Bringing the World Back Home–helping young people understand our complicated world

malawiFrom August of 1989 until September of 1991 I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the tiny nation of Malawi (Madonna’s son’s country). I worked in a World Bank-funded Agricultural library system that served national and international research scientists. Unlike many PCV’s, my service involved using only English and interacting mostly with college educated–often Phd–researchers instead of illiterate villagers. I also was not allowed to live with a host family as so many do during there service.

I decided when I was 5, in 1967, to be a PCV. This was thanks to a young man my parents had as a friend who, after Cornell, went off to Fiji as a Volunteer teacher. My family sent him a package with enough bubble gum for his whole class to try it. My parents read  his long, descriptive (and wonderful) thank you letter to us and carefully explained about Peace Corps. I knew my destiny. (Note: I also decided before age 5 that i would adopt children after our next-door-neighbors adopted a little boy and named him after my big brother. I just knew I would do this!)

mapmalawiNo one who completes their term of service is an “Ex-Volunteer.” Instead we are “Returned PCVs.” Once home we have a mandate to “Bring the World Home.” When I came home I read the book Galimoto to my nephews 2nd Grade class with the intent that they would build wire cars. First world problem struck–no wire, too “dangerous.” Right. I’d been in a country in which children drank water from Monsanto fertilizer jugs and pounded aerosol cans open with rocks for the scrap metal, but 8 year old suburban American children with three adults hovering over them could not be counted on not to put an eye out with wire. We settled on pipe cleaners which, ironically, contain wire. It was not a huge success.

One thing that is important–don’t trivialize other countries. We hear of “African this” and “Middle Eastern-that.” Imagine someone saying “Typical North American behavior” or “They are a North American Tribe [when not using it for a Native America Nation]. Africa, India & Pakistan a subcontinent and Asia a continent. Those are gross generalizations in regard to people. They are not “tribes” of backward people. We don’t say the Scottish tribe or the Belgian tribe. Being seen as a mere “tribe” demeans very real and often ancient cultures. It is important to teach children that in ALL countries today people DO go to college, become doctors, lawyers, government clerks, post office workers, supermarket cashiers, artists and the like. We must not raise children thinking the Dutch wear wooden shoes or that all “Africans” [cringe!] are Massai! Mobile phones are literally everywhere–some families even earn their living by letting people pay to use the phone! Television is often available in strange places and radio is really ubiquitous. When no electricity is around a motorcycle or car battery often provides the power.

I thought a blog post of books (and some “other” resources) that “Bring the World Home” would be a good way to help parents help their teens understand our world–the crises we face, the history that shaped it and the way people live in extraordinary circumstances.Some of these issues are very “gritty,” but young people need to understand what is going on in the world.But, part of Bringing the World Back Home is showing the REALITY of how others live–not merely the cute old timey clothing or holiday festivals or classical recipes. Reality in many of the countries in which PCVs serve is shocking. No American who serves comes back feeling anything but wealthy and almost no one ever complains about ridiculously low American taxes again.

A good, up-to-date Atlas should be part of every home library, but Google Maps is also a fabulous resource to see WHERE these problems are occurring. The National Geographic Magazine is still worth the subscription and then some, to make the places where things happen “real.”

 These are for ANY age:

A Day in the World–A giant book of photos of one day in our world. I’d love to own this! I look at it at the library often.

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats Great look at how much or how little different people eat in our world. You can see excerpts at many sites on the web. Here is one from TIME.

Children Just Like Me--a beautiful DK book of people of the world.

A Life Like Mine--another beautiful DK book of people of the world. Sorry, but I just plain love DK books!

A Faith Like Mine–there are even more such titles in this great series. It is so important to instill an understand of what others believe and not to teach our children to fear other faiths. Use this and similar materials to compare your family’s beliefs with the world’s other religions.

Current Affairs and Consequences of the past–the SERIOUS stuff. Rated PG 13 with parental guidance suggested

Books for age 13 and onward to help understand some of the greatest problems in our world–to develop and understand of how we got where we are and what’s going on now in current events. Most of these I would recommend reading with the parents.

