Many of the children in our neighbourhood class come from families who fled conflict in Myanmar (Burma) many years ago, having spent several years of their young lives in refugee camps before arriving in Canada. We tend to forget this sometimes when we teach the class, until they bring out the football with the UNHCR logo and start kicking it around—a symbol of a troubled past that echoes into the present.
That’s why I was shocked the very first time we offered a class on kindness, and heard one of the older children—one who only occasionally attended the class—say that he could never be kind to a Burmese. Why not, I asked? “Because they killed my family,” he replied. He had seen loved ones shot and killed before his eyes. How could he treat their killers with kindness? As I fell into a speechless silence, trying to find a way to respond, it seemed like the entire lesson fell apart in my mind. From my comfortable, sheltered vantage point as one who had never known war, loss and destitution, I had never considered how to respond to the needs of children who had endured that kind of suffering.
Many of our children, thankfully, are too young to have witnessed much of this violence themselves; they were born in the camps, after their families had already fled the conflict. But all of them have older siblings and cousins, some of whom were approaching the age of junior youth. At one point, as we were meeting together to reflect upon the neighbourhood’s progress, it became obvious to us that we should try to engage them by inviting them to form a junior youth empowerment group.
Now, usually we would start a new group with the book Breezes of Confirmation, because its content is most appropriate as an introduction to the program—a lower reading level, and simpler exercises that serve as a stepping stone to more complex ones in further books. But knowing the families we were involved with, and hoping to find ways to address what we saw as an important issue in their lives, we decided to experiment with another book, entitled Glimmerings of Hope.