Today, for social studies, as we began to speak about Canada being the country of lakes and forests and abundance and about caring for the environment and…and, some of the students’ hands were shooting up and I knew what they wanted to talk about. Their countries. Because – even if they were born here – for many children who come from homes preoccupied with news from war-torn homelands, home is…well, their homelands.

The kids tell me about soldiers and death. They tell me of people never being seen again. They tell me of poverty. And they always tell me about kids walking around with no shoes. They ask “why do they walk around with no shoes?”

We explore this question and I try to steer them to the understanding that walking around with no shoes is not always and, plainly, a result of poverty. We try to see what life is like if your outside world merges with the inside world so much so that your feet are your freest, most easiest shoes. I don’t want them to confuse poverty with lifestyle choices.

I’m always struck by the intensity of feeling children bring to the issue of world poverty. They really get it. Every year I’ve had at least one student (and we’re talking seven year olds here) who has made it a point to tell me with confidence, resolution and pride that they are going to grow up and help change the world. Last year, one boy announced with aplomb that he’s going to go back to his home country when he’s older and teach them how to solve their problems without bombs. I’m going to look him up when he’s 25.

The interesting thing is that I myself made a similar type resolution when I was eleven – and at a stage where I couldn’t stop consuming information about global poverty. Seeing it first hand as a teen cemented this desire to do something.

I sat in the kitchens of people who had nothing but because “guests” were visiting, they’d scrape together something wonderful to present. Of course everyone knows the poorest are often the most generous (consider the fact that during the fund-raising drive for famine relief in Ethiopia in the 80’s, “in Canada’s Far North, the area most remote from Ethiopia, those in poor Inuit communities gave the most per capita of any Canadians, perhaps of any in the world” [source: CBC News].)

I also listened avidly to the stories people told. About choosing between money for school uniforms for the girls in the family or rice for the month, about confiscated land and sleeping arrangements in an one room mud house. These stories help me understand the things I read now – like UNICEF’s Millennium Goal of eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education. (Uniforms or rice?)

The wonderful (and draining – but exhilaratingly draining) 3 months I spent teaching in a First Nations school (for children from reservations) to replace a teacher on leave gave me a sense of the something I could do: teach in a community in need. (Another Millennium Goal: Achieve universal primary education by 2015). Of course, as often happens, life interrupts our desires.

So there is a forlorn part of me that wants to be “out there” doing something. I know that interacting with my students, listing ways we can live a less wasteful, a less taking life, engaging them through great books on important topics and seeing their consciences throb with ideas, dreams, resolutions and heartfelt desires is doing (a little) something. I’m just wanting to do a big something.

Remember, though the little orange trick-or-treat boxes are no longer, October is still UNICEF’s fundraising month in schools. And here’s a beautiful video for World on Fire by Sarah McLachlan which breaks down what a “less-taking life” might mean. (And I want to thank lallamona as I first saw it on her blog a long while back.)

…Hearts break, hearts mend
Love still hurts
Visions clash, planes crash
Still there’s talk of
Saving souls, still the cold
Is closing in on us

We part the veil on our killer sun
Stray from the straight line on this short run
The more we take, the less we become
A fortune for one that means less for some…

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