- “Good morning”
- “GOOD MORNING!”
- “What is your name?”
- “My name is BELLA!”
- “Your name is Bella. And where do you live Bella?”
- “I live in SHUABB!”
- “I love you Bella.”
Bella is six years old. She is one of 15 students, ranging from six years of age to 13, who attend Shuabb elementary. I am a gringo. I am working on my doctorate in anthropology from the University of Alabama. I work at the elementary school every weekday. The students here take classes in their native Bribri language and culture. They also have classes in traditional subjects such as math, science, geography, history, and Spanish. I teach English, supervise an ethnography project in which the older students are creating video blogs, and offer workshops in other subjects ranging from ethnobotany to cosmology.
The community of Shuabb lies within the poorest district in the country of Costa Rica. The school receives minimal assistance from the government and relies on outside donations to keep itself functioning. The school provides breakfast and lunch to the students who attend. The value of this service cannot be overstated, as for many of the students this provides nutrition which would otherwise be lacking. We have chalkboards and chalk, old desks, a nice concrete building that should last for a while, a traditionally made Rancho that needs repair both on the floor, side railing, and roof, computers which have a couple of basic learning games, and electricity.
One day I asked Esteban, the director, if he had a magic wand, what items would he like to have for the school. He replied, fans- sometimes it is so hot that the teachers and the students do not want to work. Three fans would be sufficient – one in the concrete classroom, one in the Rancho, and one in the kitchen area. Computer software on disk – learning games, reading and typing applications, and science and history software. A microscope! Botany collection supplies. New desks. These desires are not extravagant- only basic materials all schools should have.
The medical anthropologist Paul Farmer writes about how inequalities in standards of living and delivery of medical care lead to unequal outcomes regarding infectious diseases. Jonathan Kozol writes about how Savage inequalities in resources and delivery of public education in the United States has a crippling effect on the nation’s poor. My students deserve a level playing field. I cannot accept the status quo in which some children are offered the best of resources and the best opportunities, while other children are left to fight over the scraps that remain, and struggle to gain equal footing in a rapidly changing world. I believe that I am my brother’s keeper, that the rent we pay for living on this earth is the service we do for others. Teachers are fond of calling their students “my kids.” I understand this. And I want the best for my kids. I was raised to never ask for things for myself, and to this day I find it very difficult to ask for any kind of help. But for these kids, I will ask for anything. So, I’m not shy or ashamed to ask for any and all assistance to help provide the students in Shuabb the same educational opportunities that are afforded their more affluent counterparts throughout the world.
Why not me? Why not now? Why not here?
Greg Batchelder, Shuabb Talamanca, Costa Rica. March 2017.
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