So that they may know just how privileged they are

It’s a common occurence for us, “transplants”, kids who were raised in another culture, growing up in the United States to show off our “battle scars”. It’s that conversation in class about who had it worse, your white classmate who was sent to the principal’s office because he was listening to her iPod in class or you, the one who grew up in places where the number of errors in your dictation piece corresponded with the number of hits/whips/spankings (what’s the right word for ‘corporal punishment?) The way the conversation usually ends is with the other person uttering, “Thank God, we live in America”. Or it’s my classmates asking me this question in primary school I could not answer, “why are your hands so soft? My god, you must be a softie. Feel my hands.  tough. full of experience.”

The goal, consciously articulated or not, is to make the other party become aware of their privilege, which in your eyes makes them feel a little inferior to you.

I followed the story of Babar Ali, the youngest headmaster, from beginning to  the end. I was moved by his dedication and inspired by his vision. I was with this piece, until the part where a reader/viewer suggested that students in the UK should be given a copy of the story, so that they can realize just how privileged they are. And that’s where the conversation usually ends. Young people go on mission/service trips and come back to talk about how fortunate THEY feel, how lucky THEY are, how THEY appreciate everything they have so much more now. Every trip taken, or a story listened to, or watched, about a person in a less than ideal position becomes a story about the narrator.

I think we should change our narrative.

The main point I took away from Babar Ali’s story is “Problem-solving”. He saw a problem and found a solution for it. That’s what we need to start teaching. Problem-Solving. The world is full of problems, but we must believe that we are equipped with the tools to find solutions for them. Instead of giving each student at each senior school in the UK a copy of this story to remind them about their privileges like the viewer/reader suggests at 3:44, they should be encouraged to start thinking about their own neighborhood and its issues and nudging them to start coming up with possible solutions, how they might start contributing as members of that community.

We ARE in the age of Social Entrepreneurship. So, I am biased by this way of looking at things. There is nothing more inspiring to me these days than going  to the Echoing Green’s page to watch videos of the fellows. Here are people looking around them and working with heart, passion, and determination on issues they see in the world. They reinforce to me, the point that, we can find solutions to problems around us. They may be imperfect solutions, but we can start somewhere. So, when I read about stories like this, which talks about the plight of child soldiers in Somalia or about women in Kenya who fear for their life on their way to the bathroom, I want to scream, “where are the problem solvers?” There must be someone, at least one person, thinking about a solution or solutions about these issues. Maybe, there are and we just haven’t heard of them.

Though programs centered on Social Entrepreneurship exist in many universities these days, the root of it is simple. It starts with asking a question, listening and asking more questions. We, young people, should no longer be encouraged to dwell on our privileges. Recounting to someone about how you were spanked over senseless things only makes them utter for a brief moment, “Thank God I live in America”. Telling someone about how they should be thankful for what they have because there are starving children in [insert African country] does not help them change their mindset, because we are always comparing ourselves to people who are better off than us. Also, we should move from a place where people feel like they have to travel to poor countries to find problems and feel good about their lives.

Look in your own backyard. There’s a problem calling for a solution, which you can come up with, no matter how young you are.

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6 Responses to So that they may know just how privileged they are

  1. King Jeff says:

    They do teach problem-solving in school… to engineers that is… and I’ve gotta say, I love the mindset it has given me

    • That African Girl says:

      Too bad, you have to go through all that math to get to the problem-solving in Engineering. This should be more widespread in schools’curriculum. Parents should even start teaching this to their kids, “Here’s a problem. Look around you. what can you find/use as a solution?”

  2. Evelyn says:

    Hello Makafui. I’ve been lurking around your blog for a bit, and I truly enjoy your writing and discussion. Good work.

    Without a doubt, Ali Babur’s story is inspiring on various levels: his generosity, the conditions he works within, and the pedagogical demands he must juggle to educate so many children of varying ages. Yet, one has to acknowledge the simplicity of the idea that drives his actions. A swath of impoverished, uneducated kids? Well, why not donate my time to teach?

    I guess it really says something about the egocentrism of our society when one commentator hails him as a saint, and another, as you discussed, wishes to flaunt the UK’s privilege in the classroom.

    Sometimes I wonder whether the honest efforts of those like Babur will ever amount to the systematic, greedy “problem solving” that our society encourages and rewards. Our mindset is blind to helping those in the community. Instead, the solutions that are pursued involve new, more efficient ways of exploitation and repression. This view needs to be demolished if we’re to hope that kind, common sense efforts (like Babur’s) aren’t actions that shock and awe, but represent something anyone can strive to do.

    • That African Girl says:

      Hi Evelyn,
      I think in a way, Social Entrepreneurship could be called “greedy problem solving”, but it is problem-solving. But, it’s a step towards the right direction. I think the more problem-solving we do, the more natural it will become. I think it will come, with more and more of us, doing just that. taking initiative to come up with solutions.

  3. Paula says:

    Wow. Great piece! Congrats.

    I think…what I like the most is the idea you bring that every person can (and maybe “should”) work towards making their community/region/country/world a better place. This resonates so much with me because I’ve always thought that each person should be of service to our society. If we were all constantly looking for those problems, and working towards their solutions, this world would be so much different. However, we’re taught to live very individualistic lives during which we are basically just expected to work hard, earn money, and spend it…until we die. Fortunately, some of us have already realized that we are in this “age of Social Entrepreneurship” that you mentioned– hopefully the word will spread everywhere and fast!

    • That African Girl says:

      Hi Paula,
      What would happen if all of us thought like Babar does, that is our duty to work for the advancement of humankind, and like you said, that we are to be of service to our society? I think we would do more. Acting individualistically would be the abnormal thing. I think that it is not the case right now because of many reasons.

      One reason is that it has cultural underpinnings. In a culture that is shaped and moved by capitalism, that message is hard to get across to everybody. Capitalism relies on the Win/lose game. Economics classes try to teach us that the market is really win/win, but reality proves otherwise.

      I hope that as the Social Entrepreneurship culture grows, more and more of us would catch the “problem solving” spirit. The world is full of problems, but we have the tools around us to do at least something about many of them.

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