Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Gratitude and Greed

These last couple weeks I've been working with students at a school called Junior Learners.  The school is basic at best - dirt floors in tiny classrooms separated by wooden chalkboards, where the noise of other lessons creates a constant soundtrack.  Resources are scarce.  From what I can tell, there are about 2 recess balls for a school of 170 kids.  And yet, it is one of the best schools I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.  I have left every day with a smile on my face and a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart. 

Junior Learners is such a joyful place to be.  It is clear, even in just a few hours, that both the kids and teachers are happy to be there.  When it's time for P.E. in the nearby field, everyone plays - the teachers and students together.  It's awesome to see. 

The students here are bright, interested, respectful individuals.  I am impressed with the level of scholarship that is achieved given the available resources.  They put me to shame when I attempted to review with them for final exams.  Not only that but they are eager to learn and ready to ask the tough questions.  They have critical thinking skills and want their instructors to help put them to good use.  The students took every opportunity we gave them to soak up whatever knowledge and expertise we could share with them.

It is obvious that the students here have been taught with love and respect.  You can see it in the way they interact.  They have excellent manners.  They understand how to share, listen, have patience and just generally respect each other.  They also have a great capacity for gratitude.  We brought equipment for P.E. on our first day and all of the kids were overjoyed, just to have a tennis ball or a skipping rope to play with for 30 minutes.  An announcement of pencils for the class was met with raucous applause.  You would have thought I'd just announced that they'd won an Oscar.  And yet, their gratitude doesn't spill into greed.  The children are grateful for what they are given and don’t expect anything more. 

Case in point, on our final day we took them on a field trip to Haller Park, which basically amounts to a very large, sprawling zoo set in the forest.  At the end we passed out a snack for the kids.  The students were excellent about making sure that everyone got their snack and only their snack, without any hiding or hoarding.  There was an utter absence of greediness.  I have seen groups of kids who have everything, that would milk the situation for everything they could get.  And yet, these kids, who have so little, were not trying to get as much as they could, even though they probably needed it.  There was a very inherent graciousness  and generosity in their behavior. 

I am grateful to the Junior Learners for allowing us into their school.  Just being with them has reminded me of what is really important in life and how lucky I am, a lesson which is particularly pertinent during this season of friends, family and rampant consumerism.  Despite every advertiser’s best efforts to persuade me to the contrary, more isn’t what matters.  Most of my life is a luxury.  And now that that’s out of the way, I can go about the business of appreciating the things I have and, more importantly, the people, the wonderful wonderful people, that surround me.