Do you remember the lectures you got if you did not eat your dinner?
“Eat that food now! There are children in Africa who would love to have a dinner like that. You should think of all those starving children when you push your food around the plate”.
Do you remember how you answered this command to eat up – generally it was cabbage – and to be thankful that you were not one of those children in Africa?
If you were cheeky, the answer went something like, “Well send the food to them, then”.
The starving children in Africa, at the time I was trying to push vegetables together so what was uneaten did not look so much, were in Biafra; they could have been in any one of a multitude of places in the years since.
Suggesting that the left over food be sent to Africa was not being callous; it was simply demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of what the world was like for many, many people.
Marking schoolbooks, the answers were uniformly depressing. There had been a question where pupils were asked to write words they associated with a particular topic. One of the topics was ‘homework’ and every single word attached to it was negative. The most positive answers were ‘dull’ and ‘boring’. The list included comments like ‘complete waste of time’, ‘pointless’, and ‘useless’. The worst critics suggested that it had been devised as some sort of punishment or torture.
The temptation would be to respond with a line suggesting they think of the children in Africa, but it would probably serve no more purpose than the suggestion that not eating one’s cabbage should prompt thoughts of Biafra. There seems no more comprehension of the reality of life for hundreds of millions than there was forty years ago, maybe less. Appeals in those days were for people living in absolute poverty; there would have been no idea then of appealing for money to send children to see Santa.
Perhaps instead of a rebuke, a story would be in order.
Visiting a vocational training school in Rwanda, we were taken into the classroom of a literacy class. The class was comprised of students who had missed out on elementary education so was a fairly mixed age group.
The teacher called out a word and invited people to volunteer to come forward to spell it; a number raised their hands and he picked a student sat at the end of a line halfway down the room.
The student wrote the word and turned to face the class who offered a round of applause.
“How old are you?” asked the teacher.
The student, who was clearly considerably older than many in the class said, with a smile, “I am forty-five”.
It was humbling to see literacy so prized that a middle aged man should feel delight in demonstrating his spelling skills.
The people would have loved the opportunity (and the time and resources) for homework. Whether the story can be told without sounding patronising is another matter.