Archive for April, 2016

An Educational Journey: Positive Role Models for the African Child

The first years of my formal schooling were not that exciting. At all. Whether this was day school or boarding school. I went to both for my early elementary education. I was originally in day school but it became too difficult to get me to and from school every day. We didn’t have a car so we had to use public transportation and my mother’s job was 8 to 6. Boarding school was believed to be better those days (even now, I assume). It was also more expensive. There were several boarding schools, not many, established at the time, and mostly administered by missionaries from the religious orders. Most were Roman Catholic.

 

I was lucky to be admitted to a private Catholic girls’ school for primary level education. At least we were constantly reminded how lucky we were by the headmistress, who was an Irish Nun. She was extremely violent, both verbally and physically to the children. We were absolutely terrified of her. There were a few other white European Franciscan Sisters who taught us together with a number of Ugandan teachers. The other nuns were not so much into violence, a lot of verbal admonishment perhaps, but that’s usually as far as it went.

 

This blog article is an ode to one of the Franciscan nuns, Sister Christine. To celebrate those role models, who can positively transform a child’s life, even in difficult conditions. I don’t remember her full name. But it is thanks to her that a lot of us children became interested in and got hooked onto reading. Books, lots and lots of books. She used to bring books from Northern Ireland, that were no longer being used by some of the schools there who offered to donate these. They did us a world of good.

 

We had to read a new book every week, and exchange it for another the next week and so on. Sometimes, we had to explain to her (and the class) what we had read about and what we had learned from it.

 

I was nine years old at the time starting primary four, and for every new lesson, Sister (as they preferred to be called), would arrive with boxes of books rotating from another class. There would be a general rush, not so much for love of reading, but to get those books which had the most pictures in them. You had to fight to get the biggest book, with the most colourful pictures in it. One day, I was late, and I found only a few books at the bottom of the box. They did not have any pictures in them. Not even on the covers! When such a scenario occurred, children would be forced to share books with pictures in them rather than read a book with just plain text!

 

That day, I took the plunge and picked a book called ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel.’ On top of not having any pictures, the text was rather small. Not the large, feel-good fonts for young children. Feeling rather sad that this was what I had to contend with, I started to read. It was incredible. I could ‘see’ the images of the Pimpernel’s daring exploits flash through my mind! I had never experienced this before, having had to rely on pictures before to tell the story together with the words. This time round, the mental visions compensated for and went beyond any drawings that I could have hoped for. I could ‘see’ pictures for every scene. I read this every day when I could, enjoying this new profound experience until I finished the book! At the end of every book, there was usually a list of recommended similar texts or books. My next one was a ‘Tale of Two Cities’. I found this too, and from there worked my way through whole sets of Dickens. Without pictures.

 

I later discovered that these were simplified versions for young readers, and as a teenager found complete editions for titles I had already come across. Which I also read.

 

My primary school classmates became suspicious of a child who could read books without pictures and didn’t seem to mind. I stopped fighting for books whenever the boxes showed up. I could read anything. They would ask, ‘Why do you read them?’; ‘How can you read a book without pictures?’

 

My performance during the first three years of primary school had been dismal. I was rotating somewhere at the bottom of the class. However, with my new found love for reading, I found that I could also read my school books, with or without pictures. This was a much more rewarding experience than when there was a teacher in the classroom, pointing with a stick, beating or shouting. Of course, I could now remember things. My performance shot up that year, from dangling near the bottom of the class to the top. That term, I was fifth (out of my class of near forty pupils). Even I could not believe it, considering I had never nurtured any hopes of performing well in class. I thought I was destined to be at the bottom! My mother could not believe it either, I think she thought it was some sort of mistake. But it happened again, the next term, the next year, for the rest of my primary school education through secondary school. My new normal was now between first and sixth position in the class. If I could read it, I could know it. It didn’t matter the subject. Maths, English, Geography, History, I could read them all. All because of a love for reading instilled in me at the age of nine!

 

Later though, my high performance streak started to decline, somewhere in late secondary school as I became complacent. I thought that ‘it’ would just continue that way. I realised later of course, that one has to keep working at being excellent. Even when you think, ‘this is me now’. I now encourage my daughter, my nieces and nephews to read. I take them browsing in bookshops, they get to choose what they like, as long as it’s age-appropriate. I am teaching them, you can educate yourself, on your own, no matter the age, no matter the subject.

 

Be an inspiration to an African child today!!!

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Is Africa really overpopulated?

Do we have an overpopulation problem in Africa? There is a long-standing and persistent perception that Africa is overpopulated. And that we breed too much. We have high fertility rates compared to other regions around the globe [for Sub-Saharan Africa upto 5.04 babies per woman] but we are not densely populated for the most part.

The terminology: Population density is mid-year population divided by land area in square kilometers. A high population density, is relative, to other nations, or geographical regions.

