Monday, January 26, 2009

Mih Goes to School

Mih had not attended school since coming back to the village with his sick family. Before Mih became ill and before his father and mother passed away, he had been attending the local government primary school. The school was located in a valley 5 miles away from the village. About 600 children attended the primary school and Mih had been one of them, having been placed in standard four. He should have been in class 6 but because of illness he had missed several classes and had to repeat some classes, something he hated very much. The first time he attended class, he was forced to sit on the floor because he had not brought a desk, nor had he paid the school levy for the purchase of one. On that first day he had carried his books from his previous school in Douala only to find that they used different books here in the village. Even his writing exercise books were not the ones specified by the school authorities.

There was a requirement to have a uniform that consisted of a blue shirt and Khaki pants. Mih did not have the prescribed uniform. His entire wardrobe consisted of one torn shirt that had been stitched several times; two pairs of shorts given by his uncle and a used sweatshirt that Mih held on to for dear life. He slept in it. Dressed up in it. And even when it was too hot he carried his sweatshirt over his shoulder. Shoes were optional because of the cost, so a very few children wore shoes to school. Mih’s only pair of shoe was a pair of rubber slippers that he carried by hand most of the time because the strap on the right shoe kept popping out, rendering it useless. He had tried mending the errant shoe but had not succeeded yet.
Lunch hour presented a serious challenge for Mih, because he never brought any food with him nor did he have money to buy the food that was sold at school. Hence during

Lunch hour, Mih walked around eying the food courts manned exclusively by women who sold a whole range of food: maize and beans; rice and beans; corn bread and beans; rice and meat stew; groundnuts and pop corn mix; etc. The cost of a reasonable meal without a drink was $0.25. This amount was too expensive for Mih to afford, so he was left negotiating to share a meal with other children. Some days it worked and others it did not. On the days it did not work, Mih just went hungry until he went home and hoped the sister had cooked something for the three of them.

Mih belongs to the group of African HIV/AIDS orphans who through no fault of theirs are caught in the web of abject poverty. Thus even though these orphans are part of the village community, they are constantly sidelined because they cannot afford school supplies, food or clothing. Charities do exist, that are dedicated to working towards the full integration of African AIDS orphans into their communities.

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