Skype with Park Day School
Last night, I had the good fortune and privilege to connect via Skype with middle schoolers from the Park Day School in Northern California, where we discussed the challenges people face living in African slum environments.
The meeting was arranged by an inspiring teacher there, Meena Srinivasan, who I was connected to some months ago when I was still living in India. She is a proponent of Mindful Education, a movement within the US education system that encourages use of mindfulness practices to help make learning in the classroom more kind and humane.
Poverty in Africa and other parts of the world typically (though not always) looks much, much different than poverty in the US. When you see it, it can help put you in touch with your humanity, open your mind and heart, which can then encourage greater gratitude and generosity. Exactly this happened to me in Rwanda in 2009.
And this is what Meena and I were looking to do, in some way, with her students, who all come from affluent families.
The students were shown this video I made below, which highlights the story (as I see it) of the roots of African poverty (i.e., colonialism, the slave trade, and the imposition of Western values and way of life), the day before we were scheduled to speak and then generated a list of questions for me to answer live.
In retrospect, I probably should have softened the presentation of the video some. However, it's a subject close to my heart and one that has a certain degree of pain around it, as I believe the African people were brutalized unjustly and their way of life unnecessarily punished and marginalized.
The Skype session went great. The students were full of life and energy and, as far as I could tell, were fully engaged as we discussed some difficult subject matter.
Three questions, in particular, elicited responses worth mentioning here.
Would you want to live in a slum?
On the one hand, no, because of the crammed and unsanitary living conditions. On the other hand, yes, because of the solidarity you usually find where people have to rely on one another.
I contrasted this to apartment buildings and neighborhoods in the US where you can live among neighbors, who you never get to know.
Do you have a goal?
I said that I didn't really, that I do this work just because, which lead into the topic of "following your heart" and "answering a calling."
What can we do to help?
I said this impulse is a good one and natural when we see others struggling and less fortunate than we.
Instead of helping people here in Nairobi, I urged the students to reflect about things in their life they are more grateful for now (see poster they made below). For example, the lights in the classroom (Brosis doesn't have any). The windows (Malezi used not to have any). The nice school supplies, etc. They might not have realized before how fortunate they are to have such seemingly basic things.
I also encouraged them to act in their local space, e.g., raise money for a local cause, pick up trash on the beach, and so on.
We wrapped up the session discussing the possibility of a pen pal exchange, where the students at Brosis could exchange letters and art with Meena's students.
All in all, a very positive experience, which demonstrated the amazing power of technology to create these kinds of international connections where students from very different backgrounds can learn from one another.