Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? Twenty years? These are the questions I presented to my English class of 20-somethings as a platform to use future tense. Then it dawned on me that it was about five years ago that we came to visit Burundi for the first time. Did I see myself doing what I’m doing today five years ago? What will they be doing in five short years?
Two weeks before we were learning about past and past progressive tenses. I asked the students to write a story from their past. It was to be true and memorable. They wrote their stories about a family wedding, a sister’s birthday party, the first television in their village, winning a competition and their first day at Hope Africa University. They also wrote some sad stories of being detained by police, swindled out of money, robbed, and the most common, witnessing a fatal road accident. Out of forty papers, a quarter of them were about a road accident involving one or more fatalities. (We have often been told that the greatest danger in our day-to-day life here is not personal violence or political instability but the risk of a serious road accident and the lack of trauma care in the hospitals. We live these African realities by God’s grace and protection every day.) Each paper I read sparked a memory from my own past of something similar, a common human experience cutting across our cultures uniting us by shared experiences. It shouldn’t surprise me but it always does, we are more alike than different.
So while I’m teaching these students English as a foreign language, unknown to them, they are teaching me lessons of humility and compassion as they share their stories and lives. Humility because daily I see how alike we are as people; that although I was born in an affluent country rather than in another place I had nothing to do with that. From this daily experiential realization I find my compassion for others has grown and I am continually motivated to do all within my power and ability to assist them in attaining their goals and dreams. Everyone encounters obstacles growing up but these students have experienced them in exponential numbers. And yet, they face their future with a tenacity that testifies to the indomitability of the human spirit. I am curious to see what they will become and what they will do. They are the future for their nations. And I am thankful for the chance I’ve had to know them and be a part of their education.