Broken Systems, Broken Individuals

If you made it through yesterday’s crazy long post, kudos to you!  As I mentioned, When Helping Hurts is full of wonderful topics to really make you think about how we, as the Church, are to support missions both at home and abroad.

One topic that is continually brought up is the idea of broken systems and broken individuals.  Being in Zambia (event though it’s just been a week and a half so far) has shown me that there are, indeed, broken systems but that it is incredibly difficult to mend them.

The system that I’ve seen as the most broken here is the education system.  Children only memorize facts, they don’t understand concepts.  You can ask them to define something, and they will answer in unison as if they are all reading from the dictionary together.  However, when you ask what it means or for them to explain it in their own words, you’ll just get a lot of blank looks.

In helping with extra lessons, I’ve seen kids in grade 7 and older that count on their fingers or draw tally marks in order to do simply multiplication and even addition and subtraction (I’ve never before seen someone figure out 7×9 by counting on their fingers—it’s pretty impressive they don’t loose count!).  When I try to explain little tricks that we start to learn in 3rd or 4th grade, I just get those same blank looks. 

There is a vicious cycle within the education system.  Teachers start out as children simply memorizing facts in order to hopefully pass their exams.  They go to school to become a teacher (which most people don’t want to do because being a teacher is extremely low on the status totem poll) where in the first week their taught how to make a duster to clean their ceilings and where they right arbitrary reports that get zero corrections, just a grade on the end.  These teachers go on to teach (that word is used loosely) students.  They give no corrections or positive reinforcement.  And so the cycle continues.

Here, education is about getting by and passing the exams that are written in grades 7,9, and 12.  It is very common to fail and have to re-write exams, which of course means having to pay again (not to mention, students are often sent home and not allowed to return to school until they bring something the school needs but can’t afford—like soap or toilet paper).  Passing a class means earning a 40% or higher…and that’s all that kids hope to get; if you make at least a 40%, you’re told you’re doing well.

It’s easy to get distracted by the broken systems and forget the broken individuals.  In order to address this, we must first realize that we, too, are broken; we’re messed up.  It is by the grace of God and Jesus dying for us on the cross that we are made whole; it is nothing we can do.  One of the biggest problems I see is that we (myself included!!) far too often see ourselves as having it all together—this just shows how broken we are.

In our efforts to relieve material poverty, we must also address the spiritual poverty that exists.  There is by no means an easy answer to these problems.  And there isn’t a simple fix that will fix the poverty problems in Zambia, the US, Ecuador, India, China, and everywhere else in the world.  Local culture must be taken into consideration.  Join me in praying for people to develop ideas and programs across the globe that will work towards mending these problems.


2 thoughts on “Broken Systems, Broken Individuals

  1. Hey Elizabeth,
    Robert Brandon here. Had coffee with your grandad yesterday. Look forward to meeting with you when you return. What part of Zambia are you in? I have a friend serving there from Brook Hills.
    Grace and peace!

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