sabrina-1-300x300Millions of children do not receive the education they deserve. For some this is because there are simply no schools for them to attend, but for many, schools do exist and there are other factors that prevent children from learning. One of these barriers is the distance children have to travel to get to school, which ultimately discourages children from attending, and those that do, may arrive too tired to concentrate.

Sabrina de Souza, Nutrition Advocacy Coordinator, reflects on her Footsteps for Futures challenge.

Inspired by Sylvia

A couple of weeks ago I came across a story about an eight-year old girl Tanzanian girl called Sylvia, who is determined to get an education that each school day makes a long and often risky one-and-a-half hour journey by foot – on her own. Her story has inspired me to do the Footsteps for Futures challenge to raise awareness for millions of children, like Sylvia, who have no other option but to travel long, difficult and even dangerous journeys to achieve an education.

Slyvia’s home. Photo credit: James Stone / Plan International

As I read more about Sylvia and discovered that her closest primary school was a 7km walk away. That meant in a whole school year – 180 days – she walked over 2520km. That’s the equivalent of 60 marathons a year! Yet, Sylvia says that she is ‘one of the lucky ones’ in Tanzania, as many children her age are not able to access school at all. As many as 29 million primary school-aged children, more than half of them girls, are out of school in Africa.

Her story made me think about the contrast between my experience of getting to school and hers. The only and closest school to her was 7km away. My primary school was a very short distance in comparison – only 2.5km (1.6 miles) – and it was not necessarily the only school near where to I lived. I did a quick search of how many primary school there were in my hometown and discovered that I had the choice of sixteen, many within very close walking distance.

I started to think back to how I traveled to school as a child. In primary school I was lucky enough to be driven from home directly to the school gates – a journey that took no more than 5 minutes. The ease of my journey to school was something that I had completely taken for granted – until reading about Sylvia’s story.

Photo credit: James Stone / Plan International

Slyvia would travel over an hour and a half to get to school. Her family lived in a rural village, in the centre of the farming land. To get to the main road she could have to walk through the dense fields. She only has one pair of shoes – flip flops – so she will often get cuts and scratches on her legs and feet. Once they wear out, she will have to walk barefoot. Once she reaches the road she must be careful of the on coming traffic – there is no pedestrian footpath. In the wet season the roads become flooded and she has to wade through deep water that collects in the road. To avoid the dangerous roads she will sometimes walk along the railway line to school. But this is equally dangerous as trains travel down the line.

Out of curiosity I did some research into how other children traveled to school. I found out that almost 70% of children in South Africa walk to school. Those who live in rural areas, or those in the poorest quintile, are more likely to walk than those who live in urban areas.

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I took my education for granted

Education was something that I completely took for granted. I admit that my attendance wasn’t the best. I would on numerous occasions ‘pull a sicky’ just so I could have a day in bed. I guess I didn’t see the harm because I always knew it would be there tomorrow. I never saw education as a right or a privilege. I admit on days I probably thought it was a bit of a chore. As a child you don’t realise the amazing opportunity available to you – at least I didn’t.

It wasn’t until I went to Tanzania and volunteered as an English teacher at a primary school that I realised how lucky I was. There was a rickety old school bus that would pick the children up from school – at least the children who’s parents could afford to ‘contribute’ to the yearly bus transfer.  The children who could not afford to get the bus would walk for well over an hour, and would often get reprimanded for being late or dirtying their uniform along the way. In the classroom, I’ve never met children who were so eager to learn. They were willing to do whatever it takes – walk as long as it took – to achieve an education. But it would sometimes come at a cost. I remember one little boy who always  struggled to keep his eyes open during the class, and as a result his school performance suffered. I now realise it was probably because he was so exhausted from his journey that he just couldn’t concentrate in class.

So why am I supporting the work of RESULTS? To ensure that not only can children get to school, but that once they get there they receive a quality education that will help them break the cycle of poverty.

Join the challenge

The Footsteps for Futures campaign runs until October 2014. You can complete your own Footsteps challenge at any time. Money raised will go towards RESULTS’ work to increase access to education for children around the world.

To get involved or to sponsor a participant, simply visit