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Children’s Day in Maldives: Raising leaders amidst a Palestinian genocide

While today marks children’s day, this year, it coincides with a 7-month-long genocide in Palestine. As we celebrate, equipping children with the resources and skills to grow up to be leaders who stop such atrocities in the world should be prioritized.

Ameera Osmanagic
10 May 2024, MVT 16:01
[File] Children's day celebrations held in Izzuddeen School last year
Ameera Osmanagic
10 May 2024, MVT 16:01

In a land thousands of miles away from the gentle waves that wash up onto the warm, pristine sands of the Maldivian islands where little ones can be heard laughing and playing in the innocence of their childhood today, are the children of Gaza. A land so dystopian, where the absence of loud cries and wails of babies and toddlers harrowingly mean they have probably either died of hunger or have been murdered by the ruthless occupying forces of Israel.

But why does this matter? Today is a joyous day for the Maldives. 10th of May is annually celebrated as the national children’s day. Streets are going to be lined with decorations, islands are going to host evening fairs with games, music and all the sugar a child could possibly want. This has nothing to do with what’s going on in Palestine. It has nothing to do with our children in the Maldives, who are safe and sound in the warm and safe embrace of their parents. Except, it’s got everything to do with them.

As we rejoice in our little bubbles of bliss, we must not for a second forget that our children are the single biggest responsibility of our lives, regardless of whether they are genetically related to us. These innocent souls that have been entrusted to us by God, are more valuable than an Hermes Birkin or a priceless jewel. From the moment they are born, until they become of legal age and go off onto the world as strong, independent, fearless, confident, just, and most importantly, kind, and happy human beings, it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to make sure that they are everything their potential holds for them.

And so, this question must be asked again – What has any of this got to do with children’s day in the Maldives? To answer this question, we must look at how we choose to raise our children. Are they truly safe in our homes and communities? Are they learning the right values? Are we setting the right examples for them? Are government policies geared to foster environments that ensure the development and wellbeing of our children? Are we leaving them anything to inherit and cherish?

Safety at home and in communities

Within the walls of our island homes and the warm embrace of our communities, our children deserve to be safe. They deserve to be heard and protected. However, that is not the case. Every news headline, police report and community ‘joali’ gossip we hear about a child being abused, exposed to violence, or being influenced onto the wrong path is a child too many that we fail as a society.

Instead of internally categorizing abuse and violence in homes as domestic matters when we witness or hear about them, we need to programme ourselves to take immediate action within the law. We need to keep in mind that this abuse and violence need not always be physically inflicted on the child either. Witnessing violence and verbal abuse at home can also severely impact the mental and emotional wellbeing of a child. Listening and believing children when they share their feelings and fears must become a norm, even in schools and in our communities. As adults in their lives, the onus is on us to ensure the physical and emotional wellbeing of every child around us.

Instilling the right values and knowledge

Learning in the Maldives has always been structured and standardized. Maldivian children are fortunate to have access to formal education from early childhood until adolescence and beyond. But beyond academics, are we instilling the right values and equipping them with enough of the right knowledge to help them thrive in this world? While Pythagoras' Theorem may help them ace exams, will it help them ace life?

This is where life skills such as religion, personal finance management, civic education where children are taught about their rights and the law and history of the country come into play. It is in childhood that we must teach them how to be self-sufficient through learning household chores such as cooking, cleaning, and grooming, regardless of gender - if not in schools, then in our homes. We must teach them to cope with anger, failure, and frustration. In other words, along with book smarts, we need to equip out children with life smarts.

Setting the right example

From the moment they open their bright, gleaming eyes, we are what they see. The way we behave, what we say and what we don’t are a crucial role in how we shape those tiny humans into grown adults. Growing up, they model what they witness, and become what they are taught to believe is important.

So, if we are to raise kind, empathetic, happy children who are well spoken, who stand for what’s right and denounce injustice, we must lead by example. We must not preach, but practice when we ask of them. We must lead by example, demonstrate the importance of ethics, empathy, kindness, self-defense, and self-love in all walks of life.