Table 1: The Data on global Population Density:

  Country/Territory Population Density

(people per land area)

1 Macao SAR, China 19073
2 Monaco 18811
3 Singapore 7736
4 Hong Kong SAR, China 6896
5 Bahrain 1768
6 Maldives 1336
7 Malta 1335
8 Bermuda 1303
9 Bangladesh 1222
10 Sint Maarten (Dutch part) 1107
11 Channel Islands 857
12 West Bank and Gaza 713
13 Barbados 659
14 Mauritius 621
15 St. Martin (French part) 579
16 Aruba 574
17 San Marino 526
18 Korea, Rep. 517
19 Netherlands 500
20 Rwanda 459
Source: World Bank Data (2014)

As you can see in table 1 above; of the 20 most densely populated countries and territories in the world, Rwanda is the only African country that features and even then at number 20! Our high fertility rates are not necessarily associated with population density. The main reasons being high mortality and morbidity in the African region. The burden of ill health in Africa is at least two times higher than that of any other region in the world. As a result, the high fertility aims to compensate or balance out the high mortality rates.

By comparison, the birth rates of Europeans dropped dramatically (with differences influenced by region and class) between the 1780s and 1950s. Early and classical population theory at these times depicted Europeans as ‘rational’ in disciplining their bodies through strict control of fertility. Those European regions who had relatively larger families such as in Sicily, Southern Italy were depicted as animalistic, backward, poor and unable to control their sexual impulses. This is not much different from how black Africans are regarded today by Westerners with reference to our fecundity.

Fast forward to today: all over Europe, declining demographic trends attract negative media attention. The total fertility rate for the European Union is 1.58 children per woman. (World Bank, 2013). The ‘replacement rate’ required to keep population numbers from declining is at least 2.1 children per woman. More than this and the population should grow. Even in racially diverse North America; the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest projection shows that by 2042, so-called racial minority groups will make up the majority of the U.S. population. The Pew Research Center projects from 1960 to 2060, white Americans will have gone from making up 85 percent of the population to comprising just 43 percent.

Some European members states have instituted family-oriented policies to try and stem the trend. In countries like Italy, Poland, France and Sweden policies practiced feature financial transfers and tax breaks for parents with children, extended child-related leave and provision of child care. These also include a variety of measures that support gender equality, reconciliation of work and family life or finding affordable housing. Some politicians such as President Putin of Russia in 2006 offered 10,000$ for mothers who would have a second child. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (2003) offered women a baby bonus of 1,000 euros ($1,250) to European or Italian citizens who gave birth to or adopted a second child.

Patrick Buchanan, in his book, ‘Death of the West’ (2002) incites caution: ‘The death of the West is not a prediction of what is going to happen, it is a depiction of what is happening now . . . . Outside of Muslim Albania, no European nation is producing enough babies to replace its population.’… ‘The First World has to turn this around, and soon, or it will be overwhelmed by a Third World that is five times as populous and will be ten times as populous in 2050.’ 

Therefore, population theory is far more than a theory or a principle. It is a deliberate political strategy that masks structural power differences and justifies domination between different groups in societies;.  The ‘too many’ are hardly ever the speakers, they are always ‘the Other’.

As long as access to and control of resources (land, food, water, shelter, etcetera) is determined by unequal power relationships, either local, national or global; the earth will always appear ‘over-populated’. Because no matter how much food is produced, how few babies are born or how dramatically human numbers fall, it is the nature of the modern market economy to remorselessly generate ‘scarcity’. So as to sell commodities and products at ever increasing prices in a bid to generate ever-increasing profits indefinitely.

Mis-directing explanations for socially-generated scarcity and ecological degradation onto political theories of ‘overpopulation’ or ‘underproduction’ has long provided cover for the socially privileged and powerful in a way that does not indict them and further legitimizes their various ideologies of social exclusion.

 

 

 

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Jesus of the Essenes

Jesus, was a revolutionary figure, important both during his times as well as ours. What we know about this remarkable person comes mostly from a literal interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.

This was changed with the monumental discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These are a collection of 981 different texts discovered (1946 to 1956) in eleven caves in the immediate vicinity of the ancient settlement at Khirbet Qumran in the West Bank. These caves are located 2 kilometres from the northwest shore of the Dead Sea from which they derive their name.

A theological historian specializing in the early Christian Church, Dr. Barbara Thiering, was the first to discover a technique called ”pesher” (pronounced “paysher”), described in the Qumran Scrolls. By the application of the “pesher” according to strict and consistent rules, it is possible to uncover the hidden meaning of the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation. The pesher code, known for the first time from the theory found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, gives an exact account of what actually happened, down to the smallest detail of time and place.

From this we learn that Jesus was the leader of a radical faction of Essene priests. He was not of virgin birth. He [was crucified but] did not die on the Cross. He married Mary Magdalene, fathered a family, and later divorced. He died in AD 72.

