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Monday, October 31, 2016

Hardship Hits Hardest at Home

My suddenly very adult brother,
Abuti Thabo, at the mine. 
I stare at the screen of my phone and blink back tears of frustration and anger as I reread my brother's text message: "I miss you too my sister. I don't think I will come for writing [my exams] because they are disallowing me to come write."

One week before receiving this frustrating text, I had been sitting in the hall at my brother's school; beaming as he received the Leadership Award. Now, I am sitting in that same hall doing Camp BRO. I am forced to be on my game-inspiring young men to be positive leaders for social change-when all I want to do is mourn the future I imagined for my brother.

My amazing and inspiring brother will not be completing secondary school at the end of November as planned. He will not be writing the intense Form E exams to earn his certificate—the Lesotho equivalent of a diploma.

Instead, he is now an employee at a platinum mine in South Africa; taking on the job his father held before his untimely death a decade ago due to “mine-related illness.” Because the mine acknowledged responsibility for his illness, they have been holding a position for my brother for the past decade.

Abuti Thabo and me following our GRS/PC Skillz training.
A month earlier, my brother missed a week of school because the mine had called and insisted he needed to report in person to get money for our family. When he arrived at the mine, he learned that he was actually being given a job.

He spent a week there as they processed his paperwork. When he returned to the village, he visited me first. We had a long conversation about his trip before he even greeted the rest of the family. Abuti Thabo told me he had spoken to numerous managers, asking if he would be able to complete his exams prior to starting this job. Most managers agreed he should be able to do so, however, the director suggested it would not be permissible. He expressed pride over his ability to navigate such conversations in English with the management. Multiple managers told him they were impressed to learn he was only twenty, given the confidence he carries.

Abuti Thabo and me coaching GRS/PC Skillz together.
Over the next three weeks, Thabo continued to attend school while renewing his passport and getting his working permit for South Africa. Two days after he earned his award, he returned to the mine during a school break. He hoped to do processing paperwork and then be allowed to return home for six weeks to complete his exams.

As his text showed, however, the mine refused. In order to have a job, he had to stay and begin training immediately. We are all devastated. Here he is so close to completing his education. His exam fees have been paid. He has spent the whole year studying diligently for these exams. And now? He is working in a mine where his education does not matter.

In America, we would simply refuse. We would choose education and gamble on the possibility of a different, maybe even better, job in the future. Most likely the gamble would pay off and we would finish school and find employment of some kind.

In Lesotho, unemployment is astronomically high. Finding work is incredibly difficult. Our eldest brother has been applying to jobs for over a year with little luck. Our mother works endlessly selling snacks, but that generates little income. As a result, my family has struggled financially over the last decade.

Abuti Thabo, Abuti Tebane, and me goofing off during the
construction of the chicken house
They do not have the luxury of choosing my brother’s education over this mine job—they would if it were a viable option, they value education profoundly and our mother has worked hard to ensure the boys succeed educationally.

And so, more so than any moment in the past few years, I am struggling with the reality of life in the developing world. It has literally hit home.  I am devastated as I watch my brother forced into adulthood a few months too soon. Selfishly, I also result the mine for taking him to South Africa before I move at the end of November because I miss him.

Addendum: Abuti Thabo, as always, amazes me. Although homesick, he tells me that he has already enrolled in the mine’s optional educational program. He will complete the mine’s equivalent of secondary school in just over a year. At the point, he will have the credentials to attend university in South Africa. People holding Lesotho’s Form E Certificate typically have to do additional bridging courses to qualify for university programs in South Africa. I am still struggling with his departure, but every time I think I cannot possibly be more proud of him, he proves me wrong! 

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