What Should I Do?
by Peter Wilson (age 14, Ballyclare, Co Antrim)
You have the right to a good quality education. You should be encouraged to go to school to the highest level you can. Photograph: Getty Images
If there was ever anything that I longed for most in life, it was one thing – a simple nine-letter word: an education. Something so simple and yet so complicated to access. I sit on a small wooden stool, gazing out at the wealthy girls, their fathers leading them to their prestigious, private schools. I often wonder whether it is proper to envy such girls. After all, it is expected we should be content with what we have. It’s not as if we don’t wish to access an education, the problem is our circumstances don’t permit us. My mother Uma never received an education and she now weaves baskets for a living. My father Barack does his best to support my mother and I through his agricultural work and at times he must choose between feeding himself or my mother and I.
At 3pm, a gentleman, aged approximately between 60 and 65, dressed in formal attire, a suit and tie, black polished shoes and round bowler hat, knocks on the crumbling door of our mud shack. “Good afternoon, Sir,” I say as I force open the door of our ramshackle home. I enquire how he came to be at our house, located in the rural outskirts of Kinshasa, on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in the middle of August.
The man entered our house in a slightly bizarre manner, his two hands crossed over one another behind his back, his legs moving forward as if he were a manually controlled robot. “Good afternoon, young lady,” he replied. “May I ask why you are here, sir?” I enquired. “It is very simple, young lady. I . . .” At that moment my father entered the room, just as the man was beginning to explain the purpose of his visit.
“Sorry to interrupt, Asha. Who is this man?” my father asked.
“My name is Isaac Moshimba; may I convey my humble apologies, Mr Mkwala? However I am here to talk about a very exciting opportunity for your daughter! I have managed to secure her a place at Kinshasa central school. It is the only school in the city of Kinshasa,” he declared.
“What is involved, exactly?” I asked. “The fees are two thousand Congolese Francs per year. You would be required to board as the school is 20 miles from here and . . .” I stopped Mr Moshimba. “Two thousand francs! We barely earn five hundred francs per year, let alone two thousand!”
I was astounded. I had so many questions! I was angry that this arrogant man had barged into our home dictating to my family and I; that I should just accept his offer of an education. How was I meant to choose between the health and wellbeing of my parents and following my dream to become a nurse? What would my choice be? Who was this man and how did he know me? I needed to consult with my mother, as my father did not know who this man was.
I took my mother aside and openly asked, “Who is this man? You remained silent during the entire conversation, when father asked who that gentleman was! What is going on?”
“I don’t know who the man was!” replied my mother nervously.
“Yes you did! Stop lying to me!” I yelled back.
“Alright, alright, he is your great Uncle Mkwala. He is a wealthy businessman who operates a school in the centre of Kinshasa.”
“Why was I never told about him?” I shouted, still angry with my mother.
“When your father and I married, your great uncle did not approve of the marriage and an argument erupted. The rest of my family sided with him and contact with him has been sporadic since then.
“He was aware of your existence; however we decided not to tell you about him. We were afraid of complicating the situation and exposing you to the same treatment your father and I had experienced,” my mother calmly responded.
“I am sorry I yelled at you. I was completely out of order.” My mother and I embraced, returning to the next room.
“What was that all about?” father asked. “Oh nothing, we just had a little disagreement, but it has been resolved now,” my mother answered.
“Have you . . .?” I cut Mr Moshimba short, “I haven’t made my decision yet. I need some time alone to do that.”
I quietly and discreetly left the house with my rickety stool in hand. I wandered from the cool shade of the house and entered into the glare and heat of the afternoon sun. I didn’t have to travel far to reach my preferred spot, the Great Oak. This looming, imposing tree had been there since my great-grandmother on my mother’s side had been born. The tree had been planted to coincide with her birth. At the time of her birth, it had been highly unusual for any child born prematurely to survive. My great-grandmother had been a miracle baby.
I felt this place was the most appropriate to make my decision. I sat down on my stool and placed my hand, clenched underneath my chin. Question after question raced through my head. “What was I supposed to do? Shouldn’t I just stop being ungrateful and grasp and maximise the opportunity to change our lives for the better? Should I care more about my parents’ welfare than my education? Should my dreams come before my family?” On one hand I had the opportunity to study, to learn and accomplish my ambition of becoming a nurse. To do this, I would have to disregard my parents’ wellbeing and safety and put myself first. After many hours of indecisiveness and stressful deliberation, I had finally made my decision. I just wasn’t entirely sure whether it was the right one.
I came to the front door at around six o’clock. The sun was beginning to set behind the mask of red filling up the sky as the day drew to a close. I slowly opened the door and entered quietly, closing the door. I calmly placed my stool on the floor and sat down.
My mother came in and tentatively asked, “Have you made a decision?”
“Yes . . .” I paused, thinking if this was the correct course to take. “I have decided that I am not going to attend Mr Moshimba’s school!”
My mother led me into the next room. Mr Moshimba had overheard my decision. “How dare you! You ungrateful child! You have been offered the opportunity of a lifetime and you’re wasting it! You and only you will have to live with those consequences for the rest of your life!”
With that, Mr Moshimba stormed out of our house, slamming the door behind him. I do not regret declining his offer as I would never sacrifice my parents’ welfare and safety. This shows how difficult and demanding life is here, despite this I still have my family to love and support me. Nothing comes before family.
You have the right to a good quality education. You should be encouraged to go to school to the highest level you can