When we say, “don’t shout” or “bullying is bad”, we must display alternative behaviours though practicing speaking softly and reacting to negative incidents justly with a calm composure, and empathy towards not just the other person, but towards themselves as well. While being strong is an incredibly important trait, we must show children that selfcare is not a weakness, or that crying is being vulnerable.

We need them to witness us stand up for what’s right, even when the whole world is against it, and to do that, we must teach them right from wrong, and reflect in their eyes the kind of person they could grow up to be.

Government policies that prioritize our children

Growing up, a common phrase many of us would have heard goes something like, “this doesn’t concern children” or “don’t comment when adults are talking” reinforcing an age-old “children should be seen, not heard” culture - but has anyone stopped to wonder how not listening to children impacts our very adult decisions?

The most serious decision we make is likely governance and running a nation, making important decisions that impact the lives of thousands. When doing so, do our elected and appointed officials take into consideration the impact it would have on the children in their orbit? Do they consider how the policies they formulate and the laws they pass would affect inclusive habits in our communities, what kind of access would they have to proper healthcare, advocacy, housing and nutrition? Do they give proper thought to whether the education our children receive would be of good quality? Do they prioritize the safety and development of our children?

When passing regulations that grant single mothers a mere couple of thousand Rufiyaa per month, or ones which allow fathers to get off scot-free after paying a lowly three thousand Rufiyaa in child support in an ever-inflating economy, who thinks about the fate of our children?

But the first question we should ask ourselves is, do we consider all of this when casting votes to elect our future leaders? Are our children even factored in, let alone a forethought when deciding which candidate to vote for amidst the chaos of campaigns and grand promises made to us?

Something for our children to inherit

Many parents work hard to give their children a good life and something to leave behind when they pass on, whether it maybe a home, property, or finances. But is that all we have to offer our children when we hand over the reins of this world to them? Just materialistic objects of which the value is determined by their market worth, or is there something more profound, more enduring that we should be striving to impart?

As Maldivians, we have three invaluable resources that every single one of us would be able to pass on to our children when that day comes; our religion, our culture and language, and the beautiful environment and natural resources that surround us.

Being in a Muslim nation, our children are born into Islam, but it is our responsibility to ensure that when time comes for us to leave, our children are instilled with the proper knowledge and ways of the religion to carry on forward.

As a country with a rich culture and a powerful language that is sadly withering away from us, we are failing our children every day we spend without teaching them to love and learn our beautiful Dhivehi language. Dhivehi is a language so unique that only half a million people in the entire world are able to speak it. With research showing that it is now becoming the second language of our children, we are stealing a huge part of our children’s Maldivian identity away from them when we choose to dismiss how much of an issue this is.

The Sun, sand and natural environment; the secret recipe of why Maldives is called paradise on earth, is one of the countless blessings we were born into - something only we can leave behind for our children. But sadly, the decisions we make every day, quite literally washes away a chunk of this inheritance from our children.

However, developmental decisions we welcome with open arms thinking of the now, leaving the consequences to be dealt with when whoever needs to cross that bridge reaches it seems to be our modus operandi. A way of life that will cost our children and future generations a great deal.

Children of Gaza, why are they mentioned here?

We are incredibly blessed to have children, the opportunity to raise them right and many of the tools and resources we need to ensure their safety, education, health, and general wellbeing. We even have invaluable resources to pass on to future generations – a land, a culture and language, and natural resources, all which the people and children of Gaza have been deprived of all because world leaders continue to fail them. Because leaders of powerful nations around the world with every tool at their disposal are refusing to budge and do the right thing.

But the world still has hope. Humanity still lives within us in the form of protestors, boycotts, advocates and fundraisers for the people of Palestine. This is why the children of Gaza are so important to us.

As we live in the age of a genocide being live streamed, we need to raise our children keeping in mind that every tool at our disposal should be used to raise children who will stand up for causes such as that of Palestine. When we say we are shaping the leaders of tomorrow, we must question what it truly means to raise a leader. In the most immediate context, it is a child who is raised with the children of Gaza in mind.

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