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The Greatest Barrier of them All

The other day I was working on a grant proposal to support secondary students and emerging technical school and university students. It was when I took a walk that it occurred to me the greatest obstacle we have encountered over the past 15 years was not material (or lack of materials). I always knew that focusing on kids and their families and building personal connections was our ‘secret ingredient in our sauce’ but did not have the words to express very simply why.

The biggest obstacle to overcome in getting out of poverty is a belief system. We all have them, and those born into generational poverty have a unique one, and it takes time and examples to break this down. I like to think of a belief system like a woven cloth. It took a lot of threads to create one. To change it, we need to remove one thread, then another, and then one day, it falls away. From here a new fabric of beliefs can be formed based on new experiences. Below is a bit from the proposal submitted.

“For most of the families we work with, daily survival trumps long term investment in the future. For these families, there are many obstacles to education, especially in a family that has faced generations of poverty. One obstacle that is often overlooked is the disbelief that poverty can be overcome with a long term investment in education. While not a tangible barrier, it may be one of the most difficult and significant ones to overcome since the family usually has not had any evidence for anything else.

One child at a time, one goal at a time, EI facilitated children and youth to reach new limits, thus allowing them to rewrite their own beliefs of what they are capable of. Those connected to them, such as family or other students are often impacted, and their own beliefs of what is possible begin to shift, creating a snowball effect. For example, when we started here in 2004, the general community belief was that education had little value and was considered a luxury. Once basic math and reading skills were learned in third grade, the children were pulled out of school so they could contribute to familial economics.

By working tenaciously with each family in personal home visits, promoting the long-term value of education, and removing material obstacles, some students started to graduate from primary school. Over many years, the communities have started to believe and observe the value of basic education. In time, more students completed primary school than abandoned it. This same effect has been occurring more recently for secondary students. Today, finishing high school is becoming much more common in our communities.

Over the past 8 years, little by little high school graduates have started studying technical and professional careers and the number is increasing each year. Alumni students are now working in professional jobs demonstrating to younger children that people from these impoverished neighborhoods can escape poverty through education. Our graduates are, among others, optometrists, lawyers, business administrators, airplane mechanics, business controllers, pharmaceutical chemists, graphic designers, and industrial technicians.

“These students, through education, can now help themselves, and their families, and their communities, escape the bonds of generational poverty. Today, in 2019, the community has been transformed from where we started in 2004. Now, children and their families have a firm knowledge, solidly based on observations of those who have gone before, that the diligent pursuit of education will change the trajectory of their lives for the better.

by Kathy Adams, Founder


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