On a recent trip to Ethiopia, one of my colleagues collected a couple of photos of himself with a larger group of the local kids. I was ragging him a little about that saying that IDE doesn’t need any more images of “white men saving the world’s poor children.” I had to partially eat my words when I came across my own Pied Piper pose from a trip to Bangladesh in September. We were visiting project areas in northern Bangladesh; as visitors we may have been curious about irrigation applications, but for the kids in the village, the sight of a somewhat larger, white mustached foreigner with a black cap was also somewhat curious. It was not long before there was a procession of 20 or more following me. They were cute and they were interested in what this was all about. They happily agreed to pose for a photo; believe me, when I showed them the photo, they were more interested in seeing themselves than the “ferenghi”.
I have always enjoyed little kids, and somewhere along the way, people started to call me “Uncle Al, the kiddies’ pal.” Now, I’m not so big on my nephews and nieces (and I have about 30 of these) calling me “uncle”, but I do like the warmth and friendship dimension of this. (I’m glad that a bunch of them are now my Facebook friends).
These days I have two little grandsons who mean the world to me, and I am proud to be called their “grandpa”. I love their curiosity, their lack of pretension, their love of running, their hugs and smiles, and their enjoyment of good books. On my bucket list was the desire to take a grandchild to the zoo; they have allowed me to realize the fulfillment of this dream. Although they are challenging at times, fundamentally I do not see Matias and Lucas as problem cases which their great white grandfather needs to solve. What I resonate with is their own potential, hopes, dreams, energies & curiosities. Good health, literacy, a secure & peaceful environment and enough of the right food to eat would certainly be helpful.
Fundamentally, these are the same thoughts I have about the “gang” to whom I became an unwitting Pied Piper in Bangladesh. Their standard of living was basic to be sure, but it was not hard to see that they were also interested in books, in having enough to eat, in being able to run and in being safe & secure. In other words, their interests (whether explicitly addressed or not) were essentially the same as those of my little Canadian grandsons.
Neither my colleague nor I are interested in a paternalistic view of development. Both of us enjoy kids, however, and if IDE’s income generating programs create opportunities for regular delicious meals, for reading, for running, for fun and for friendship, that turns us on. It’s not about being uncles or grandfathers or Pied Pipers – it is just about friendship and generosity.