If you are a frequent reader of the stories which are told on this page, you may remember that on the day of the Women's March in Washington DC, there was a small action which was taken here in El Salvador on behalf of a girl who wanted to attend seventh grade.
A few weeks ago, we received the sad news that although all of the prayer and work had been accomplished to register the would-be seventh grader for classes, she had not yet attended. The reason: the school prohibits head scarves and the girl's father would not permit her to attend school without her head scarf. Her faith tradition is Pentecostal, and in this particular Christian sect, women cover their hair with a white mantillita or small head scarf.
The school is a public school. Many girls and boys from the local Pentecostal church attend classes there, as do children from many other faith traditions (or no faith traditions at all). All students wear uniforms. In the past, some of the girls with head scarves have been bullied at school or right outside of school. The administration met with parents and decided to make a rule that girls remove their headscarves during school. The girls and their families have agreed with this rule, and the usual practice is for the girls to wear their scarves on the walk and public bus ride to school and then remove them once they enter the school gate. The father in our story could not accept this rule, so his daughter did not go to school during the first several weeks of classes.
The Lutheran pastors continued to meet with the family and the school officials to look for a compromise. The girl WANTS to go to school. She could have defied her father. She could have even taken legal action to obtain her right to go to school. How difficult that would have been for her and her family! The Lutheran team took the slow and steady path of continued conversation.
Yesterday we received the good news that the dream for the girl to attend seventh grade with her friends has come true! She continues to wear her head scarf along with her school uniform. The family and the school are working together to make sure she is safe from bullying as she enters and exits the school.
The challenge to control bullying in middle schools is not unique to El Salvador, nor to the United States. How beautiful and mutually beneficial it is when we can work together as families, as the church, and as social institutions to protect the human rights and religious freedoms of girls and boys and women and men for the benefit of all.