Many Africans break the proverbial bank to give their children the finest of education. If they can afford it, why not? It’s natural for parents to want the best for their children. Our desire is for them to fulfill their potential and become the best they can be; to excel academically, get the best jobs, establish the most successful companies, shine in their professions, become Governors or even the President. And why not? But should it end there? Even if all our children leave school with straight As and graduate with 1st Class degrees, would that guarantee a prosperous future for our continent? Or are we somewhat beset with an, “every man for his own, just let my child make it” attitude?
At the boarding school that I attended in the United Kingdom, team sports was played four or five days a week; whether it was Rugby, Football, Hockey, Cricket, Rowing or other sports. Far more emphasis was placed on team sports than on individual disciplines and there was a reason for this. It was only Sundays and one other day of the week when we had to partake in some other equally useful activity, that were sports free.
Like most boarding schools, my school had three weekly club activities to choose from. The Combined Cadet Force(CCF), Outward Bound and Social Services. CCF was essentially military training which inculcated discipline, a spirit of service and a sense of patriotism. Of course we wore the full uniform. As one site put it, “the successful completion of your course demands trust, mastery of skills, fitness, confidence, tenacity, leadership, initiative and compassion. The promotion of these qualities, and the discovery of what’s in you, is the purpose of Outward Bound.” Social Services on the other hand was an entirely different exercise which called for some slightly different qualities. Members would visit the homes of the elderly to assist them in whichever way was required. Chores could vary from cleaning up their home and generally helping around the house to carrying out their weekly shopping. At times it may just be to accompany them on a walk while having a friendly chat. Remember, their culture is so different to that of the African. Many of these elderly people live on their own without the support system that extended family, which we take for granted, provides. Many may not have seen their siblings for years, not to talk of cousins and so on. With this in mind, you may now begin to understand why the weekly visits by members of the Social Services club was something these aged folks often looked forward to. This noble activity, much like the other two, instilled a gentle spirit of service, compassion and two essential sister virtues required of a good leader – patience and tolerance. Of course, not all of these elderly people were sweet and cuddly. Some were as grouchy as they come.
On an Outward Bound camping trip to the Yorkshire Moors, known for it’s vast expanse of heathland and frighteningly strong winds, in just one day we went through three climatic changes. Lovely sunny weather as we trekked through it’s national park famously inhabited by wild deer; dreary weather with grey clouds; heavy winds and pelting down rain as we marched with trepidation across the notoriously uneven heathland, careful not to break an ankle literally in the middle of nowhere. This must have been around 1984 or 1985, so, long before the advent of mobile phones. If you injured yourself there, well, God help you. Each group was made up of four fifteen and sixteen year old boys. No teachers. With only our compass and maps to guide us to our rendezvous. The only time we spent with the two teachers who accompanied us was in the evenings till early the next morning, when we would set off again. Throughout the night, we would endure the battering of relentless, gusty and howling winds coupled with snow blizzards, as we struggled to keep our flimsy tents pinned to the ground. Till this day, I remember so vividly how I felt each seemingly endless night. “What am I doing here? What I would do to be back at school, on my bed and snuggled up under the duvet? Never will I complain about my school bed or school food again.”
“What and how did we eat?” I hear you ask. Mostly dried up food army style; add water and heat it up and before long it transforms into something akin to real food. Each person prepared his own meal using a camping stove.
Without the slightest pang of shame, I recall getting half way up a very steep and jagged hill in freezing cold weather, with a very heavy ruck sack on my back and insisting I wasn’t going to take another step. What is it?? Me! Black man! Hill! Or was it a mountain? All the same to me. You know the type where you need to use both hand and feet to climb. I was petrified!! This was so far removed from my idea of fun. Regardless of the number of years I spent in the UK, other than the colour of my skin, there was something else which always reminded me that I wasn’t white; I could never quite understand some of the crazy things a typical white person called fun! Activities devoid of danger, just didn’t excite them. Mountain climbing! Kayaking! Bungee jumping! Why?? What for??
The camping trip was never meant to be just for fun however. It had a very cogent and specific purpose. Those torturous few days taught me several important lessons. I learned new things about myself. I achieved things that I thought were beyond me. Also, contrary to my expectations, I soldiered through adverse situations and this made me stronger. But perhaps the cardinal lesson learned was that I could only go so far alone. The unforgiving moors were not a place for glory seeking. Rather, formidable strength was harnessed when we worked as a team. Similar lessons of cooperation and collaboration became ingrained subconsciously while we played team sports. Perhaps the education systems in Africa can take a leaf from this. For the good of our societies.
POST PHOTO FROM : www.brookings.edu