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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Where Does Character Come From?

First of all, I'd like to thank you for your encouraging words over the last few days. It has really helped to know I'm not alone.

I don't consider myself an expert on the feelings and thoughts of young people here. If I were, perhaps I would know better how to handle cultural issues that come up. What I have observed of the young women in this country has left me with more questions. This is partly why I'm writing this--to help put my thoughts in order and perhaps I'll see things more clearly.

I said on Thursday that I would be writing about the lack of motivation that I see here and I will. But the problems run much deeper than just a surface lack of initiative. And truly, when I stop and think about it, it makes me very sad. I feel a bit like Jesus did when he wept for the multitudes. He was there, right in front of them, the Savior of the Universe but even He, due to our majesty of choice, couldn't just wave a hand over the crowds and make it all better.

At the moment, the greatest problem I see is hopelessness mixed with extremely low self-esteem. I know that this is a very different tune than the one I would have been singing Thursday if I had written this then. This is why I gave myself some time to gain a bit of perspective. I was overwhelmed and disappointed. We have invested so much time and effort in training the young women that come to work with us that when they throw it away, due to pettiness or pride, it's heartbreaking.

But back to my topic. A few years ago, a friend of mine, who was teaching in middle schools here, asked her classes what they would like to be when they grew up. There were only 4-6 professions thrown out. For the boys: accountant, pastor or teacher. For the girls: secretary, nurse or teacher. No astronauts, no engineers, no doctors, no circus performers, no outrageous choices. All very practical, attainable goals. And while this can be a good thing--they are all preparing for choices that will help them support their families, it is also incredibly sad that they have no imagination, no drive, no hope for a different and perhaps better future. 

Now I see girls leaving school with an "I can take on the world" attitude, and while I could be happy, I'm not because their bravado is hiding real insecurities. I know this is common all over the world and is one of the 'symptoms' of adolescence, but here (and in many developing or impoverished communities) it is especially bad because children are not treasured and built up by their parents and caregivers but are treated more like commodities and free labor until they are old enough to pay back their families for their investment. So the insecurities that come with youth and a changing body and mind, are not temporary bumps in the road but real deficiencies.

The interesting thing I've seen from talking to volunteers that work deeper in the bush in smaller villages, is that the girls in their communities have such low self esteems that they can hardly get them to participate in any programs or projects because they feel they have nothing to contribute.When someone has zero self-esteem because they have never been told they are special in God's eyes or anyone else's for that matter, when they are given any amount of power it can be a heady experience. It can make it hard for them to listen and learn.

I've had scores of young ladies come to my office looking for work and stand before me with an attitude of: "you'd be darn lucky to get me. If you don't give me the job, it will be your loss. I graduated from 12th grade!" What they don't see is that Grade 12 is hardly the quality education it's meant to be.

Rather than coming with a desire to learn or grow or help their community they have more of an entitlement mentality. And, while I could take on some of the blame as a white person and say that we have caused this by depriving and colonizing the masses for years, I don't believe that is true. It runs much deeper than that.
I've been troubled recently to see the young women in my community develop attitudes which are completely counter to their culture. Recently I was shocked when, after we were involved in a motor vehicle vs. pedestrian incident, I was verbally assaulted by a group of young school girls who would never have considered speaking to their elders in such a way. This shows me that there is something that has gone off track.

I think it really does have more to do with not having a foundation in their lives that builds them up and develops their characters. And where does one start when faced with a generation of children who are now being taught, and rightfully so, that they can 'do anything, be anything, change the world' but are not given any foundation for that belief system and have few if any opportunities to put this all into practice.

The day after the nanny quit, our former manager came by to buy a computer. I told him what had happened and he said he is seeing the same problems all over. A young lady who used to work for us and quit under false pretenses (she said she was going back to school but in reality just didn't like the work) is working in a town a couple hours from here. While she worked for us she was earning $100 a month with free room and board. Now she works in a shop for $15. When I asked how she could possibly live on that amount of money, Nkandu said that she gets tokens from her many 'boyfriends', such as new clothes, lotion, phone credit, etc. In the meantime she is exposing herself to so much danger. It is so sad that she would rather live that lifestyle than have an honest job that is making an impact in her community.

Bottom line: I really don't know what the solution is for young women in this community. Ok, that's not entirely true. I do believe that Jesus is the answer for them--and not just planting their behinds in church every Sunday--because they already do that and then they go right out and live a life that is completely opposite His teachings. I believe that if Jesus were alive to them and that they had a true and lasting relationship with Him, that would be the answer! He can build a person up and show them their real worth better than anyone on earth. We just have to introduce Him to them!
After writing this I feel even more challenged to work harder to reach the young people around me. I still don't feel like I have the answers I need--but I'm willing to keep trying. While my primary goal remains raising up these young babies, there is so much more to do as well. Pray!

Please do keep in mind that these are my opinions. Opinions can change and are fallible. If you have a differing opinion, I'd love to hear from you--especially if you have worked in developing nations or impoverished communities.

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