School is starting. Let’s ignite our children’s minds

By Aaron Berhane September 2011 It’s been more than twenty years since a large number of Eritrean refugees arrived in Canada. In the beginning, they s...

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By Aaron Berhane
September 2011

It’s been more than twenty years since a large number of Eritrean refugees arrived in Canada. In the beginning, they suffered a great deal as they struggled to adjust to a new environment and society while still trying to retain the essentials of their cultural identity. Racial discrimination, language problems, unemployment, and the shocking cultural differences posed great obstacles and challenges to integrating smoothly in Canadian life.

It hasn’t been easy. In fact, that struggle to fully participate in the new society continues even for our children. Have some of them given up?

We never expected that our children would experience the same problems we did! But, unfortunately, the second generation still seems to have difficulty participating fully in the society of which they are now a part—even though they originally came from Eritrea but are now Canadian citizens. And they’re proud to have done so!

Are we aware of this? How are young men and women who were born or raised in Canada doing? Do we admit that they are not progressing according to our expectations? Do we even care that the number of our graduates from community colleges and universities is really small compared to those in the general population?

Those born in Canada don’t have language or communication problems. They aren’t shocked by cultural differences as their parents might still be. They have learned to live with differences and diversity. Nevertheless, they face some of the same problems their parents did because they lack professional or vocational training. Have we noticed this, as a community?

If so, we don’t seem to express much concern. We prefer to talk about our many minor successes rather than focus on major problems. Every year, we organize cultural activities to educate our children in cultural music, dance and drama. But do we use these great events to guide our young people in professional development or career choices? Can we not use our culture as a springboard to steer them towards a bright future in this land? Even if we all return to our beloved homeland one day, is it not better to do so enriched, equipped and prepared to participate in the life of the 21st century there?

Children are malleable. If you let them watch dancers, they may want to become great dancers. If you take them to a football match, they may want to play football professionally. If you let them talk with successful people in business, education or theatre, they may dream of becoming just like them. Their minds are open to change. But how is the older generation leading the younger people to acquire life skills that perhaps they don’t yet have? Perhaps the annual Eritrean Festival is an opportunity to introduce the younger generation to successful role models: teachers, mechanics, electricians, dentists, doctors, contractors, and entrepreneurs. This will help initiate a dialogue between role models and our young people.

It would be great to be able to announce at the annual Eritrean Festival how many people have graduated from diploma or degree programs. They may not all be young! And we would be even happier if we actually saw all graduates from the previous year honoured at the festival.

Our gratitude would extend even further if we saw interactive, educational and employment opportunities become a part of the event that celebrates our cultural heritage. Are we actively helping parents invest in their children’s education, training or professional future?

We have an obligation to do so. A new academic year starts in September. Let’s display the photos of those who have already graduated to those who are still attending elementary and high schools. Let’s take every opportunity to remind young people that the investment they make in education shapes their future in every way. Let’s actively make them aware that acquiring professional, vocational or trade skills is an important tool for leading a successful life in a capitalist system. If we train every child to think this way, it’s inevitable that we will see many successful graduates every year. Let’s ignite our children’s minds.

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