Tag Archives: making a difference

 “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.”

“Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.”

That famous saying is attributed to St. Ignatius Loyola of the Jesuit Order and also to Aristotle, but I know it from a series of documentaries started in the 60’s (then called 7 UP) that follows a group of British children, from a cross-section of backgrounds, from the age of 7 – 56 years old, looking at their lives every 7 years.

For those who may wish to watch the series.

I watched up to 42, though it now continues as a series, however, it’s true meaning only really became apparent to me yesterday. Sort of “Hit me with a wet kipper,” reality, rather than the ‘Yes, it was part of my Sociology Course at Uni,” reality where everything is a theory, but not, if you follow?

In a nutshell, it showed that the environment, surroundings, experiences and education that a child receives in their formative/primary years, shape who they will become in later life – where they are likely to live, who they are likely to marry and the type of job they are likely to get.

And before you all jump and say, but so and so married a prince etc, etc.. I acknowledge there is always the exception to the rule.

Generally, though, it is true to say that where we live and the people we socialise with, are the greatest influences in our lives. If all we see are the streets of Colombo and our parent begging and possibly sleeping on those same streets at night, that too becomes our life and the realm of our experiences.

Why am I talking about this?

As a young Scout Leader in West London, I chose to start a Scout Troop on a municipal/council dump. We were known as the ‘Dump Kids.’ Initially, some kids from very middle-class homes followed me to this area and THAT CHANGED THE LIVES OF ALL THE NEW KIDS WHO JOINED! Why?

Well, their home and school experiences were different from those of the children living on the council estate that fed the area for my future troop as well as the local schools. I remember visiting the home of one parent, she was married, 21 years-old and with 5 kids, yes 5! The floor when I entered was ‘literally’ moving, there were unwashed dishes in the sink and kids with grubby faces. What there wasn’t was a single book, comic or magazine anywhere. I was shocked, the home I had grown up in had books everywhere, as did the homes of the kids who came with me. As I left the tenement (a double storied house on top of a house block) a TV came hurtling down from the upstairs home and smashed onto the pavement near to where I had parked my vehicle. (Needless to say, I parked away from the building and appointed a ‘lookout’ for my vehicle as a work colleague had parked in the same spot, gone off to measure up some roads for repairs and returned to find his car jacked up on bricks and the wheels all removed.)

The kids from better housing had access to books, better schools, field trips to museums, theatres, sporting holidays and trips overseas because their parents could afford them, these keys opened the doors to a much wider variety of experiences to learn and draw from than their ‘Council Estate’ ‘cousins.’

Now I think you may see where I am coming from.

Here, in South Africa, we have classes in government schools with 40-50 learners, few libraries and often no toilets, especially in rural schools. If we do not provide the very basics necessary for a decent education, how can children break away from the social bondage that traps them into a continued world of poverty? How can we aid in the improvement for learners to reach their full capacity, rather than clipping their wings from the start?

We expect our school learners to like and understand Shakespeare, but he speaks a different language to English as a first language speakers, let alone those for whom English is not their first language. Yet, we expect them to be able to write exams with perfect spelling, grammar and punctuation, be able to create fantastic stories. conjure up amazing characters.

I have realised, that if all you have in life is a poor home and school and maybe gang life in that environment and school, then that is all you have to reflect on. This will come out in your language, writing (if you are lucky enough to go to school) and attitude towards those surroundings as well as the rest of the world, your world.

How can we break free of this cycle? Have a child at 7 who becomes an astronaught, scientist, owns his own plumbing company etc. at 42?

We need schools, not with tablets and computers which are being stolen every day (129 Government Schools were broken into across Christmas 2018 in Johannesburg and computers and equipment stolen.) No, schools with small classes and brilliant teachers who can excite the minds of their charges, spark their imaginations, help create their dreams and set them on new and varied pathways for life.

We need libraries, where, not only books can be borrowed (btw every day, hundreds of books are stolen from libraries in South Africa.) but where there is also someone who can teach those who cannot read, or just listen to a those who can show interest and encouragement.

