My UMCOR colleague, Amber Kubera, returned recently from travels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her son's preschool teacher asked if she would talk about the trip to his class of four-year-olds. Their reaction to the photos she showed and the stories she told revealed the amazing ability of children to identify with other children--including those half a world away--and fix on similarities, where the eyes of adults may be inclined to first focus on differences. Here is Amber's story.
By Amber Kubera*
When discussing the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) with partners, communities, beneficiaries, donors, or church groups, I try to prepare information I think will most interest the audience. Upon return from my recent trip to UMCOR’s programs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, I had to prepare for what I thought might be my toughest audience yet: my son’s preschool class.
Any worry I had about presenting my work from a seemingly far-away context to four-year-olds living in New York City evaporated when they leaped at the chance to discuss my first slide, the world map. I pointed out DRC, and then we looked through photographs of my work in Africa, which included pictures of animals, plants, and the landscape in general.
The work of UMCOR that I chose to highlight was that which most directly involved children. When I showed a photo of a classroom, the children shouted excitedly, “Look, the kids are in school, just like we are now! And do you see how they are also wearing uniforms, like we do! What language do they speak? Is it hot or cold there?”
As I showed more photographs of the children and our work, I was struck most by the way my son and his classmates focused on how the kids in the photos were just like them. When they saw little kids walking to school in Lubumbashi, they likened it to how they go to school every day. When they saw children at their desks, they pointed out how the kids were listening and learning, with their teachers watching over—just like them.
What my son’s class didn’t see in those photos was the stark reality of day-to-day life for many Congolese children. It was more exciting and interesting to them to think about what makes us alike than to focus on the differences. It is this world view that I hope to see nourished and strengthened as these children grow and learn about the world around them—and that they will appreciate how problems that affect others affect us all, and are ours to work toward solving, together.
*Amber Kubera is UMCOR’s senior program manager for international programs. She oversees the organization’s work in DRC, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. UMCOR’s work in DRC includes support for Orphans and Vulnerable Children as part of our HIV/AIDS activities under a Global Fund/SANRU grant. This support includes uniforms, school fees, and other educational and psycho-social support for c
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