I have been so sad to hear the news of what is happening in the US and the UK, my own country. We seem to have become barbarians. First the misery of Brexit, with its racist undertones. Then Coronavirus to stop people interacting and lose human contact. Maybe this is what has driven people mad. Now riots based on the whole racist debate and bringing up all sorts of recent and historical grudges. Do we all hate each other so much?
I come from London, which has been a cosmopolitan city right back to Roman times. Throughout my school days and my adult life I have been part of a multi-ethnic society, with friends and work colleagues from all over the world. Yes, I know there have always been problems of racism, but I have always believed that the more educated the person, the less narrow-minded they are likely to be. This is certainly true in my own family, where there is a massive class and education gap between my father’s and my mother’s side of the family. For example, my paternal grandmother finished school at 11 years old to help support her desperately poor family. I loved her dearly, but even as a small child I was deeply shocked by some of her racist statements. My mother’s side of the family was well-travelled, well-educated and used to other cultures and did not tend to make that sort of judgement.
Tribalism and racism come from the same narrow mindset of ‘them’ and ‘us’. This is why I jointly founded a primary school in South Sudan, a country with huge problems of tribalism, extreme poverty and illiteracy. My co-founders are all from the local Madi tribe, but are relatively well-educated. They understand the importance of bringing peace to the country and of development to combat poverty. That is why they asked me to help them start a school for the poorest and most marginalized children in the local community.
At Cece Primary School we have children from fifteen different tribes, some of which have a long history of enmity and genocide between them. When we hold parents meetings, we almost always have tearful mothers from internally displaced tribes thanking us profusely for accepting their children in our school even though they are from elsewhere in the country and fled to Nimule to escape war.
Here is a short poem, written as a class exercise by some of our pupils for African Child Day two years ago.
We are all one colour, give us love,
We are all one colour give us peace.
No more fighting, no more war,
No more tribalism.
Children of Africa,
The future of Africa.
Do – Not – Kill – Us!!
I think the whole world needs to learn from our children at the moment. Otherwise humanity will destroy itself.
Below is a quote from Henri Nouwen, “Caring for the Whole Person”. I seem to be reading a lot of Nouwen at the moment!
One of the greatest human spiritual tasks is to embrace all of humanity, to allow your heart to be a marketplace of humanity, to allow your interior life to reflect the pains and the joys of people not only from Africa and Ireland and Yugoslavia and Russia, but also from people who lived in the fourteenth century and will live many centuries forward. Somehow, if you discover that your little life is part of the journey of humanity and that you have the privilege to be part of that, your interior life shifts. You lose a lot of fear and something really happens to you. Enormous joy can come into your life. It can give you a strong sense of solidarity with the human race, with the human condition. It is good to be human.