By Lynsey Palmer
On the day we visited a radio school in Michelo, we interviewed a mother whose children were enrolled in the Learning at Taonga Market distance education program. After interviewing a group of people who had gathered to make bricks for the new school building, we asked for a volunteer parent.
Mother of eight Florence volunteered to be interviewed while our guide, Boniface, translated. Three of her children are currently in the Taonga radio program; two are older, one is married and one passed Grade 7 and continued onto a high school nearby. Their family lives over five kilometers from the Taonga school, so each day her children must walk far and through all sorts of weather to school. She explained that some days the rains are so heavy that the roads become rivers and her children cannot get to school.
Florence emphasized to us that it is vital for her children to go to school, to get an education, and to live a better life than she has. Florence struggles in life, she sells chickens and bananas but the money she makes barely allows her to live day-to-day and feed her children. She says:, “Life is much better if one is educated.” Florence and her husband are both HIV positive, however, she is lucky because none of her children are infected.
The benefits of the Taonga schools make an enormous difference to Florence. The Taonga radio schools do not charge school fees like the government schools and do not require uniforms – two costs that her family cannot scrape together. Some of the Taonga school children perform better than basic government school students and Florence is very proud of this accomplishment. She says that is one of the reasons that she has such faith in the Taonga programs and the big blue solar and wind-up radios. She says that without the Taonga lessons, her children would not go to school or learn. There are no other schools close enough for them to walk to, and even if there were, they could not afford them.
Florence participates in her children’s learning by encouraging them to do homework by candlelight at home and by attending the Parent Teacher Association meetings. The parents meet with the mentors (the semi-trained teachers of the radio schools) four times per term. She also helps in the agro-forestry garden and makes bricks for the new school building.
After interviewing her, Laura and I understood the importance of Taonga and the radios. These parents have limited options for their children and to have a school that meets every day, even for an hour or two, and get the same or better results than a government school, is phenomenal and a blessing to these communities.