Thursday, September 14, 2006

Boys of Baraka

I watched a documentary on PBS last night called "The Boys of Baraka" Apparently, Baraka was a program that took at risk boys from inner city neighborhoods for two years of schooling in Africa. The statistic at the beginning of the program said that 75% of the boys who go through Baraka go on to finish high school. Something that only 50% would accomplish if not for such a program. Hey, I guess 25% is something.

I was immediately struck by how wise these boys seemed for their ages, especially Richard. Maybe that comes from carrying the weight of poverty on your shoulders. In a lot of ways (with the exception of people in rural areas who do not have the same opportunities as those in urban areas), I believe that poverty is a result of choices and rarely because of circumstances beyond someone's control. I don't blame poor people for being poor. I blame them when they adopt a loser's mentality. Losing hope, not expecting great things of themselves regardless of the economic situation, resigning themselves to this life that they claim to despise, repeating the cycle with their own children, etc... Most of them have it backward. Remove yourself from the situation and then have children. Giving up is just never acceptable, no matter who you are.

Near the middle of the documentary while the boys were on summer vacation after the first year, the program ended because of the strife in Kenya and neighboring countries. They thought it would be a safety risk to bring the boys back. I understand this completely. But, I don't understand how they could not at least have attempted to have these boys finish their second year in another location. To bring such heartbreak and disappointment to 12 and 13 year olds was extremely disheartening to those boys and I also think it was irresponsible of the Baraka program. When you choose to become involved to that extent in children's lives, you are making a commitment to be there for them come hell or high water. And, they failed these childrem miserably.

It appears now that three of the four boys profiled are doing OK, but I cried when I read that Romesh, the youngest, was lost to street life. Yes, life is about choices but how do you get children of this age to understand that? They are children for Christ's sake. The bottom line is that parent's are not doing their jobs at home. Damn the schools, teachers, and whatever programs are out there to supposedly help troubled kids. Parents cannot abdicate their responsibility to anyone else as so many of them have done. There was a scene where Richard and Romesh (brothers) were fighting as siblings will do. Their mother comes in with the angriest response. She doesn't hit them but she has them cowering against the wall with her threatening postures and bad language. I grew up with an abusive family. I recognized this instantly because I had experienced it many times except, I would have likely gotten hit. I think the only thing that kept her from hitting them was the presence of the cameras.

I have three younger brothers. The youngest will be 18 at the end of this month. The oldest boy of the three started to act out when he was in the 3rd grade. I am 4 years older than him and to this day cannot understand why he has chosen this life for himself. I have asked him if anything happened that we don't know about. I have thought countless times that maybe my sister and I teased him one time too many. Its hard to understand and its hard to not blame yourself. For the longest time, he was the only boy and the youngest in a home with three women. The second boy was born when he was ten. My sister and I had a field day teasing him and playing tricks on him (which I know rationally is normal kid behavior...I just wonder sometimes) and then cooed over the last two boys and practically ignored him after that. He is sitting in jail right now and has been since 2003 when he was arrested for the umpteenth time. I still have no idea what he is in jail for because he refuses to take responsibility for what he has done. I ask a direct question and I get conspiracy theories. So and so did this and my lawyer did that. I know that true change can only come when you recognize what you are, accept responsibility for your actions, and make a conscious decision to change. You just have to want something better for yourself and be willing to take the actions necessary to get there. Even knowing that this is all up to him, I fear that this will be his life forever and that we will always have this burden of worry and fear of what will happen to him.

Even though I live thousands of miles away, I have devoted my time to making sure that the two youngest do not follow in his footsteps. Luckily, they have grown up in Alaska. Alaska has its own problems but I think it has helped my brothers stay out of trouble thus far. The ghettos in Alaska are tame compared to the ones in the most of the United States. I lecture them constantly about the importance of looking beyond the now and focusing on their future and what they want from life. I let them know that I am always here with support and advice. I ride them constantly about their grades and the importance of at least finishing high school. College is up to you but a high school diploma/GED is essential. The second boy dropped out when he was told that he would not he graduating as scheduled. He didn't want to be in school as a 20 year old. Thank God he has wised up and gotten himself back in school. I just won't rest until I know they are going to be OK. Lord knows how long that is going to be.

Of course, watching the documentary last night made me realize that stopping with my brothers is just not enough. We have a larger problem in this country. Generations of young people who can't see into the future and have no goals or aspirations. I have always looked at volunteerism with my usual skepticism. With the exception of Mother Teresa and perhaps, Ghandi, most people do it for selfish reasons. I want to feel better about myself, I want to make a difference, I want to help. I, I, I. Any potential benefit from the volunteering is simply a side effect. I struggle with whether any of this really makes a difference in the grand scheme of things. The typical argument of "If you only help one person...". I guess here, I am a victim of my idealism. Yes, I may be helping one or two persons but my mind will always be on the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, that won't or can't be helped. Helping one or two people will only bring me temporary satisfaction. Who decides who will get the help? Isn't everyone deserving of help? And, there's always the argument of people genuinely wanting to change their circumstance. No amount of effort on my part will make someone change when they are not ready to. Despite all this, I know that I need to do something. I am just not sure what.

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