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IMG_20140123_153901As I drive down the wild and crazy roads of Makassar I see children playing and laughing on the streets. These children don’t have much money but I love to watch them play football in a car park or chasing each other around street restaurants and drink stands. They are having so much fun. You don’t see this anymore in England. Children in Hull are always inside, watching TV or playing on their computer games.

But it is actually these poorer children who have bigger smiles on their faces and enjoy life much more than the children I see playing on expensive phones and game consoles. I once saw a child here playing with some old sandals in the road. My friend said, ‘I feel so sorry for him.’ I asked, ‘Why?’ My friend said, ‘He doesn’t have anything else but those old flip flops to play with.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. You know what I said,

‘Don’t feel sorry for him. He is having so much fun. Why does he need a piece of technology to play with if he is already enjoying himself? Why change anything?’

The laughter I heard from this child created so much joy, yet he wasn’t playing on an Ipad. What does this say about how children live their lives? Using your mind to be creative in the world that we live in, instead of  putting yourself into a fake world on a screen, allows you create random moments that will make you smile forever. Life can be full of spectacular moments and for me a lot of these moments were created in my childhood when I was outside playing sports, making treasure trails and dens to hide in. Yes, we used to be like your children in Makassar but not now. You don’t see children outside and exploring what’s around them anymore.

However, it doesn’t apply to all the children in Makassar. There are some children, from rich families, who are now using phones and computers, as well, in their spare time. I know this because of some of the students I teach. They never have anything to tell me about what they did at the weekend. They always say that they sat at home, played on their computer or watched TV. How can we make children realize that they will regret spending so much time indoors with digital devices when they are older?

I feel so strongly on this topic because in England the weather is so cold that we don’t get the chance to play outdoors all the time. The summers aren’t long anymore and children are stuck indoors with nothing to do. However, in Makassar, people can be outside for 10 months of the year, when it isn’t rainy season. Children in England used to explore the outdoors, question what is around them and find things that fascinate them, like some of the children here still do. But I can see technology changing the children in this city like it has done in England.

My students are losing their ability to use their imagination in class because their minds are too wrapped up in the fake worlds they play online. Children from the richer families, here and in England, have lost that ecstatic feeling you get when you find something new or receive something little but sentimental.

Ok, so you may think that these poorer families can’t give their children the education they need. Yes, education is very important and every child should receive a good one. However, a child’s lifestyle should be an equal divide of study and fun. My students don’t get excited about anything, unless it is through their phones or the internet. They study all the time. When they finish school they take extra courses and are exhausted by the end of the day. Their energy has been drained through studying too much. In the movie ‘Laskar Pelangi’ it mentions that intelligence isn’t always measured by grades but by the heart and desire.

But is creativity and happiness being lost just because of the possessions we have? Maybe there is another contributor. I teach students from 6 to 20 years old and the younger children I teach aren’t frightened of being wrong. However, as they get older, and as all of us become adults and get jobs, we are taught that it is wrong to make mistakes. But if you’re not prepared to be wrong you’re never going to come up with anything original. Some of my students find it hard to have fun learning English because they want to be perfect and get it right the first time. What they don’t realize is that there are no right or wrong answers when you are thinking up idea’s to use the grammar with. How are we going to come up with new things in the future if we don’t try something different? It is the children playing outdoors who will hopefully continue to explore all possibilities and keep the world alive in the future.

I was talking to my friend here and he told me something I have been oblivious to in Makassar. There are hardly any clubs or communities for your children to sign up to out of school time, for example, a sports club or drama club. In England there are clubs that have been set up for children and adults to join. This gives them a chance to explore other interests and develop themselves as a human, gaining more skills that will help them in the future. They can enjoy themselves outside of school and develop more energy, which will allow them to live a more active lifestyle. So this may be the reason why my students don’t do anything else at the weekends but study, go to the mall or stay indoors with their games. There is hardly anyone organizing clubs or events for children to attend.

Furthermore, going back to the children playing on the streets, I heard one of them say,

I wish I had more money so I could give it to the people who can’t afford to eat or drink.’

This child’s family is poor and struggle to pay for shelter and food. He spends his time playing on the streets and having fun with whatever he can get his hands on. The majority of people in England, and some of the richer families here, would buy something for themselves if they received some extra cash. This child’s family hardly have any money to survive on, yet he wants to share any money he gets with others. Why are we not more like this child and more willing to give our money to those who need it the most?  It is a sad truth that when we are spoiled with luxury items we just want more. Some people have the best of things and others make the best of what they have.

Take toys away from children and see what happens. There is a little girl I know, here in Makassar, who has so many toys to play with, yet her favorite place is on a building site amongst other children playing with the simplest of tings. It allows them to explore their imagination.

I want to leave you with a sign I saw, in Thailand, next to a Japanese guy,

“Travelling around the world for the smile of children. That is the purpose of my life.”

It was so touching to see someone wanting to give joy to children just through a simple activity; playing a guitar.