20HA – Twenty Hours in Africa
When I was younger, and felt – as children often do – that all the boulders of injustice had been dumped on my shoulders when I was arguing with a friend over something tremendously critical to the state of our planet (such as who should have the last chocolate chip cookie - these things are important when you are five years old), my mother would always tell me to “walk in the other person’s shoes”. Sometimes I would imagine myself ripping off the shoes of the tragically unlucky soul I was currently in a huff with, putting them on my own nimble little feet, and then running away cackling to myself – but of course, that is not what my mother meant, and I never had the nerve to steal a pair of shoes anyway.
Last weekend, a new initiative designed and led by two Grade 12 SPARC students, Nisan A and Bella L, aimed to educate us on the real meaning of being in somebody else’s shoes—in the shoes of an impoverished African child, to be exact. Named 20HA – Twenty Hours in Africa – the purpose of this overnight event was to simulate conditions and situations confronted every day for many rural Africans. Located in the gym, students were split into tribes and then separated by gender, and were not allowed to have any technological gadgets at hand or food other than the meager rice provided to them, to simulate the lack resources. Through several games, such as the Animal Game led by Mr. Robinson and the Tug of War, students had to fight for their food, as well as cook their own rice. Two movies were shown to reveal the horrors of abuse and injustice. Then, the students hit the sack for the night – except, the sack was the cold, hard floor of the gym. Imagine, my reader, sleeping so vulnerably in the wide open space with nothing more than a duvet and a rumbling stomach — only to be jarringly awoken at seven o’clock the next Sunday morning with the news that members of your tribe had been ‘kidnapped’.
Of course it is impossible to simulate exactly the hot African sun or rugged desert, but what the simulation did do was make our usually luxurious lives uncomfortable, because the central purpose is not pleasure: the purpose is to educate.
And on the present point of education, I would also like you to imagine another scenario: you are planning a big event, one created entirely by your own leadership and initiative. You’ve poured your heart and soul into it - because you believe in making change. Because you believe that there is more to life than what lies within the borders of Canada. Because you believe that people need to know, need to realize – even if it is only just a little bit, or if only for twenty hours – the tribulations that are faced by others less fortunate. You hope that students sign up to your event – and students do, almost fifty. Teachers and volunteers offer up their weekends willingly, enthused by the notion – and you have spent weeks planning the event down to every last detail.
There is something in the Brentonian code, but more importantly, there is something in the personal moral compass of a person – it is called commitment. Homework and leadership positions depend on commitment, yes - but so do the more important things in life, like friendships, relationships. And so does change. Change doesn’t happen without commitment – and that is exactly what the leaders of 20HA had. It does no good just to sit around and lament about the conditions of the less fortunate: a difference can only be created through active change – you have to walk in the other person’s shoes. To those that came, played, slept, stayed, and wore those shoes for the full 20 hours: you took the most away from this simulation – and the following is a video produced by Bella to document your experience.