage do you have?
I challenge you to do something courageous today. something hard. something you don't want to do. something that brings you one step closer the dreams that are deepest in your soul.
I challenge you to drag those dreams into the sunlight.
to look them in the eye.
to tell them you are going to fight for them
and then fight for them
like your life depended on it -
because it does.
......there are only 2 mistakes one can make in this life.....not starting and not finishing........ (buddha - or some equally wise gent)