Lalbegim (or Lala, as she likes to be called) is coming to Trafalgar Castle this September, and we are definitely excited. As the first recipient of our World of Difference scholarship, Lala will spend two years at the Castle, completing Grade 11 and 12. The Spark of Hope Foundation will be right there on graduation day, ready to help her move on to university, thereby bringing her closer to realizing her dream: To make a difference for young girls in her home country of Tajikistan.
As I learned more about Lala through her scholarship application, I came to know a courageous, intelligent, young woman, determined to make a difference in the world. She wrote about wanting to “build an orphanage with modern technology to help children with disabilities feel normal” because her longstanding volunteer work in a local orphanage revealed the social isolation and lack of basic care these children endure. She described her hope to, one day, “open schools in remote areas of Tajikistan where women and their daughters can receive a good education.” She knows this is important having seen firsthand how “men forbid their daughters to be educated, and marry them off at an early age.” It’s a problem she wants to address.
When the girls were introduced to Lala (virtually) in Chapel, their young emotions were palpable. They, along with our entire community, have been fundraising in support of “someone” since the fall. To finally meet the person attached to their efforts was hugely rewarding, and I believe they felt proud and excited to see the tangible results of their work.
After the excitement died down, my message to them was carefully delivered. I told them that while Lala will benefit immensely from everything we are doing to support her education, she is not a “pet project.” She is Lala – a young girl with a mother and father who love her dearly and will miss her greatly, with a younger brother who likely torments her (as all younger brothers do), with friends at school, and with hobbies she enjoys (including hip-hop dance). She is Lala – someone who will bring to our school the gift of a global perspective, of multiple languages, and of new ideas. And given that she is Lala, she must never be the subject of our sympathy or paternalism.
I shared this message with the girls because I believe that the idea of “charity” is a tricky thing to navigate in an increasingly complex world. I look at the perhaps well -intended but nonetheless questionable phenomenon of “voluntourism”, where we often pay thousands of dollars to provide our children with the chance to travel to poor countries, often to help out in orphanages, or build schools, or dig wells. But do we consider the impact of a conveyor belt of caregivers on the emotional development of vulnerable, young orphans, or the utility of a freshly painted school in a village that can’t afford a teacher, or the frustration felt by local unemployed workers who would have gladly dug a well if someone had paid them to do the job. Of course, we want our children to learn about the world, to become good people, to understand the importance of helping others. But we need to think carefully and critically about the lessons we teach.
The Beaverton, a satirical news publication, once published an article entitled, “Volunteer generously spends average income of a Nicaraguan on trip to help poor Nicaraguans.” Of course it was tongue-in-cheek, but the message was bitingly clear: helping others first involves asking what they need, not giving them what we want to give.
As we grow our World of Difference initiative, it’s my hope that we will also grow our community’s understanding of global issues. We are currently re-examining our school’s philosophy around global experiential learning outside the Castle walls, while looking for authentic ways to bring diverse experiences and perspectives into our classrooms. We want to honour and protect our school’s long legacy of helping others, while at the same time, changing our approach to meet the needs of a 21st Century world.
While we work on this, we’ll continue to prepare for Lala’s arrival. Like many of our international boarders, we know she’ll experience a number of “firsts” – the advent of changing leaves, the horrors of our Halloween Haunt, that first snowfall on a cold winter’s day. This will become part of her new life at the Castle – a life that we hope prepares her to, one day, make a world of difference.
____________________________________________________________________________________________If you would like to help make a World of Difference for Lala and our 2018 scholarship recipient, please click here to donate.