I have now spent a full week at my placement working at the schools in the slum and I have learned so much already. I have bonded closely with a little girl in my class who is around two years old. She reminds me so much of the little girl back home that I am a nanny for. They are both so full of life and sweet natured. Over the last few days I have been thinking so much about Emily, the girl I nanny back home. While I see so many similarities between her and my new friend here, I also cannot help but be crushed by the differences.
Emily lives a life where she is continuously smothered with love and attention. She has more than enough clothes, diapers, toys and all of her things are sterilized frequently. She will never have to worry about being protected, having enough to eat or when she will get to have a bath next. She will always have everything she needs and more. There is no question that the future will be bright for her. The child here on the other hand wanders around the slum alone for a large portion of the day. Everyday this week she has been wearing the same pants and does not have diapers. She plays with candy wrappers and rupees and it is obvious she is in need of a good bath. Despite all of this she loves to learn and is so smart. She engages and responds better than many of the children at least twice her age. Sadly, there is no guarantee that she will be able to fulfill her potential in the same way Emily will.
Regardless of these vast differences Emily and the girl I have met here are similar. Emily does not realize yet that she has been born into such fortunate circumstances and the child here does not realize that she lives in extreme poverty. They both carry on their lives with similar attitudes and let their imaginations carry them. It is comforting to see this childhood innocence and the roots of humanity at work here but it is also unsettling to see the ways of power and privilege in action. I think it is easy for those of us that are born into a position of privilege to say that these concepts are only as real as we make them when this is not true. Power and privilege are very real things and it is the harsh and uncomfortable reality that many people are just born into it or are not. It cannot be ignored. It surrounds us in our daily lives. Here I am sitting behind an iPad screen writing to you about my observations on an expensive trip to India – that is privilege I cannot escape.
I have very mixed emotions as through my bonds with both of these children I have been reminded of the true guts of humanity and that they are not something materialistic. However, part of me is also more cynical. It is a beautiful thought to recognize how different yet similar these two children’s worlds are but it is also unrealistic and unproductive to just focus on these idealistic concepts. I think we are all created equal as human beings in what we deserve but we are not all created equal in what we receive. Until the hierarchical structure of power and privilege begins to diminish this will not change. “Childhood innocence” only lasts so long before more than half of the world’s children will realize they never had the chance to be innocent as children. It cannot be ignored that what you are born into has a much more binding impact on who we will become and what we will achieve than we tend to acknowledge. The purpose of this post is not to make anybody feel guilty because as we have discussed extensively in our course, guilt is not productive. It’s purpose is simply to get you thinking about these things in order to develop new questions, concerns and appreciations.