"The purpose of education is to learn to treat each other better."
-- (I said that.)
I wrote this description of "Goat Sunday" for the Quaker Homeschooling Circle, which I moderate (you are welcome to join us - just go to Google Groups and look for the Quaker-Homeschooling-Circle), but thought that many of you might find it relevant in your own homeschooling adventures, and maybe, just maybe, there will be an explosion of Goat Sundays around the country. That part, dear friends, is totally up to you.
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At Friends General Conference (a national meeting of liberal Quakers which just met for the first time in 100 years on the West Coast), there were no fewer than 15 homeschooling families represented, one from as far away as Perth, Australia. Since virtually none were already part of the 150-member Quaker Homeschooling Circle, I suspect there are far, far more of us than any of us have previously imagined. We spent time sharing about the connection between our homeschooling lives and our lives as Friends.
While I was there, I was asked to write an article for the bulletin of the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI). AGLI arose in the aftermath of the Rwanda-Burundi genocide, where the world stood by as more than a million people were slaughtered. AGLI, which is associated with Quakers, has been organizing Trauma Healing and Reconciliation programs. As those from the two communities, including those who are leaving the refugee camps, have to return to their homes and live with each other, their former enemies, AGLI has been running three-day programs, with 10 men and women from each community, 20 in all, to speak their truths and begin the long process of rebuilding trust. The results thus far have been nothing short of breathtaking. (There are opportunities for older teens and adults from North America to be trained in assisting in this work, or in Alternatives to Violence Projects in the U.S.; contact AGLI for details.) Here, the lion will lie down with the lamb, although it is soon discovered that, when it comes to people, it is not always clear which is lamb and which lion.
Our homeschooling family became very familiar with the work of AGLI as a result of our friendship with Adrien Niyongabo, a Quaker, and one of the program's chief organizers in Burundi. He has visited our Friends Meeting twice at our request, and our younger daughter Meera, who especially befriended Adrien, played two piano benefit recitals, one in Olympia, Washington, and one in Philadelphia, to raise funds for the program. In addition, our Meeting has a fund called "Right Sharing of World Resources", whereby 1% of all contributions to the Meeting are disbursed to small micro-economic projects worldwide. The Meeting contribution are very small (typically three $100 grants per year), but the expectation is that members will more than match them. Often the children in the Meeting get involved in fundraisers for the projects. Most important of all, it keeps us aware of our connection with people around the world.
At any rate, when I returned home, a request was relayed to me through Adrien from the Mutaho Widows' Cooperative (by way of the AGLI office in St. Louis.) The Widows' Cooperative, made up of 54 former wives of genocide victims and their children who were now leaving the refugee camps, was trying to rebuild some form of subsistence agriculture. But they returned home with virtually nothing. So they wanted money for 12 goats. The main purpose of the goats is not milk (though much appreciated) nor the occasional meat. Rather, applying goat manure to their bean plants -- beans being the major food staple -- triples the yield. Each goat costs $30, plus $13 for deworming and medicine, for a total of $43. (Heifer International goats cost $120 each; they do wonderful work, but it is amazing how many more you can get when there isn't any overhead.)
I wrote back to the St. Louis office, asking why only 12 goats for a cooperative of 54 families? They responded that the request was probably too modest, but the women thought it would be unfair for the entire cooperative to have goats when there were so many people who didn't have anything. Hmm. Anyhow, we settled on raising funds for 27 ($1,161), with an understanding that the women receiving goats will give the first-born female offspring to other families until they all have one. Goats and goat manure for all!
Our Meeting Children's Committee and Right Sharing program co-sponsored a "Goat Sunday." We had goat art projects and songs for the children's program. We downloaded maps and pictures of Burundi, so that everyone would know where the goats are going. We had "goat hospitality" - the Meeting bakers made goat cheese cannoli and spanakopita and other goat cheese specialties for sale (and distributed recipes). Then there were goat storytelling sessions for both children and adults - virtually every culture has goat stories to share; I told several from the Yiddish and Asian Indian traditions. And a special four-legged guest (a Nubian goat named Freya) made a "guest appearance". By the end of the day, we had raised the funds for the 27 goats, with a little left over for agricultural implements.
The "Goat Sunday" idea is now spreading through the Quaker Homeschooling Circle, and I would like to see it spread among other homeschoolers as well. This could be a terrific project for a church for the holiday season, or for local homeschooling groups. I am sure the AGLI office can put you in touch with other communities where goats are needed. And if you or the kids simply want to support the project with a small donation, simply make a check out to Friends Peace Teams/African Great Lakes Initiative, write "goats" in the comment line, and send it to me at:
1717 18th Court NE
Olympia, WA 98506
I just gave two goats as a wedding present to friends who, in the global scheme of things, already have absolutely everything else. And if you'd like to talk to me about Goat Sunday (or anything else on your mind), e-mail me, or call me at (360) 352-0506.
After hearing of our efforts, Adrien wrote us from Burundi:
"When I was a child we had goats at home. While we were at school, we tied them to a tree so they could not destroy the fields. Upon getting back from school, we usually untied them so that they could find grasses wherever they might. But most of the time, the goats would remain standing at the same place although they were no longer tied to the tree.
"Sometimes I think that something similar happens in people's minds. It is not so easy that we come to realize that the storm is over and that, after having ourselves been pulled up by someone, we can help others to stand up as well."
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One idea that, looking back on it, I wish we had instituted in our family when the children were smaller, is a 1% Fund for Families. We would take 1% of our income (I know many of you already tithe), and work as a family to figure out together where we thought it might do good work, paying particular attention to where we could make direct contact with the recipients. It would be a joint exercise in global responsibility and world geography and economics ("micro" - within the family - and global) and, hopefully, set a pattern for personal accountability for the world that the kids would carry forth with them into adulthood.
I first drafted this article in far south India, with several children of migrant laborers who we have taken into a hostel literally hanging over my shoulder. If you want to read more about what I have been doing here, check out my blog at shantinik.blogspot.com.