A Story at the Border of Busia and Uganda

Dan Li, who is the co-founder of EWB, told us the story when she was at the Border of Busia and Uganda. This is she’s speech at 2018 Penn China Education Summit.

At the border of Busia and Uganda, there is a small orphanage that houses about a hundred and fifty children. There are a hundred and fifty children aged from one year old to eighteen years old, but one full-time nanny to take care of them. I had the privilege to stay with these children for two months during the summer of 2014. One afternoon, when I was tutoring these children under a tree, I heard a loud cry around 50 meters away from me. There was a group of boys fighting. As I dashed over, I realized that they were fighting over an empty mango juice bottle. They all wanted to get the empty bottle because they wanted to open up the lid, lick the inside to get a taste of the last drop. And the center of the scene was a nine-year-old boy called Sam. Sam’s parents passed away due to HIV. He was lying on the ground, clutching the empty bottle to his chest. And then, and only then I noticed something even more heart-broken: his right knee was thoroughly infected. It was infected to the point that is covered with blood, yellow pus, and also flies flying on it. The wound seemed to be at least several days old. But until then, nobody, myself included, noticed the wound on his knee. If this boy grew up in a normal family, with the caring from his parents, then the parents would probably take the boy to the restroom, to clean up his wound as soon as he got hurt, but now nobody even noticed for several days. As I escorted Sam to the staff lounge, the boy started to calm down. The boy was extremely brave. I tried to clean his wound with a disinfecting wipe, and he didn’t even make a sound. However, while I was trying to reach for the band-aid on the table, he started shaking nervously. I soon realized that his anxiety came from the fact that he had never used a band-aid before, even though it was supplied to the orphanage. After this instance, I started teaching the children how to apply a band-aid, what they should do when they get a scratch or fell, how to clean up the wound and how to apply a band-aid when they need. However, I realized after a while: when there’s a day that I’m at the school, reminding the children what they need to do after they fall down, they will do what I said. However, if there’s a day that I am not there, they would not even remember it. I encountered similar difficulties when I was teaching the children multiplication table in maths class. I faced similar problems when I taught children to wash their hands before they grab a meal. And then I realized that primary education is this amazing thing: it requires a long-term adult-child interaction. Without continuous communication, the education itself is not sustainable, and habits cannot be formed. Even though during the two months, these children completely changed my values and my life. However, I know that there’s nothing long-lasting I can do for them.

    In one day, I realized I never lost internet access when I was at the orphanage. Today in this technologically development world, even the most undeveloped regions have access to the internet. If the email can reach a region, so should the quality education. Education equity is defined as the unequal distribution of academic resources. What the definition means is the uneven distribution of quality teachers. There are quality teachers out there who are dying to serve the children you need. In a real-time online education system can connect them allow them to interact for as often as they need, as long as they need, without the limitation of colocation. So that’s why we founded education without barriers. We want to provide our online education system so that teachers and students can interact via the online network so that teachers can accompany the children for as long as they need us. We want to accompany them until they grow up if it’s possible. Over the last two years, we have made collaboration with eight orphanages in China. We are providing twenty thousand hours of tutoring and mentorship to eight hundred children. So many things come with the long term minister of education, and one of the most significant benefits is that as a teacher it gets some know about children where you know(603). He or she can develop a personalized education plan for a child which is probably the definition for the best education system. Ever since I started the project I have been asked by mainly: can we do a meaningful relationship with the internet. Can we really establish an emotional bond through this virtual network? The answer is absolutely yes. At education without barriers our teachers who interact with the children for at least once or twice per week. Besides teaching them academic subjects, our teachers may also have small chats with the kids. The children would ask the teacher all kinds of things, ranging from whose father was at school today to who is their favorite baby. And sometimes, this job can be emotionally challenging. For instance, our teachers are generally the first ones to hear how much the children are missing their parents in heaven. When our teachers encounter a situation like this, they will even play the child’s favorite music to soothe him or her. The children can be quite mature on the other side of the screen. Together, they will be composing the letter or draw a picture for the parents in heaven even though there are thousands of mile the part, sharing the delicate moments. The truth is we can not only for an emotional bond with long term real-time online education system. We can also protect our children from getting hurt, getting sick or getting abused using this platform.

We can also protect our children from getting hurt, from getting sick or from getting abused using this platform. Even though our teachers are not physically next to these children when they teach the class, but they are always, always, and always the first ones who know that if the child is sick. They are always the first ones if not the only ones to remind the children to take medicine or to drink a lot of water. There was once that a teacher noticed there was a small cut on the little boy’s fingers, so she asked this child to hold on his hand close to the camera. And across from the screen she gave a kenning kiss. And then she asked the child to grab a band-aid, and she also grabbed one herself. And together on two ends of the screen, on two ends of the earth, the teacher and the child has wrapped a band-aid onto their fingers together.

The last topic I want to talk about is child abuse, more specifically, child sexual abuse. This topic has been on the news a lot lately. We all know how widespread the problem is. Even though we all wish to think that people are kind, but there are some people out there who will take advantage of those who are incapable of protecting themselves, the children without anyone to care for them in the last several years. I can say that these things do happen and happened a lot more often than what the general public realizes.

I’m currently a second-year medical school student, and in medical school, our teacher has taught us how the universal precaution is needed regarding the topic of abuse and  sexual abuse when they meet a patient. We also spend a lot of time learning about different signs or red flags that may help us recognize cases of domestic violence, child abuse or sexual abuse. The same should be applied to education because children are unable to protect themselves and educator, the teachers may be the only ones who can recognize the signs and protect the child from being hurt. Fortunately, or unfortunately, our teachers were able to identify and discovered some child abuse cases when they were giving the online lessons. These children are incredibly courageous. They stood up themselves; they stood up for each other. However due to the concern for confidentiality and because of an annual society that is not strong enough to face the ugly truth of the reality, the children receive the justice they needed. After everything is settled, one girl asked us, “Is this it?” So my talk today is dedicated to these children. I want to tell them, “No, this is not it, you do not need to suffer in vain.” The fact that you stood up for yourselves, you spoke up for each other made all of us realize the importance of protecting our children from these cases. It made us realize that every educator should be trained to be able to recognize these signs and be prepared to become the true protector for our children.

So facing such education inequality, real-time online education can become a band-aid to close off the wound in this inequality. Using these band-aid, we can also form meaningful emotional connections to heal the heart. Most importantly, we should all get effective training in all child protection so that we become the true protector for our children. Thank you.