Melissa Gibson
Jun 15 · 3 min read

“Colombians have this expression, that they all use — so, so many people have used it when I talk to them about their work for peace and for social change, and that is, Solamente podemos poner nuestro granita de arena. All we can do is put in our grain of sand. ”

— Poet & human rights activist Ruth Goring

It’s hard to stare inequality in the face. In our day-to-day lives, those of us who are privileged usually do our best not to see inequality, as borne out by the facts of our existence: In the US, we tend to live in racially and economically segregated neighborhoods, send our kids to segregated schools, join sororities and fraternities and other clubs with like-minded folks. Our jobs, hobbies, commute routes…all are generally designed to keep us moving about in our own bubble, unseeing of what lies beyond. For those of us on the other side, those of us living those inequalities, we don’t get to hide from them. Instead, the difficulty is that these inequalities fill us with anger, disappointment, despair, frustration, outrage, impotence, self-hate, exhaustion. It’s hard to stare inequality in the face.

SEA: 50 years of working for social change in El Agustino through education, community development, and political action. “You will not kill us…not with hunger, not with bullets.”

But in Lima, our three weeks are structured so that we have to stare inequality in the face, however hard that may be. This is, after all, the purpose of our time here: to examine how educational approaches are connected to unequal social contexts in order to better consider what a just and equitable education can be. But this is hard work, emotionally and intellectually, as you’ll hear in this round of blog posts. At the end of week three, many students feel lost and overwhelmed. How do we make sense out of material inequalities and political systems and the need for survival? How do we make sense out of good teaching and equal opportunity and cultural relevance? How do we make sense out of the fact that these inequalities we experience are actually benefitting some folks who are therefore invested in maintaining this inequality? And most importantly, how do we make sense out of our role and complicity as educators, policy makers, and citizens?

Touring Colegio Túpac Amaru in Villa María del Triunfo, a community-organized public school doing its best to inspire students and equip them with marketable skills despite a lack of funding. “Don’t wait to have everything in your life; you already have a life to enjoy.”

In our third week in Lima, we spent time in a variety of distinct educational settings: Colegio Túpac Amaru, a public school in a low-income neighborhood; Colegio Roosevelt, one of Peru’s most elite private schools; Programa de Educación Alternativa MLK, an alternative night school for adults wanting to finish their secondary education; Lombriz Feliz, a community education and sustainability project in Lima’s biggest district; and of course, El Agustino’s Casitas after-school program and Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, our constant partners throughout our month here. These visits did not give us easy answers to our big questions about justice, equity, and education. In fact, throughout seminar this week, many students expressed the feeling that they understand these ideas even less now than when they arrived in Lima on May 20.

I get it. It’s hard to stare inequality in the face, especially because it can feel so overwhelming. Are these educational inequalities actually fixable? I think that’s where students’ sense of being overwhelmed comes from, and they’re right: a single teacher, a single school, a single educational experience cannot singlehandedly undo centuries of systemic and systematic inequality and oppression. But we can contribute our own grain of sand, in the classrooms where we will teach, in the elections where we will vote, in the choices we will make for our families and communities. As the Colombian saying reminds us, all we can do is contribute our own grain of sand. Therefore, as we move into this last week in Peru, I hope students will start to consider, What am I going to contribute? What is my grain of sand?

Visiting Colegio Roosevelt, an American-style private school serving Lima’s Peruvian and international elites.

Marquette Meets Peru

Reflections on our month studying diverse educational settings in Peru, written by teacher education students from Marquette University.

Melissa Gibson

Written by

Teacher. Writer. Wanderer. Scholar. Sharing my students with the world.

Marquette Meets Peru

Reflections on our month studying diverse educational settings in Peru, written by teacher education students from Marquette University.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade