My group reading session today had my girls looking at, ‘The Giving Tree‘ by Shel Silverstein. Before reading the book we did a pre-reading activity that asked the question: “If you could ask a tree to give you anything you wanted, what would you ask for?” The girls were given time to think, write, and draw their answers as well as share them with their peers and explain why they asked for certain things.
The answers they provided didn’t have much range and were quite similar from girl to girl. They included: charcoal, mangoes, shoes, firewood, food, cups, plates, cutlery, a house, rulers, pencils, colours, skirts, clothes, cooking sticks, chairs, wool, and even a table. They were able to fill in the tree that I created with all the things that they wanted and were quite happy to do so. They were very proud of their work. It was a real treat to use ‘Madam Monika’s Colours.’
This book teaches about values and what’s important in life. As the boy grows older his values and conception of ‘need’ changes over time. At first he needs to make money. Then he needs to build a house for his family. Eventually he wants a boat to escape the life that he has built and in the end comes back and just needs a place to rest his unhappy, old self. The tree, in it’s nature (pun!), gives everything that it can to the boy to make him happy. In the end though, this giving doesn’t make him happy at all. It’s quite a sad story that has you feeling so sad for this tree and upset that this boy/man could be so blind about what it all means. But really, don’t all of us have the tendency to be just like this boy and miss the real point of life? Anyways, I digress.
What I’m really interested in doing is attempting this activity with students in Canada and comparing what is on those student’s trees to the ones on the trees of my girls here. I predict that I will see lots of iPhone’s, cars, graphic video games, whatever the latest trend in clothing is, and other things that seem so important to youth at home. I know it’s not the case with every student and I know I will be surprised by the choices of some – but the differences between the kids here with the lives they live and the ones that are lived out at home are so vast.
Just yesterday I was walking home through the village and saw a young girl happily dragging a tied up rock behind her. I can remember when I was young, tying up one of my plush dogs with a “leash” and dragging that dog around as if he were a real live puppy. She might have been doing this or she could have been genuinely just dragging a rock from one place to another. You wouldn’t see any young children doing that at home. All of the children here walk and carry themselves around at a much earlier age. At first, I couldn’t help but notice how small the children were here.. But then I realized it wasn’t that they were overtly smaller than kids at home, it’s that you never seem them outside of a stroller or carrier. With children here, if they aren’t wrapped in a khanga on the back of a mum or sister, they’re carrying themselves around and often carrying things for their family.
I’m also very aware that there’s a difference in culture between the group I have here and the one at home. Here, it’s perfectly normal to ask for a cooking spoon, basic food, or even shelter – but might seem odd and shameful for someone at home to ask for these things publicly-even if they are in a position where they truly need basic food. In Canada it is expected that you have all those necessities, and if you are asked to ask for anything – the requests are expected to be lavish and unnecessary.
It’s quite hard to make fair comparisons to those at home. Much like it’s hard not to generalize when comparing the two. There’s lots of heartbreak and families in need in Canada, but it’s so easy for me to think that there isn’t when I’m faced with it on a day to day basis here in Kenya. It’s so well hidden in Canada; too well hidden.
I can’t blame the kids at home for asking for the new iPhone either. I can’t blame them for not understanding that kids their age across the globe would think it just as amazing to get another cooking spoon (in order to help cook for their family) as it is to get that new iPhone. It’s just a different way of growing up on separate pieces of rock. No one had any control of what they were born into; it was there before they were an idea in someone’s head. No one is really to blame or to be made guilty for what they want.
Instead of trying to draw the lines between the two countries, the two sets of generations, I am going to try and see them both for what they are and do my best to contribute a positive change on either end. You can’t ignore issues in first world countries just because there are so many in the third – each are equally an issue in their own right and all you can do is your best to help them wherever and whenever you can.
I don’t want to come home resenting the culture I was brought up in because of it’s fortunes. Nor do I want to focus on how it only came to be that way from the historic exploitation of one culture by another. I want to come home to a place that can bring up and nurture the kinds of volunteers I have met here; people that see the world for what it is and want to help rectify the injustices they see around them. I want to remember that I live in a place that provides an education for children to grow up and make the difference in the lives of other children not given the same privilege. That’s what I want. And that’s what I’ll encourage in a classroom of my own one day.