When There is No Justice
I don’t teach for the sake of the lessons. I teach for the students.
That might sound obvious, but what I mean is this: being a teacher at Holy Rosary High School is just my “in,” a foot in the door to these kids’ lives. Inside the classroom, it’s nouns, verbs, and English vocabulary, but that’s all superficial. It’s outside the classroom that counts.
Today during our lunch break, three of my students arrived on our doorstep, telling me they were “problematic.” As it turned out, their problem was a common one – no money to pay for tuition this month. But why? I wanted to know the back story, to get more information on their families and home lives.
Mae began, explaining to me that her mother moved to another island three years ago for work and now has a “new family” there; she hasn’t visited for the past two years. Mae’s father moved to the mainland this past December and sends money back to her, but only on occasion. With both of her parents gone and her grandmother having passed away this spring, Mae is officially the woman of the house.
Mae’s home on the mountain
Mae is 14 years old and in charge of her 13-year-old brother Rey and their little brother, who is in first grade. She and her siblings live alone up in the mountain. Every morning she wakes at 4am to cook for her “little family.” She walks a far distance down the mountain each day to fetch water for their house. During the week she goes to school, and every Saturday she is busy hand-washing all their clothes. Her brother Rey should be in 7th grade, but he dropped out after one month because, as Mae explains, “no budget.”
Hiking down the mountain from Mae’s house
“Who takes care of you?” I asked. “Who looks out for Mae?”
“No one,” came the heart-wrenching reply, as she buried her head in my shoulder and wept.
Injustice. The word boils up inside of me and spills over just like the coffee pot when I leave it too long over the fire. Injustice, that a 14-year-old child should be the sole guardian and caregiver for her two younger siblings. Injustice, that she should have to concern herself with the survival needs of her family while the other teachers and I still unwittingly expect her to attend class each day and complete her assignments.
And most of all, my own injustice, that I’ve been trying to “prudently” distribute and budget my alms, when, as a matter of justice, every penny I own belongs to Mae and to those like her.
The only available water source for Mae’s village is near the bottom of the mountain.
I wish I had a neat and tidy ending to this story, but there is none. For now, I could leave Mae only with the promise that Papa Jesus Himself is taking care of her, and with our own small commitment to sponsor her monthly tuition fees.
Mae is a brave young woman and I am proud to call her my student. I am begging the Lord to have mercy on her and to show me a greater way to love His children, who deserve so much more than we can ever offer them.
“You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.
The world is given to all and not only to the rich.”
+ St. Ambrose +
We are sponsoring Mae and 20 other needy children like her. Please consider becoming a part of this work by donating to our mission! $50 is enough to cover a student’s high school tuition for a year. No matter the amount, every donation will help us keep these bright, inspiring students in school and provide the supplies, food, and care they deserve. Pray for Mae and her little family, and for all children carrying such heavy burdens.