Travelling is a lot like being in school. You learn new things about the countries you visit, people you meet, monuments you see and cultures you discover.
It doesn’t matter where your journey takes you, there is always something that will change the way you see the world. Sometimes you only have to travel a few miles to to have that life-changing lesson, sometimes you have to travel all around the world to be “changed”.
Although I have always been quite empathetic and always known that there is something wrong with the way our society currently works, my trip to the slums in the capital city of Kenya, Nairobi, taught me a lesson I will never forget.
And my biggest teachers were not the adults, but the children from one of the local schools.
Growing up in the Czech Republic, I have always been surrounded by everything I needed in my life. I have my own room with my own comfortable bed which I don’t want to leave in the morning, there is a fridge full of food in our kitchen.
My wardrobe is filled with lots of clothes, but I still complain that I have nothing to wear every morning. Living without Wi-Fi seems impossible to me and I can’t leave the house without my phone.
Sure, I was grateful for everything I could do and afford before I went to Kenya. Developing countries and their problems have always been one of my top interests, but I didn’t foresee that I would learn life lessons from the people who are still learning themselves – the children.
And because I think that these lessons are really good and can apply to anyone, I want to share them with you as well…
1. Life without social media is fun too
I know you probably can’t imagine one day without checking out the photos on Instagram, posting cute selfies on Snapchat or writing about that annoying guy on Twitter.
When I look around me, all I see are sitting bodies with faces glued to the screen of their phones, tablets or other devices.
Yes, alright, I understand people who have jobs and have to check their phones for emails or important things, but what I absolutely don’t understand are younger people, like teenagers or kids.
I admit that sometimes I also just scroll through my news feed on Facebook, but since I came back from Kenya, I have tried to keep the time spent just doing nothing on social media to minimum and enjoy the world around me instead.
And guess what? It is so much fun. I don’t say that suddenly you should throw away your phone and go live under a rock. But I want to point to the fact that sometimes we spend too much time with tablets, phones, video games, iPads and iPods.
We don’t take the time to go outside and really enjoy our lives. I felt much better when I was drawing pictures with those kids after the school than when I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed.
2. Small acts of love count
When my brother was little every time something happened to him, he asked for a new toy which served as compensation for the pain he had gone through.
He is all grown up now, so I can say that this doesn’t apply to him anymore, but there are many children who still act that way. When you see a baby or toddler falling down and then crying, the usually don’t want a new Barbie doll or an Xbox.
They simply want their mums to pick them up, hug them, kiss them and tell them that everything will be alright.
I remember one crying boy during lunch break in Nairobi, when all the children were gathering around, interested in other volunteers’ phones and cameras.
I honestly don’t remember what was wrong, but all it took for him to calm down was us simply kneeling down, holding his hand and trying to communicate with him. You know, that awkward moment when you don’t understand him and he doesn’t understand you, but the hands and legs method always works.
These kids go through many things everyday, they have to face many challenges, but they don’t ask for new toys or clothes.
All they want is to hold your hand, hug you, play with you or just talk with you. They might be at first shy, but when they warm up to you they will show you how much they value your friendship.
They know how to appreciate and notice even the smallest things. Think about that the next time you expect something to be handed to you at the drop of a hat.
3. Hard work and ambition
You might say that kids everywhere are hard-working and eager to learn. Sure, some are.
But instead of appreciating their ability to go to school, most children in developed countries find it annoying. In the slums, their peers realise that the only way to break the cycle of poverty is getting a good education.
They might still not end up at the best paid positions in the world, but they can be better educated and have higher chance to live a fulfilling life.
Of course there are students who don’t do homework or just don’t try hard enough, but from my own experience I can say that there are only a few of them.
Despite their lack of privileges, most of these kids will tell you how they want to become doctors, teachers, lawyers, soldiers or musicians. When you ask them why they want to do this, they simply reply you with a huge smile: “Because I want to help others and make them happy.”
It really made me think about my future career – I have just graduated from high school so this raised many good questions.
Do I work hard enough at school? Or do I just think of it as a place which bothers me? Will my future profession help somebody or do I want to do it just because of the money?
These Kenyan kids definitely helped me to reorganise my priorities and take my education more seriously than before.
What have you learned from the children you’ve encountered on your travels?