General Books on ‘How We Got Here’

Guns, Germs and Steel I agree with the Bill Gates’ quote on this book–it l”ays the foundation for understanding history,” therefore it helps understand the world today. This was also made into a tv series.

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World I’m hoping to read this one soon. Should be good for dinner table discussion from the topics it covers. So, probably I should have put it in the “all ages” resources, but some may disagree. Science, technology and life are all part of the discussion and each “innovation” still impacts the world.

Books to understand the Legacy and Consequences of various historical times, events or philosophies

Breaking Stalin’s Nose Gives a good understanding, in a thoughtful way, of life in a totalitarian society and helps them understand the legacy of communism in those countries today. It is important for children to know that this regime is gone and people are now free, but that others are still made to live like this.Teens may find it a “too young,” but it again shows that all of the horror of the Soviet/East European block was perpetrated by real, everyday people and that children, too, lived thru it. Darkness at Noon is a far more mature work that some may want to read.

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow  An amazing, award-winning book that shows how Hitler took control of the children. A very important book on so many levels, but one to be read with parents. Many libraries put this in the adult section. An outstanding look at one of the world’s worst moments. It is important that children know the holocaust was real, that it was perpetrated by real people who lived normal lives, and that while this one is over, others have taken place, first (before it) in Armenia, then (after it) in Cambodia, Slovakia, Rawanda and elsewhere. It is important, too, that they understand that hate groups still exist and that people still call themselves “Nazis,” and still hate, that “ethnic cleansing” still occurs.

Books on Specific Problems

A Distant Mirror  What? A book on medieval Europe? Come again? Yes. It is happening again. The wealthiest 1% are the Feudal Lords, the rest of us the serfs. An excellent starter for an ongoing discussion of the haves and have-nots, wealth and power. Compare with an article such as this one from FORBES on the Average American vs the One Percent

A Long Way Gone  I keep meaning to read this one on the war in Sierra Leone. For mature readers with a parent. The lesson here is simple: Not everyone gets a childhood, some people never know any form of security.

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot By The Talaban I have not read this one yet, but children need to understand that in most of what we demeaningly call the Third World, girls have no chance or must fight relentlessly to be educated and to have a fulfilling life.

Factory Girls--A look at the exploitation of young worker’s in China who make so many of our consumer goods.

Circle of Cranes I have not read this, but it would be a good starter for a discussion on exploited and trafficked workers sold into virtual slavery who prepare our fast food Chinese meals, do our nails and work in illegal factories.

Sold Story of human trafficking at its worst. To be read with parents. It is important to understand just how below human so many cultures view girls.

Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter  This is historical not about unwanted Chinese girls today, but it helps understand that problem.

Good-bye Vietnam. I have not seen this one, but it sounds like a great start for discussing the legacy of the war.

The Haj Leon Uris’ classic novel on Israel and Palestine.

When the Rivers Run Dry I have not read this one but it sounds like it would be great for a discussion on access to clean water, on appropriate use, climate change and other related factors. Much of the world struggles to have clean, accessible water.

On Immunity: An Inoculation While vaccination is a contentious issue in some segments of the American population, world wide it has saved too many lives to count and prevents ravaging diseases such as polio. This book explains the hows and whys and can lead to a discussion on why public health is a concern for everyone.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle While overly preachy, this is will serve to start the discussion on food security, health, nutrition and the role it plays in the world.

Other resources:

Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Year of Books is a good book club for true young adults–those done with school or in college but not yet heads of households.

PBS’s News Hour, the BBC World Service and the Christian Science Monitor  and its magazine, Monitor Weekly,[ Neither is not religious except for those articles in their Christian Science pieces–and those are carefully identified] are excellent sources of mostly bias-free reporting. It is essential that young people get out of the habit of only getting news from sources that share the family or the individual’s political views. The days of neutral journalism are all but gone. The award winning PBS shows POV, Frontline, Independent Lens and others showcase many world-impacting events, movements, disasters and political actions. These are outstanding shows and are well worth watching. the PBS website has more information on each episodee. PRI (Public Radio International)’s radio broadcast, The World, is another great resource. Voice of the Martyrs is a Christian ministry that profiles terror against Christians.


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