Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Children's education - enthusiastic response to a crying need

This story is from Chantelle's blog. One ordinary girl doing an extraordinary service (in China) - check out her reporting!
More on moral education: http://bahai.org/features/moral_ed

Sunday, February 22, 2009

lane lives

Amazing experience yesterday. A Chinese friend and I went around the lane I live down asking parents if they would like to come over to my place to hear a presentation on character education for their children, a free service we are offering in the neighbourhood once a week. We had an overwhelmingly positive response. So great! It was such an interesting process to even discover where and how my neighbours live, in such a contrast to my comforts. Peter, my little 7 year old friend I met when I was locked out of my flat a few months ago, took my friend and I to each home he had friends at, running ahead, winding down dark dark hallways and up the steepest wooden stairs with absolutely no light, to find a family of three in a room about 4 by 5 meters big, kitchen, toilet, double bed, cupboard, table, stick figure crayon drawings on the wall from the little girl, all smack bang next to each other, sitting eating lunch and watching tv together. My friend told them what we were offering and the grandmother was very interested and happy and said she'd come along. A lot of them could not understand that it was free, we had to repeat that over and over again! The next kid…peter ran ahead weaving in and out of the alleyways, taking us again what seemed like going through someone's house but it was the communal hallway, people brushing their teeth in cups, or hanging their socks out on the communal line, or cooking lunch in the shared kitchen, what a sight. We knocked on the door of this tiny room/house to find a little girl about 6 years old cuddled up in her blankets in her bunk bed alone, her parents don't live in Shanghai she told us so she lives with her grandma who was out working. Peter kept talking to her about the class with lots of enthusiasm and she gave us her grandma's number to call. The sight of a tiny girl in this room/house with only a bunk bed (the top bunk bed was used as the cupboard full with clothes, food supplies, toilet paper, you name it) and a single bed for her grandma, was just so shocking and yet so beautifully simple how they live. Considering I live next door to them and live like a queen, I felt guilty...but it's all relative I guess, well more like it's all learning, and we all have different capacities, especially when it comes to living conditions! I am definitely the 'spoilt westerner' whose comfort levels differ somewhat!
We met another 5 parents, some in the middle of their work, dry-cleaning clothes in a steamy tiny space with a child sitting on the bench, all so excited about this programme, and they came into my flat looking around the place in awe and amazement, I felt ashamed in a way to live like this after seeing how they live but they were so sweet and open. A couple of kids came along to and I fed them popcorn, they took one bite and spat it out! They had never had salty popcorn before, in china it's always sweet (I had gotten this packet from the western supermarket!) so cute, but also a small reminder 'when in china be like the chinese'.
My friend and I were initially so nervous, worrying how the parents may re-act to this but they were so positive. A young mother kept saying 'thank you, thank you, thank you. All our kids do when they come home is play, its good for them to have this.' A lot of the parents could not read, we discovered as we gave the power point presentation, but that did not matter. We shared the quotation from Baha'u'llah that 'Man is a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can alone cause it to reveal it's treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.' We asked them what is a mine? How is a human being like a mine? What do we need to develop? And discussed the importance of parents and mothers especially as they are the first educators of children. We even touched on the dual nature of man, the three different types of education Abdul Baha spoke of - material, human and spiritual. How they are all very important but we seem to lack spiritual education in our current school systems and how it is really the most important one of the three.
"Material education is concerned with the development of the body. Human education is about civilization and progress. It deals with government, administration, charitable works, trades, arts and handicrafts, sciences, great inventions and discoveries. Spiritual education consists in acquiring divine perfections. This is true education, for by its aid the spiritual, the higher nature of the human being is developed."

I was just so happy to have them in my house and to be having this kind of conversation with people that had just passed me on the street, said 'Ni hao' and that was about it! Yet again China blows me away, the purity of their hearts and openness of their minds.
On a different note one mother pointed out she makes the slippers that I had offered people to wear! Those details just hit it home to me, and a friend reminded me that 'the meek and humble shall inherit the earth', and seeing their responses to our neighbourhood children's class, you can sense that. And for all the extremes of wealth and poverty that are smacked in your face here in Shanghai, knowing that these gorgeous people have such a high spiritual destiny, puts my heart at peace.

So next Saturday, here go… 7 kids coming to my place for Baha'i inspired children's classes!! My Chinese friend will run it and I'll assist! Soooo excited!!

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