We need social programs that provide experiences other than TV programmes, where learners get to hear, touch, smell and see environments outside their own. (For years I have been advocating for student exchange programmes where at least those in 2nd year Uni can exchange for a year and live in another country.) Scouting does this on a small scale with their ‘Home hospitality’ programmes, where scout gets to stay with a scout from another country, go to school with them, live with them. But it comes with a cost. So too does crime. So do we lock the door after the horse has bolted or lead them to water? Can we afford not to widen the experiences of all children?

As an author, I try to create books that spark children’s imaginations, characters from different parts of the world with their own unique characteristics, tropical lands, lands of snow and ice, friendships, disabilities, bullying. I base my stories around pirates and birds, the latter, which I have as puppets and take with me on school trips.

I try to visit a wide range of schools, where I chat with the learners about how we (Authors) write, what goes into producing a book from pen to the market place, BUT most importantly that an author is a REAL person. Books don’t just materialise, someone writes them, and that they too can write a story. However, I am, ever conscious that their world restrains them, so the responsibility to write even more exciting stories to spark their imaginations rests with my Author colleagues and myself. We must become their world, create an imaginary world for them to escape to, use our words wisely to increase their virtual world, even if we cannot improve their physical one.

Education, reading, enthusiastic teachers, libraries, school visits, exchange programmes are all keys to better prospects, plus our stories, how we spark their imaginations and the values we portray through our characters.

Give me a child until he is seven, help me change his world and I will show you the man who can become anything he wishes.

 

The launch of Echoes From the Forest

Echoes from the forest 102018 front cover onlyWho is JE Gallery? Well, I am. It’s one of my pen names.

“Why not print your poetry?” asked Kim one day. We had been chatting and I had shown her one or two of them.

So, still not being too sure I bounced a few off some more friends.  I had been writing my poems for about 10 years and had collected a couple of hundred, so what to include for my book? It was fun re-reading them, tweaking them here and there and choosing which ones would make the cut. I hope you all will enjoy them too.

Poetry is so subjective that one never really knows how others will take your work, and as all authors know, we often suffer from low esteem are unsure of our selves and conversely our work.

By the way, it hasn’t been written under a pen because I am fearful of how it will be received, but to separate my children’s books from adult works.

Echoes From the Forest will launch at Cafe la Plume on the 31st October 2018. I will be joined by Ashleigh Giannoccero, Evadeen Brickwood, Silke Kaiser, Corne Groenewald, Gerry Pelser and my best book buddy Kim Hunter, I can’t wait, yeahhhhhh!

Join us there at 10am if you are a lover of books and meet some incredible giants in the Indie book world, chat with us, get your books signed and dedicated and just hang with the authors for a morning.

 

Meeting Someone Special Who Touches Your Heart.

Last Saturday I met someone very special who touched my heart. His name was Rikus. I had already spoken at the Cerebral Palsy Family Awareness Day and was watching the children. Then I saw Rikus eating a biscuit he had made with his mum.

Rikus has severe CP, he can’t talk, walk, do anything for himself and his mum explained they don’t really know how much he can see. So Polly took over, she’s very good at that. Polly by the way, is my alter ego in the form of a parrot puppet who accompanies me to schools and events.

She asked Rikus if she could have some of his biscuit and was immediately met by a smile that stole her heart. She tucked and rubbed herself under his arm and the reaction was immediate. She went on to give him a kiss. I don’t think either I or his mum expected the reaction we got as Rikus made a clicking sound.

“He wants another kiss,” his mum told me.

Polly continued to interact with Rikus for about half an hour, and every action brought a reaction from him, from smiles to contorted gestures indicating pleasure and lots and lots of clicks which were returned with kisses from Polly. As our time drew to a close, I realised that Polly’s bright colours could indeed be seen by Rikus and her and my voices could be heard by him. So, if you are ever in any doubt as to whether someone who is severely disabled can communicate, just take the time to find out. Polly did, and her life has been changed forever, as did mine, for as I write this piece and look back over the photos I smile, because this young man was so happy that day, and it felt good to make a difference.

Rikus with Jann and Polly small