I worked this week to correspond with the headmasters at the schools where the young Ethiopian students we sponsor attend school. I’m 2 for 2 so far.
Getnet’s headmaster sent me a reply to my first inquiry in which he said he has not yet met his new enrollee, but looks forward to the opportunity. He goes on to say, “I understood you are likely their late family providing influential sponsorship. I would like to appreciate your commitment towards those less fortune men. I can give you my words to give you any necessary help like advising, controlling, correspondence . . . privately or administratively. “ Getnet is a hard working young man. I expect he will succeed in college, although I also think it will require a lot of hard work and focus for him. This is the first time he and Getu have been separated since they were young boys(Getu stayed in Lalibela to finish secondary school). I hope the distance is not too difficult for either of them – they send me notes that they speak daily to “keep each other full of courage.”
Richard, the student we sponsor in Addis has begun his second year of study for his 4 year medical degree. After that he will be in medical school. I have been in contact with his headmaster twice before. I have always found him to be kind and reassuring. His response full of generous compliments for Richard. He said, “Not only does he demonstrate deep interest and commitment to his study he can also be cited as role model for others. His commitments can be expressed by his eagerness to red books, to attention in the class, browse the Internet and consent his teachers. In my view, he is excellent student both in terms of conduct and academic discipline. Hence, it is with great pleasure that I confirm now responsible and duty minded young man he is.”
He continues his correspondence with an explanation of a medical apprenticeship Richard must do each summer for these next 2 years. Ethiopian students are responsible for the costs of the apprenticeship, so it was good for me to hear about this “field experience” requirement so that I can anticipate a little extra assistance will be necessary for his 8 week travel/boarding expenses.
I have 2 remaining e-mails to write to the secondary school headmasters for the 2 students in Lalibela who are still in high school. The letters are always a careful mix of introduction/information request/accountability check. It’s not complex, but the terms of my relationship with the kids is both private and not so private. Expectations are necessary for accountability; it’s a trade off.
I am always tempted to write, “our students.” It sounds so colonial (It IS so colonial). I have to really work at how to express our family relationship with the young people we support. They aren’t “OURS”, although the relationship of us and them (power and no power)really does show up in my language. Privilege is like that – they who have it (us/me) get to USE it – language is one of those places. I’m working on my awareness, and I have no intention of colonizing the lives of these young Ethiopian students. But, the structures make it difficult to always frame what is going on in a way that isn’t just ripe with power dynamics. I’m open to comments on this – because I know there is a slippery slope here.