Friday, September 19, 2008

Preparing them for the future

Nita Simon of Rajagari Public School attended the Future World Leaders Summit at Washington and came away enlightened

By Shevlin Sebastian

Erika Eckstut lived in Czeckoslovakia during the Second World War, when Germany annexed the country. Every day she used to go out to look for bread. “As a Jew, it was illegal to do so, but since I was blonde, blue-eyed, and spoke German fluently, I could pass unnoticed,” she says.

However, one day, a suspicious German policeman said, “Take me to your home.” A terrified Erika, who lived in the Czernowitz ghetto, knew that her whole family would be killed if she led him there.

Thinking quickly, she took the policeman to the house of an opera singer who lived nearby. “When we rang the bell a beautiful lady opened the door, and I said, ‘Mama,’” says Erika. “The policeman said, ‘Is this your daughter, Madam?’”

The lady slapped Erika and told her she should have been home earlier to do her homework. “The policeman said, ‘Please don’t hit her,’ and left,” says Erika. “The lady then gave me a hug, and said, ‘Are you from the ghetto?’”

It was this testimony by Erika, 80, about her experiences during the World War that deeply moved all the participants at the Future World Leaders Summit, organised by Presidential Classroom, at Washington recently. “By the end of the talk I was in tears,” says Nita Simon, 17, of Rajagiri Public School.

Nita, the sole representative from Kerala, was one of 23 students from all over India who went for the Leaders Summit. The school’s Parent-Teacher Association had sponsored the trip of this Class 12 student.

The Presidential Classroom, started by the late US President, John F. Kennedy, prepares young students, from the ages of 14 to 18, as future leaders in public service and private enterprise.

There were participants from 20 countries, including the USA, the European Union, Africa and Asia. The students were divided into nine groups of 40 students each and had to present a communique on different subjects.

Nita’s team focussed on world hunger. “To remove it, we suggested land reallocation in the poorer parts of the world,” says Nita. “We also suggested that food should be collected from all over the world.”

For example, in five-star hotels, according to its norms, leftover food is not supposed to be served the next day. This food could be collected and transported to poor countries. “However, a few students felt it was impractical,” says Nita, who presented the communiqué on behalf of her team. Eventually, eight topics were put to the vote and only three, including the one on hunger, were selected.

Later, the participants attended a seminar at the World Bank and learnt how loans were distributed to various countries. There were visits to different embassies, like Saudi Arabia. “Most of us wanted to know what would happen to Saudi Arabia’s economy once the oil ran out,” says Nita.

The embassy’s reply: The country had developed its trade to such an extent that it did not depend on oil any more. The country also has a vast potential to develop solar energy.

Apart from these formal meetings, Nita enjoyed her interaction with other students. “The Ethiopians said the economic situation in their country was grave,” she says. “The participants were from affluent families, but even they needed a scholarship to come to the summit.”

Nita was struck by how inhibited the Americans and the Europeans were. “They did not mix easily,” she says. “The Indians, the Sri Lankans and the Taiwanese went out of their way to meet people.”

Nita feels it may have something to do with the Asian upbringing. “Because we have so many relatives, we have learnt to interact with different types of people,” she says. “Most of the people in the West live in nuclear families.”

Another aspect that made her uneasy was the lack of respect given to elders by the Westerners. “We always addressed the seniors as Sir or Mr.,” she says. But the Western girls always used first names. “For them, whether old or young, everybody is equal,” she says. “It seemed fine, but I prefer that we show some respect. We need to know where to draw the line.”

Meanwhile, it was not all work and no play. The organisers had fitted in some leisure time. Nita marveled at the hugeness of the Pentagon Mall and enjoyed visiting the Lincoln Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson memorial, the Air Force Memorial and, of course, the Capitol. “The monuments are so neat and clean, unlike those in India, which are dirty and there is graffiti on the walls,” she says.

Asked about the difference between Washington and Kochi, Nita says, “The striking difference is the cleanliness. Washington is a picture-perfect city. There, everything is orderly and there are no traffic jams. But, despite all the problems here, I am proud to be a Kochiite.”

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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