Peers, Not Children




The children at the Bal Sanskar School gave us a chant of hellos as we passed by, and I grinned, thankful for this true welcome and midafternoon energy booster.  Wherever we go, the children exude a sort of honest and cherubic ebullience that I can’t seem to find in those of us past that obscure frame of time when childhood comes to a close and adulthood hovers in the horizon.

Children.  At moments, I assumed that many of the students we met were much younger than us.  But could it have been that for some of them, “peers” would be a more accurate and suitable description?  Were some kids that we met closer to us in age than I initially made them to be?  This realization hit me many times during our past couple visits to schools in underprivileged communities, and I have had to constantly remind myself that I was not meeting younger “children,” but rather students in secondary school.  An overwhelming majority of the seventh and eighth grade kids that we met at the municipal school yesterday looked small and physically underdeveloped for their age – they looked more like 4th and 5th graders.  And the high schoolers we met at another school earlier looked more middle school or even upper primary school kids, with the exception for a couple of older-looking girls who sat together at the back of the classroom.

I was reminded of the young children we met at a preschool located in an underprivileged community.  One of the women introducing us to the school weighed one of the girls, who turned out to be severely underweight according to government standards – as a result of malnourishment, she told us.  Before that weigh in, I was too tuned to how cute the little children were that I failed to see just how thin the kids’ arms were and how small the kids were for their age.  Many of the kids were malnourished, not because their parents did not have the money to buy ingredients, but because they did not know how to prepare balanced meals.  I felt something heavy pulling on my throat and stomach.  I tried to listen to the woman upfront as hard as I could but I was distracted.

 It is really painful to realize that malnourishment is an absolute reality for many children and adolescents.  I’m frustrated and confused because malnourishment isn’t a riddle with no perceivable answer.  With two or three goods meals a day, the kids would look healthier and bigger and right for their age.  But an answer isn’t a solution.  The answers at the back of the calculus textbook aren’t solutions to the even problems nor are they teachers of the curriculum…