I shake my head in disbelief. This is not the first time we have heard these figures. Perhaps I didn’t believe it the first couple of times or simply discounted it. I thought it an exaggeration. But hearing it again and again finally sunk in. It is one more injustice within a country so full of injustices.
Dealing with scholarships for needy Salvadoran students is a process providing much gratification from assisting those who would never have the opportunity to receive an education were it not for our support. It can also be a frustrating experience in figuring out how to channel funds into the country, support our in-country coordinators, convince students to remain in school, etc.
What came to light again this trip, causing me to shake my head, is the discrepancy between opportunities for students living in urban areas vs. students living in rural areas. Costs at universities are consistent for all. What differs are the transportation and food costs for the rural students who must take lengthy, cost-prohibitive bus rides into the city for their education. Even IF they can afford the tuition of the education, adding those transportation costs over and above tuition is enough to make education beyond high school an impossible dream.
Bus fares in El Salvador are ridiculously cheap, and buses traverse the entire country. Often fares cost a quarter to go quite a distance. The buses seem to be generally reliable in terms of time. They don’t have a particularly good record for safety due to crime on board, and sometimes drivers strike due to violence yet buses seem to be the transportation of choice and are always overflowing with riders.
A pastor of a church who is devoted to encouraging the youth of his congregation (in a campesino community) to seek a vision beyond working in the agricultural fields surrounding them shares his frustration that many promising youth who have dreams to study in technical schools or university simply cannot afford the $1.25 bus fee to get into the city!
We asked him to break the cost down for us, and here’s how it plays out. It costs $1 to get from the remote community TO the main road and then an additional 25 cent bus fare to the destination. (Okay, so what? $1.25 seems like nothing to me.) Then you double that to get home – now $2.50; add a pupusa for lunch, and it’s AT LEAST $3 multiplied by 5 days a week and 4 weeks and the $60 per month is out of reach for the average rural student whose farming parents may not even earn that amount of money per month and certainly cannot spare it PLUS the cost of the tuition.
Clearly the urban youth who can hop on a bus for a quarter or even walk to university have advantages when it comes to education. The youth in the poor rural areas are the ones our scholarship program is focusing on assisting.
Recently we had the privilege of interviewing 17 of our 23 scholarship students. They have earnest dreams of making a living beyond the bean, cane, and corn fields surrounding them. They want to be professionals to help support their families, to improve their church, to make a difference in their country. They are not selfish young people.
We must not deny these young people their dreams for a simple $1.25 ($2.50 round trip) per day!