We are in the car, the three of us. The children are quiet in the rear seat. It is 11am and the BBC radio 2 news is on. Michelle Obama has delivered a radio address to draw attention to the plight of the kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria. Naturally the event is on the news bulletin.
“Mum is this true?” asks my daughter.
“What?” I say absent-mindedly.
“Some girls have been kidnapped. Is this true?”
Once more she has caught me off guard. I know how this is going to unravel. She is going to bombard me with questions. In between her feelings are going to change from being worried, concerned and a little bit frightened to being upset and finally she will become determined and offer a solution or two.
“Yes” I reply with hesitation. The truth is that she has not been aware of the situation that is being going on for three weeks now. Is this a good time for us to talk about it. But we are in the car. I am driving and she is sitting in the back. This is not the ideal set up for introducing my daughter to a complex issue, which involves history, tradition, religion, poverty and inevitably lack of education.
Apparently the news has alerted her. “Are there kidnappers for real?”
“Yes” I attempt to reply, but before I actually mutter a word she moves on to the next question.
“Has such an incident ever happened in England?”
I can see now that she is nervous and uncomfortable. 200 school girls have been abducted on their way to school. She can relate to them. She probably thinks that this may as well happen to her.
I try to reassure her. No, this has never happened in this country. This event took place in Nigeria a country in Africa. A militant group, who believe that people and particularly girls should not attend school kidnapped the girls. They think that learning is a sin.
“Mum, will my sister get kidnapped?” asks my son, his voice slightly trembled.
I reassured him that no such thing is going to happen to his sister. “In this country we value education,” I add.
My daughter is now really engaged. She has a strong learning ethos. It is simply inconceivable to her that girls will be abducted simply because they go to school.
“Mum I am really upset. No, I am frustrated. I so wish to have a meeting with them. Explain why we should learn and grow our brains. Explain that what they have done is unacceptable. And have they thought about the poor parents?”
We talk about how the parents may feel and the she asks the obvious question “Are the girls alive?”
“I do not know,” I say.
“How are they going to find the girls?”
I say that a lot of countries, the UK included, have offered their help. It is now a global team-work effort that takes place. Satellites are monitoring the vast Nigerian forests in the hope of pinpointing the location of the girls. Once the location has been identified, trained people will find the girls, free them and hopefully capture some of the criminals.
Apparently she is not satisfied with the plan. “Is that all?” she says and then adds “but this may take ages”
“I am sure that they try some other things as well. But I really do not know. When we get home we can read the news and find out more” I offer.
And then she simply asks, “What can we do to help the girls?”
To this question I have no convincing answer.
One thing is for sure, celebrity involvement and twitter hash tags may raise awareness, but can certainly no help these girls.
I asked my daughter if they had discussed this incident at school. It turns out that they hadn’t.
Our car conversation reminded me once more how children are wired to be socially sensitive about issues affecting the world. This particular incident offers so many opportunities for discussion and reflection. It was a disappointment that it had not been discussed at school.
But it also made me realise my responsibility as a parent to engage my children with social issues. At home, it is our priority to engage the children in discussions and listening to their views. But we do not tend to use current affairs as our starting point. Raising socially aware citizens is not rocket science, but requires providing opportunities for discussing current affairs and engaging with the children’s views and opinions. They need to be aware of the inequalities in the modern world, see cause and effect and be able to express their views, propose solutions and strategies.
So what should our next topic be? European Parliament Elections?