It was at the request of Martin, one of our forest playgroup teachers at that time, that I agreed to meet Abadit. Abadit was an Eritrean refugee who had been a primary school teacher in her country during the time of war which forced many Eritreans to leave in search for a safer life.
“Can you take her as an apprentice in Sunshine? This will help her to find an apartment since she has to leave the refugee home soon. You know how hard it is here to get a flat if a person doesn’t have a job! On the other hand, she can’t get a job because she doesn’t have a flat. When she gives the refugee home as her address, nobody wants to talk to her.”
Martin was right. Abadit was caught in one of those vicious circles that makes you feel like a ping-pong ball and not a human being anymore. You are labeled before anybody even tries to see who you are. On top of everything, you are suppose to be thankful because you managed to survive the journey through the desert and mine fields, over the sea in an overcrowded boat and the terrible conditions of a hostile jail-like camp, and enter one of the most prosperous places in the world: Switzerland!
Guided by the empathy, I agreed to take Abadit on although, as usual, it was less than the ideal moment financially. Basically it meant that I would again have a ridiculously low income as I could only pay her from my own salary. So here I was, bearing the consequences of neohumanist love, stretching my hand out to the thin woman with a beautiful, warm smile who was standing in front of me.
A short month later Abadit was already well adopted by everyone in the preschool. One day she suggested making “mbasha,” an Eritrean bread, for our lunch group and we all started learning more about the culture she came from. Spontaneously we came up with the idea of organizing an event where Abadit could prepare a traditional Eritrean coffee while the parents had an opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns and ask questions about our preschool, our educational philosophy and life at Sunshine. What a perfect way to create a community!
Becoming an NHE Associate Teacher
By the end of the school year Abadit was involved in virtually every group from the indoor playgroup, kindergarten and yoga to the outdoor forest, farm and gardening group. After the summer break a new session of teacher training was starting and I suggested Abadit might like to join the course and try to become an NHE associate teacher for early childhood education. And she joined! I would like to share one of the first assignments she did, definitely one that inspires me most. It is a profound observation on how our external reality is linked to the processes that are happening within our minds and hearts.
Here is Abadit’s assignment and story:
I was born in a village along the lush Gash River in the country of Eritrea, east Africa. In my early childhood the village was surrounded by a thick woods and vast grassland where a variety of animals were in abundance. Located fewer than ten kilometers from the village was the heaven of the wild beasts. It was a vacation center for a beautiful variety of birds during their migration from the north to the south of the continent. The Gash River flows throughout the year and its arteries supply the life on the both sides of the banks with water. With six months every year of live flowers and dancing butterflies, the whole scenery of the village takes on a heavenly look. Everything about the village was peaceful and full of life.
In 1984 two disastrous events took place in the area, a drought caused the river to dry up, followed by the eruption of war. The battle that continued for three weeks cost the Ethiopian government a heavy price. They lost many soldiers and their heavy weapons. After that battle the Ethiopians concluded that the main reason they were faced with their worst embarrassment, failing to take over a small area was the presence of the woods which protected the freedom fighters and kept them out of sight. Consequently, the soldiers came up with the simplest solution: to chop down all the trees and set the grass on fire. They kept doing this for the next three years.
To make matters worse, the following two years rain forgot to put the village on the list of its destinations. We had three years of fire followed by two years of dry weather. The heavenly panorama turned into a barren semi-desert. Life in that area became impossible and as a result many families fled to Sudan.
After Eritrea achieved independence in 1991, my family returned to the village. The habitat on both sides of the river which had been decimated due to the terrible coincidence of war and drought, started to show signs of life again. The trees and grass were reviving slowly. The magnificent birds began returning. However, the wild animals were gone. They had been either killed or they had migrated to another habitat far away from the village.
Eight wonderful years passed. However, in 1999 the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia erupted again. At the same time, again the river dried up. What a coincidence? Do the worst events always follow such ugly situations? I remember my father telling me “to raise cattle you don’t need grass and water, all you need is love.”
Since then I keep wondering. My mind is full of “what ifs”:
What if there was no war, would it be only my superstition to imply the river would not dried up? What if we were passionate enough to protect our wild animals and their habitats, would our devotion to the environment change anything? Why the war and who really gained from it? Is there anything war can solve that love can’t?
I have lived around war most of my life and have experienced its negative effects. I have seen life vanish in a second and hearts harden like stone. At the same time I have seen people, during the worst moment, sharing their few possessions to keep their neighbor alive. I have observed the contrast of both the darkest effects and the brightest.
In conclusion I want to sum up by saying: I believe our reflects the choices we make in our daily lives. Every choice in return gives back what we give to the outside. In simple language, we harvest what we sow. If I want love from the world, I have to first provide it to my environment, to the people around me and to myself. Then the positive effect of the love that I radiate to the world will be reflected back to me.
Abadit has not yet completed all the assignments for a Certificate in NHE. But she was the only Sunshine employee who came with me to the Teacher Training program in Holland, organized by NH daycare Zonnelicht. She involved all the teachers in dancing an Eritrean folk dance with her and we all had a lot of fun. In the meantime she also became the mother of a beautiful girl named Rufta. A community of Eritrean families in Switzerland has asked her to start an Eritrean playgroup because they like her warm way of teaching inspired by universal values. Everybody loves Neohumanism. It is a philosophy of the human heart.