It’s nearly the end of September and school is about to start in the Malian school system. I think in part to honour the need for kids to support agricultural activities during the rainy planting, growing and harvesting seasons, the school year starts later than it does in some other countries.
With the new school year soon approaching – kids and their families are feeling the pressure to come up with the money to buy school supplies, pay school fees, buy new uniforms, find shoes etc. As the pressure increases so does the amount of kids working. Mali in general, but more condescend in Bamako, has children working all sorts of jobs all year round. The weeks leading up to the school year though, are like an eruption of kids doing literally anything and everything from fixing motorbikes, to selling packages of gum, to cleaning, to straight up begging.
As these tiny hands grab for tools and search for money my internal wheels have started grinding. Outside of the obvious health hazards why does children working upset me the way it does. There is a case to be made that working at a younger age teaches you hard work ethics, and delayed gratification. But yet when I see little hands working and little muscles that are more defined than me and most of the people I know – I can’t help but cringe a little.
Then it hit me. Kids imagine what is impossible when they play. Instead of being a six year old playing in a sand pile they are the Queen/King of the castle or the gallant hero of an epic story. Instead of being the middle child of a family of 8 they become a scientist, an astronaut, a cook, a cleaner. Kids are learning to think outside of the reality they see and its this basic skill set that helps when you are an adult and you want to envision a strategy for improving your situation, for problem solving, or for policy making. So often I get frustrated at the short sited nature of policies here in Mali, of processes that make no sense, and solutions that fall short. Now I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we left a generation or two to play more and work less – and a chance at a semi-decent education what kinds of solutions would be homegrown and possible; to possibly change the history of Mali and literally create a better tomorrow.
That’s my hope that the kids here in Mali will eventually get a chance to dance and play and imagine so that they can be critically thinking, solutions leaders tomorrow.