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What Our Children Are Not Learning

By Rebekah Kates Lemke

CRS is helping Cambodian students with disabilities attend school with their peers.

CRS is helping Cambodian students with disabilities attend school with their peers. Photo by Jennifer Hardy/CRS

For those who love the smell of marble composition books, a shiny lunch box and a fresh pack of crayons, this is your time of year. It's back-to-school for the kids, and knowledge can be found everywhere—even in remote places where Catholic Relief Services is helping to educate vulnerable children.

New school years are times of promise and new beginnings. The slate is clean and the mind is ready to learn. Children today learn more than reading, writing and arithmetic … inside and outside the classroom.

CRS supporters like you are helping kids learn, but it's also important to note what they are not learning.

Children who participate in CRS programs in Central America are not learning how to be the next gang member on the corner. Instead they are learning how to build their futures with a program you support.

Youth Builders—a program started in El Salvador that CRS is bringing to other Central American countries—combines basic education with technical skills, self-esteem workshops and community service. Local youth, nearly half of whom drop out of school by the 6th grade, are now using their marble composition books to write their own stories of change.

A shiny lunch box would be a foreign object in many of the countries CRS serves. There is no need for it. CRS provides many school-based food assistance programs, with education as the centerpiece. Children are not learning how hard it is to get up for school and thrive when you get too little to eat. They are not learning long division by dividing one small meal among many family members.

They are learning how to learn.

Boys in the Democratic Republic of Congo are not learning how to be child soldiers. They are learning much more, using pens instead of guns to secure their futures.

In some villages in India, human trafficking is a threat. CRS teaches villagers marketable skills so they don't need to seek employment far from home. Dropouts are most vulnerable to trafficking, and bridge schools allow them to return to the classroom and to their villages. Education and job training are crucial to stopping the trafficking cycle.

It's OK if kids don't learn everything just yet … after all, they are kids. And human trafficking, hunger and gangs should not be on anyone's syllabus. But all kids do have a supply list and you fulfill it with hope and opportunity every time you support CRS.

Rebekah Kates Lemke is a web producer for Catholic Relief Services. She is based in Baltimore, Maryland.

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