Twelve-year-old boy Mathew Flores of Sandy, Utah received an unexpected surprise from his mailman. Up until now, the boy’s only reading material was the junk mail he received in his mail box. His family cannot afford even bus tickets, let alone books and academic resources. So when he asked for any leftover junk mail, his mail carrier was so moved by this request that he posted on Facebook asking for donations of books to this little boy. Before long, books and gift cards came pouring in from all over the world.
This story illustrates the kindness of strangers. Sometimes, kindness comes from the most unexpected places. In a world connected by Facebook, it only takes a few clicks before help is on the way. But this story has also left me wondering why in one of the world’s richest countries, a 12-year-old boy cannot even afford to ride a bus or read a book? This is the kind of story one would expect coming out of rural China. Why does it take a postal worker to connect a boy to the most basic learning resource? Where are his teachers? Where is his community? If primary education is compulsory, then the system has failed him. Not every kid has a natural inclination for reading like Mathew, and many kids need a support system especially in the summer when school is out. I do not know anything about Sandy, Utah but from what I gathered from the story of Mathew Flores, there is a lack of learning resources, libraries and other community centers accessible to academically-inclined children. This is an issue that has not received much attention in urban planning not just in Sandy, Utah but in other cities as well, although some major cities have done better than others. Toronto, my home town, has just opened it 100th library branch to better serve the needs of local residents in a suburban area.
I believe there are a few take-home messages from Mathew Flores’ story. People are generally very kind. We need more mail carriers like Ron Lynch. There is also a need for book drives in the community. If there is no support at the local government level, there is a need for the community to step up to the plate. However, in the long run, a child’s most basic education should not be a Facebook charitable cause like an ice-bucket challenge. What if there was no Mathew Flores? This issue would never have been captured by the social media. There are many children in his situation. One of the long-term solutions would be to integrate the disadvantaged children into large communities with better access to libraries and learning centres. That may require a new direction in urban planning or an reallocation of education resources. If junk mail is the best reading material there is for a 6th/7th grader, something is definitely not working.