Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Challenges of Culture. (one of them at least)

One of the challenges of working in a different culture is learning to not let our own personal bias (or that of our culture) to dictate how we react to situations around us. For instance it would be easy for me to get really upset about the practice of Lebola (bride price). However, once I took the time to listen and understand the reasoning behind it, - the deep cultural traditions that lie in respecting the bride, and her value as part of a family unit, and not placing a monetary "value" on her as an object- I began to see it in an entirely different way. Are their problems with its current implementation? For sure. Do some abuse the system? Absolutely. But, at its heart, lebola is not intended to devalue or treat women as objects.

There are of course, many other examples. Many times where I have mentally sat on my "high horse" and judged the culture around me for its failures (compared to my culture). Sometimes those feelings are somewhat "justified". Although Lebola itself does not devalue women, there are many other things here that do- girls are not encouraged to finish school, women are expected to know that their husband loves them when he "disciplines" them, and women are rarely accepted as teacher or leaders over a group of men. This is changing, but in the rural areas where we work this is still the prevailing attitude.

More often than not though, my feelings are not justified. I am comparing their culture to mine, instead of a more common Biblical standard. (bc lets be honest folks, there is a whole lot of "Christian Culture" in north america that has very little to do with the Bible at all!) I am learning however, i'm learning to keep my culture in the background and instead view things here with a Biblical worldview. Im even learning to remember that the overwhelming majority here have not had the benefit of even a semi decent education, or training in critical thinking or even common sense. I am learning to see that many things I hold near and dear to my heart as true and right, are not actually true or right. They are simply " what i am used to", - they are comfortable and familiar - I must recognise that they are not a standard I can use to determine the trueness or rightness of this culture.

Working with the orphan program has exposed me to lots of cultural practices that are difficult to understand or accept. Mothers who feel they must abandon their children with family, so that they can marry again, because many men will not raise another mans child. Orphan girls who are taken in, only to be treated like servants, or worse, eventually put out by the "aunty" when they become a potential second wife around 13 years of age. (not always the case of course, but all to common)

Recently though, Ive been confronted with a cultural "norm" that really really really gets me hopping mad. We have struggled with keeping the orphan girls in the program. Over the last two years EVERY SINGLE girl in a higher grade (grade 6-8) has left school, only to marry, and get pregnant (sometimes not in that order) around age 16 or 17. Although this is frustrating, since each of these girls had/has the potential to finish school and make a real impact in their communities, its not technically illegal, since Mozambican law says girls must stay in school and cannot get married until age 16. Sixteen is young, but I have come to terms with this, knowing that a 16 year old here has usually been well prepared for caring for a family, even if they are not completely prepared for a marriage.

Obviously the program's goal is to keep the girls in school, we are encouraging all the children with different incentives, have hosted some talks by Mozambican professionals (both women and men) who can say " I did it! You can too!" But at the same time as we are encouraging them to stay in school, we are pouring into their lives so that the time we do have to impact their lives, is well used.

This year at least three orphan girls studying in grade six, and we are continually encouraging them to stay in school. But it is a challenge. In December we were informed that one of the orphan girls had been given in marriage to a young man from a nearby village. The granny had accepted the Lebola since the girl had said she wanted to go marry him... that she "loved" him. When I heard the news I cried for an hour. And then teared up anytime i thought of it for days afterwards. I also got really angry. I was outraged and ready to jump on my North American high horse and "visit" the young man, and the granny myself. This granny had illegally accepted a lebola. And the young man had also broken the law. Why was it illegal you ask? Well, the girl was nowhere near the legal age of 16. She was 12. TWELVE!!!! Of course she thought she was "in love" with the guy.... don't most 12 yr. olds the world over "love" someone???

Aside from being illegal here its even quite a bit outside of cultural norms. It took a while, but I reigned in my high horse enough to deal with it as the culture here dictates. And for that i'm actually pretty proud of myself! As is required community law, we informed the local leader, who responded that he was scared of curses and didn't want to get involved (more "culture" to deal with). So we informed the district leader, and the police in her area- they came, told the man he would go to prison if he came close to the girl again, brought the girl home and told her to stay away from the man. Shes back at home now, going to school, and we hope she will continue to be a part of the program, and continue her education. At first she was not to happy, but she seems to be adjusting to being back at home, going to school and is hanging out with her friends, and has started attending the orphan meetings again.

It was hard for me to let someone else deal with the issue. It was hard to see a young girl that I care for very much and have been a part of her life for nearly five years throw away a chance at a future and an education. It was hard to not rush over to that mans house and give him a good dose of my North American " common sense". It was hard for Rick, as his " daddy heart" was enraged at the thought of a child being with a man. It was hard to see a granny take the easy road by not defending the best interests of the girl.

It. Was. Hard.

On the flip side we have several grannies who are determined that their children will stay in school and get an education. Though they themselves never recieved an education, they are now attempting to learn how to write their own names. We are so excited to partner with these grannies to see their children succeed! And succeed they are- getting high marks in school, caring for those around them, showing initiative and creativity- its wonderful! We have recieved reports in the last week that several of the orphan girls are receiving wonderful marks this year, and many of them have been able to get a good start in our Bible Verse Memorization challenge as well.


Anyway, all of this long essay was to say... please pray for us as we work here. We love it here. We love the people, and yes, we even love many many many many things about this culture, but we do struggle. We struggle to stay focused on God's culture in the midst of a lot of frustration. We struggle to understand why girls (the world over really) cannot see their value, and why their caregivers do not value an education. Please pray for all the children in the orphan program, but specifically for the girls that they will continue with their schooling, resist temptation to run around with the boys, etc. Pray that we as leaders can inspire the children to have dreams for their future. And, as always, pray for our health and safety here. Pray that we will be encouraged in the work. Pray that our financial needs will be met and our house will be completed so we can devote more time to the training seminars and our other work as well. We covet your prayers. Always.

Thank you!

God Bless, Rick, Heather & Tendai




Andrea said...

Fantastic Heather. What a good job explaining the complications.

Stam family said...

Thanks for writing your heart our loud! I pray your heart response will become more and more a Jesus-response. And as it does, pray that mine will be too. Remember, I do live in that North American culture which at times can be just as frustrating as yours in Mozambique! Precious girl, keep sharing your heart thoughts.