It’s easy for us to take education for granted, but it truly is a great privilege that is denied to many. This summer, I spent a month volunteering at Šv. Antano Vaik? Namai (St. Anthony›s Children›s Home) in Pamuš?, Lithuania. It opened my eyes to a new reality: a brutal reality where children face neglect, alcoholism and abuse at the hands of their own families. They do not dare make big plans for the future when they are merely struggling to survive.
Spending my days helping and playing at the orphanage as a volunteer exposed me to the tough situations and tragedies that these children have experienced. Two of the boys, ages 8 and 10, have been placed in orphanages six times over again.
Their parents constantly lose temporary custody of the children. The head of the orphanage, a woman named Roma, even represented the children in court to have all custody taken away.
The parents are alcoholics who leave the young kids to care of themselves. Before coming to the Pamuse orphanage, the brothers made a living scavenging through garbage cans for glass beer bottles that could be exchanged for 20 cents. The boys knew that their mother would take their earnings if they brought the money home, so they would hide them instead. After learning about each orphan›s past, I quickly understood that there is no shortage of tragic backgrounds, such as this example.
Fortunately, the Pamuse orphanage is a safe haven for these children and the 30 others that live there.
They can live comfortably, attend school regularly and eat properly. Having experienced the horrors of life at such tender ages, they have an uncommon determination about them to improve their circumstances.
My cousin and I were able to introduce them to new concepts and ideas that they’ve never been exposed to.
Explaining what mountains or beaches are to a child who had never heard of them was a life-changing experience. Just seeing how limited and deprived many of these children are is a stark reminder of the inequality in this world. Access to education opens so many doors and it is truly disheartening to know that many people do not have that opportunity. Upon coming to this realization of unequal opportunity and the impact of education, I was adamant about helping in a more substantial way.
Project ELI (Exchanging Literature Internationally) is a nonprofit organization at SLU that donates used children›s books to the SLU Madrid campus. I was able to extend this project to the community in Lithuania by working with the coordinator, Daria Dietz, to have books sent to the Pamuse orphanage.
The kids were overjoyed when they opened the box full of English books. Their faces lit up and they exclaimed that they were so excited to learn. I have never seen such full appreciation for the promises and possibilities that education has to offer.
In that moment, I realized that its impossible to take education for granted when using it to its fullest potential—sharing it with others.