To begin at the beginning:

Christianity began in the movement called Essene, one of the major world-views among Jews in the 1st centuries BC and AD. They had been very much influenced by the Greeks who thought that sexual activity was debasing. Therefore, the Essenes believed that the holiest kind of life was one that renounced sex and marriage altogether, practiced by monastics and hermits. But in order to preserve the great dynasties of the Zadokite priests and the Davids (who had once ruled the Jerusalem temple but had now lost power), they solved the problem by instituting a second order, one that allowed sex only for the sake of having sons.

The dynasts lived normally in monasteries, but when they reached their late thirties they left temporarily for a marriage. A first wedding permitted them to live together for a trial marriage, then when the girl was three months pregnant, there was a second wedding from which there could be no divorce. The man returned to the monastery after the birth, to come back to his wife only after intervals of years for further conceptions. The girl lived in a female community, continuing as a nun.

The Church before Christianity:

It will be shocking to many to know that Jesus (nor Paul nee Saul) did not found the institution that later came to be known as the Christian Church. This was well in place centuries before Jesus’ birth. It had begun as a program for converting Gentiles to Judaism. Then, when their Jewish teachers would not give them full equality, Gentiles who could only accept the more spiritual aspects broke away, under the leadership of Jesus, giving themselves a new name, Christian. They renounced Jewish identity and went their separate way, finally establishing their new centre of operation in Rome.

While in the diaspora, the Essenes established schools on the model of Pythagorean communities. This together with Pharisees and Sadducees, while living as ascetics and teaching the advanced knowledge of mathematics, astronomy and philosophy which they had learned from the Greeks. The homeland Essenes at Qumran had also established such a school.

Jesus, the Politician:

The Sadducee pro-Roman element, turning to the west, now included Jesus, who had lived in monastic seclusion since his recovery from the crucifixion. His teaching of peace with Rome and full equality of Gentiles was freely expressed in Antioch, in the north outside the country. He would not again be accepted in the homeland. On January 1, AD 44, his party of Gentiles adopted the new name, Christian. Some would retain some loyalty to Jerusalem, others would renounce Jewish identity altogether. A man named Simon, with the title “the Rock”, Peter, a member of the village Essenes, was one who retained some loyalty to Jerusalem, but agreed with Jesus on the full equality of Gentiles.

The Sons of David:

Joseph had become the David successor on the death of Jacob-Heli in 16-17 AD. He was a carpenter by profession with his eldest son Jesus taking after him as a carpenter. During the limited periods when the dynasts lived outside the monastery in marriage, in order to produce an heir, they lived among the village Essenes, usually in Galilee. All members of the secret ascetic society formed by Essenes, who hoped that one day the Kingdom would come and they would be restored to power in the temple, lived outwardly as ordinary men earning their living in trade.

Joseph remained a hero in the traditions of the ascetic community, one who had fought for their independence from Rome. His son Jesus, who had spent periods in Rome with his family, developed a more co-operative attitude, not wanting a Kingdom gained by force of arms. But he respected his father, and that was one of the reasons why he subsequently joined Simon Magus, the enemy of Agrippa, even though they were opposed on the issue of war. Jesus carried on the dynastic line, as the Davids were obliged to do. But the mystical messianism that had become particularly effective in mission to Gentiles was responsible for removing from the surface record all trace of the previous history of the “seed of David”.

“There will be five in one house divided, three against two and two against three” (Luke 12:52).

Those words came from Jesus’ personal experience. Of the five sons of Joseph and Mary, three – Jesus, Joses-Barnabas, and Simon-Silas – turned to Roman culture, and two – James and Jude – remained attached to Jerusalem and its traditions. The family was politically divided, sometimes bitterly.

Jesus, the eldest, was intellectually brilliant, creative and innovative, and in his youth accused of arrogance. Joses-Barnabas was in sympathy with him, especially on his valuing celibacy. The youngest, Simon-Silas, became a close associate of Paul in his renunciation of Judaism. All were affected by the intense political climate of their day, when Judaism was in the process of becoming so hellenised that it was on the verge of losing its Jewish identity.

While the royal status of the Davids was preserved within the community of exiled Essenes, all the five sons had positions by right of birth. Their grandfather Jacob-Heli had been appointed under Herod the Great patriarch of the west, including authority over all Gentiles, and his grandsons were made superiors of different kinds of Gentiles. The main divisions of Gentiles were into proselytes, who adopted all aspects of Jewish identity including circumcision, and the uncircumcised, who retained their own ethnic identity.

To conclude, in Dr Thiering’s words, ”Jesus was …. a noble reformer, standing out against oppressive and destructive religion in his own day. He was a part only of a great institution that preceded him and followed him. The choices he made, within his own circumstances, were those that the finest of human beings make, responding to that within us that we have always thought of as divine.”

 

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