St. Peter’s runs through the ninth grade, and I’m working with the oldest two grades. I must say, while I cherish the delightfully artless grins of the primary students as I greet them in the schoolyard, there’s something to love in these mischievous, pubescent 8th and 9th graders. That first day, I sat in on a 9th grade social science class taught by Marie, a spunky young teacher wearing a worn-in newspaper boy’s hat, a blue striped skirt, and teal leather sandals. She wrote the words development and infrastructure on the board. “Who here can tell me… What is development? What does it mean to say a country has been developed,” she asked, just like that. “To improve somewhere” one young man shouted. “To have lots of jobs and everyone having money to buy a house, food, and clothing,” chimed another. Several students shouted, “Not like we have here!”
To the students, their part of South Africa is not “developed,” but “undeveloped.” In my university classes, we often used the term “developing,” but it struck me that these terms are inherently relative to the perspective of the person using them. These students see little evidence that their community is “developing,” so it simply remains “undeveloped” in their eyes.
As the class discussion continued, Marie and I began to teach the class together. In their workbooks, the students read aloud a lesson about the “Rich North” and the “Poor South,” analyzing a world map that assigned southern Asia (excluding Australia), South America, and Africa to the latter category. I hoped Marie wouldn’t ask me for my input as a person from the "Rich North," but inevitably, she did. The students asked me what its like to live in a place where you have the option of many jobs. They were shocked to hear that anyone in the U.S. was homeless, but even as I explained this reality for some Americans, I knew in my mind that few in the U.S., even our homeless, know starvation like some of these kids. The only food many of them consume throughout the week are the five free lunches the nuns make them at school. Hunger pangs from Friday evening to Monday sure take the fun out of a weekend.