When I think ‘humanity’ I almost automatically think ‘children’. This week’s humanity theme for the WordPress weekly photo challenge comes from ThirdEyeMom. She writes about her own interpretation and understanding of humanity, by way of introduction:
The more I see the world, the more I realize that although people are different, we’re very much the same. We speak different languages, have different cultures, religions, values, and physical traits, yet we all share common hopes and dreams of love, family, and survival.
I think that sense of sameness, that ability to overcome barriers of language, religion and so on is never more obvious than when you meet a child for the first time. Children find a way to engage you and interact with you, no matter what.
These children from a local village in the Philippines were completely fascinated by my underwater camera. They swam out to me, full of curiosity and desperate to have a look at me using it in the sea. They were thrilled to get their photo taken and then see themselves on screen.
I love meeting children, reciprocating their warmth, playing with them and getting to know a little bit about them. But I’m also aware of the potential pitfalls. These children were incredibly friendly, but also really tenacious street sellers, peddling holiday trinkets to the tourist market that floods this island year-round for the diving opportunities on offer there. Although their smiles were endearing, the young sales teams could become a bit of a nuisance, badgering the same people day in day out to buy something from them. But more importantly, in order to be on the tourist beaches desperately trying to sell their wares, they were missing out on school.
Unfortunately it was a common problem on the island. For many poor families struggling to make ends meet, the immediate and urgent need for income took priority over securing future earning potential through a solid educational foundation. It is easy to make judgements about ill-advised parenting choices, but when people are living genuinely hand to mouth, sometimes the choices just aren’t there.
While I was on the island I spent some of my time teaching school children about basic marine science and conservation principles. Part of the role was also trying to inspire the children, extolling the benefits of staying in school and getting a good education. Classrooms were crowded, often with forty or more children crammed in a tiny space. With children spilling out of the room, teaching from the front using the chalkboard – the only teaching tool available – was the only way. Despite the rudimentary conditions, the children were always engaged, enthusiastic and eager to learn. A scatter-gun approach to attendance, based on family earning needs, must make educational progress far harder for the children. But at least those that go learn some of the basics while they are there. Hopefully that counts for something.
Over the weeks I saw this little girl hanging around a lot outside one of the dive shops on the island. I think her mum worked inside, and so the little girl took care of her own day care needs on the beach outside. I often wondered what future she had ahead of her. Such a bright, happy-go-lucky, bubbly little girl, but in all probability, lacking sufficient financial security and family support to seize the educational opportunities available to her.
As a tourist, it is such a dilemma. Education is so important. A genuine lifeline. But money made on the back of the tourism industry by these children and their parents can actually keep the poorest families afloat. If you make a stand and don’t buy their wares on principle – a statement that children should be at school not selling on the beach – those families suffer.
Short term pain for long-term gain is a laudable principle, but the reality for some families is that it can mean doing without food, medication, clean drinking water. It is that stark. I found it very hard, watching the very real struggle between economics and education, played out on such a human level every day. I haven’t got the answer, but when I look back at these cheeky, smiling faces it leaves me with a real bitter-sweet feeling about humanity and the global inequalities in education and opportunity.